You know when you have to introduce yourself to new people and find a clever way to sum yourself up so they understand what you’re all about? No? Just me? There’s a very real tendency when we meet someone new to immediately ask “What do you do?” as if that defines them as a person. And I know for some people it does – some people have jobs that they’ve been working towards for their entire lives or where they do something they absolutely love. But I know that for myself, even though I love my day job, it gives very little insight into who I am or what I love… there are so many different personalities and types of people who work my position.
So? When people ask, I generally tell them that I am an actor. (Or occasionally a theatre artist, but you’ve really got to read the room on that one because it can sound a little snooty-patooty if you don’t nail the tone.) Being an actor is such a part of my identity and knowing that I am going to keep theatre in my life even while everything else fluctuates and changes has been such a touchstone for me. However, I struggle with this because 9 times out of 10, people don’t actually know what being an actor is all about and they immediately jump to questions that they mean to show genuine interest like “Oh, what movies have I seen you in lately?” But if I don’t identify as an actor, I find that people don’t appreciate how big a part of my life acting is and how much it defines me… I once had an ex-boyfriend say to one of his friends “Oh no, she’s not actually an actor. She doesn’t do it for a job, it’s just her favourite hobby”. (By the way, ouch. And when you are dating someone who doesn’t get you on a really core level, you should probably get out way earlier than I did.)
Anyway, I know that the “What movies have I seen you in?” question comes from a place of kindness and also from a lack of knowing. Everyone knows Hollywood, not everyone knows about all the other levels of acting that are out there. I figure it’s time to put my fancy education degree to use instead of just complaining when people ask totally logical questions because they just don’t know any better. So, my newest series in “Theatre Thursdays” is going to be a casual exploration of what all is involved in being a non-professional actor in Calgary – at least what’s involved in it for this girl.
I’m going to kick off this whole series by talking about four different shows I’ve seen in 2016 that I can use to demonstrate the different types of theatre companies that make up our diverse and exciting theatre scene in Calgary.
Theatre Calgary – The Little Prince
The most recent show I saw at Theatre Calgary was actually Bad Jews, their currently running production, but for fairness to the other companies I want to talk exclusively about shows that are already closed. Little Prince had a huge cast. It had high production values with bikes on stage, a lamplighter performing a “ballet” in a giant wheel and more actors playing roses onstage than you could fill a bouquet with. I don’t know if you remember The Little Prince the book, but it was super weird and this world premiere musical stage adaptation was equally weird. But it was kind of awesome to see Theatre Calgary do something new, even if it didn’t quite land for everyone. (I personally had some difficulty understanding everything that the Little Prince sang in her lyric soprano and the plot was a little thin… but the great thing about theatre is not everyone needs to like everything about everything they see.) Professional theatre companies often have to walk a fine line between putting on shows that will appeal to their subscriber base, shows that will bring in a wider and newer audience and shows that will challenge their team to do something different artistically. Sometimes all these shows come together in one!
Other major professional theatre companies include: Vertigo Theatre, Alberta Theatre Projects, Theatre Junction, One Yellow Rabbit
Ground Zero Theatre – The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook
Ground Zero Theatre is actually also a professional theatre company, but it is smaller than those in the first category. The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook is a contemporary script, written by Canadian actor and playwright, Stephen Massicotte and the production starred a small and rampantly talented cast of four actors (most of who played more than one role). The set was minimal but innovative, relying on projections, acting and many neutral but easily transformable boxes to set each scene.
Budgets may be smaller for these smaller, newer professional companies but like we were fond of saying in university “constraints facilitate creativity”. The smaller professional companies also often do not have their own performance spaces, instead renting various spaces around town for their shows. They also may have shorter runs. For example, The Boy’s Own Jedi Handbook was performed in the Vertigo Studio Space and only ran over two weekends… the end of the run actually snuck up on me and I ended up seeing the closing “night”, a Sunday matinee. Most of these companies do have their own rehearsal spaces, though.
Other examples of smaller professional theatre companies include: Downstage Theatre, Sage Theatre, Verb Theatre
Simply Theatre – She Kills Monsters
She Kills Monsters was truly community theatre at its best. A group of talented people were brought together and put on a show – some with post-secondary training in theatre, some fresh out of high school, some who just love the stage. There were incredible performances and earnest performances and both shone. There is a stereotype floating around out there that community theatre is a lot like “Waiting for Guffman” or full of wannabes who “couldn’t hack it”… this stereotype could not be more untrue. The people who do community theatre are passionate about what they are doing, work hard and put out some solid productions. Calgary even has its own awards ceremony for community theatre, the CAT Awards.
Oh, and if you follow that link to the Simply Theatre site for “She Kills Monsters”, for set design it says “hehehe… yeah right!!”. That’s not inaccurate… sometimes you run into budget constraints and you have to focus your resources on building a Beholder and some crazy awesome dragon heads. It’s all good.
Other examples of community theatre companies (specifically ones that I’ve worked with) include: Morpheus Theatre, Scorpio Theatre, Workshop Theatre
Theatre Transit – Basically Twins
There a bit of a nebulous area between community theatre and professional theatre that I’ve been proudly referring to as “Indie” theatre ever since that was the term Scott Roberts used while we held auditions for Full Circle Theatre’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream back in 2012. Young and upcoming theatre artists band together to create their own work and opportunities while they work to “make it” professionally. Theatre Transit is a great example of “indie” theatre – Basically Twins was a one-night only improvised show created by sisters and artists Carly and Anyssa McKee and last year they put on the show that put Mindy Kaling on the map, Matt & Ben – rad, right!?
Generally speaking, actors/artists doing indie theatre don’t get paid (though that is always the end goal once the bills get paid) and they do new or little known shows – often collective creations – or they may take a classic script from the public domain and put their own twist on it. It’s a ton of fun. Also, lots of the smaller professional companies in category two started as indie companies so…. You do the math. 😉
Other indie theatre companies include: Chromatic Theatre, Major Matt Mason Collective
A couple notes: This is not a remotely comprehensive list of theatre companies in Calgary, you can check out Theatre Alberta for that. Also, this is a pretty opinion-heavy list and your mileage may vary – you may stick a company that I put in one category in a completely different one. No judgement intended for any of the examples I spoke about, I am just so thrilled that there is so much theatre in the city I live in. I blatantly stole poster images from the official theatre company websites so please do follow the links for more information and to see some awesome upcoming shows. And I pretty much exclusively do shows that fit into the third and fourth category right now, but we’ll talk about that more on a future Theatre Thursdays.