Reflections on Sara’s Canadian adventure

Back in London with a bump feeling jetlagged and decidedly cold (even after the Rockies!) but really pleased to be back in our great capital’s crowded, polluted streets.

Travelling across the country from Montreal through Toronto and Calgary I only really caught my breath in Vancouver where I had a three week stay. Trying to do three provinces in two weeks (including five days on a train, brilliant but a bit Groundhog Day) left me little time to absorb what was going on in each city beyond the superficial. Having said that, interesting areas arose: in Montreal it was considered that the Francophone community is making the best, most exciting work because there is increased support from that community, higher funding for French language work and respect for theatre as an art form; Toronto (seemingly hated by all the rest of Canada) is definitely the most corporate but also housing some incredibly exciting companies including Necessary Angel and Volcano (who I mentioned in my last blog) and the dichotomy of Calgary, the most conservative of all the cities (it had real life cowboys!) with a real wealth of theatre companies buoyed by very strong local support despite only 1% of the population attending the theatre (a real figure of 10,000).

My most complete sense came at the end of my trip in Vancouver, British Columbia where I was resident at theatre for young audiences company Green Thumb. British Columbia has just been hit by what amounts to a 90% cut in its arts budget which is likely to decimate the arts scene in the province which already seemed underfunded and undersupported. Companies like New World Theatre (Check them out – very very cool), Rumble Productions and of course Green Thumb are all going to be hit by these cuts.

Funding aside it definitely felt, particularly after Calgary, that B.C was a much more liberal province with TYA companies encouraged to tackle difficult issues and challenging young peoples’ perceptions. Green Thumb have just finished an international tour of Cranked, a one man show about crystal meth addiction and as well as the play I was working on which dealt with date rape they had a play for primary schools examining cyber bullying. Because of their longevity (they have been around for over 30 years) and success they are funded at city, province and national level but are still financially reliant on schools paying a significant proportion of the production costs (as opposed to being subsidised as we are on our upcoming play Bind). Because of this the play tends to be performed for the whole school population – 1000 11-18 year olds sitting on the bleachers in the school gym. This is despite the fact that the play may be targeted to maybe only a quarter of the audience e.g 12 -14 year olds. Although this means greater access it also means that there is a big swathe of the audience who are potentially the wrong age for the material and therefore bored and confused, resulting in the piece not having its intended impact.

We have come across some similiar problems in booking our schools tour of Bind where teachers are keen for a whole year group (around 300 students) or more to see the play at once. Although this is completely understandably the play, a two-hander, is designed to be played in traverse and really only appropriate for a maximum audience number of 90. We want the play to be an effective, high quality artistic experience and by having hundreds of students in a school hall the performance will lose its intimacy and focus.

Having said that schools have been really enthusiastic about the piece and we are excited about the beginning of rehearsals (14 days and counting). And with the rehearsal space on the Bethnal Green Road beckoning, Canada is beginning to feel very far away indeed.

By Sara Masters, co-Artistic Director

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