Blog-Style #7- “How has your company had to adapt during COVID-19, and what are your hopes for the future?
May 18th, 2021
MT: Navigating the pandemic has been tricky for sure. Early on, we tried to think of ways we could cultivate the sense of community in a virtual way and we came out with our weekly Virtual Karaoke and free Youtube musical theatre classes for youth. We’re grateful to have been able to offer some in-person outdoor classes last summer and we launched a brand new online program in 2021 called Project Play. At the end of the day, we miss our students. We miss artists. We miss community. And we’re hopeful of a safe future with LOTS of hugs.
WST: We have kept running our StudioWorks Academy thanks to the perseverance and drive of Brenda Gorlick and the growth of the company with the Made in Manitoba Master Classes she has started. They will be ongoing which is fabulous.
We don't know what the future holds for the next coming years for the professional productions.
GKI: We developed and workshopped a play and its support materials over Zoom. Yes, it would have been so much more exhilarating in person, but it was still fun, and we're thrilled with how it all went down and worked out.
The play is called The Landfill Mutant Vs. <Insert Your School Here> and it's written by local awesomes Gwendolyn Collins, Spenser Payne and Alissa Watson. The support materials we created include a director's guide for teachers and a designer's guide for students, because with this project, we are changing our model from touring performances to mentoring classes through their production of a Green Kids script that they perform for their school and community. Canadian schools will start producing it (maybe on video due to COVID) next year.
We have also developed a physically-distanced outdoor production for this summer (Covid restrictions dependent), Bike and Circuses, set in Winnipeg parkland and seen by way of active transportation. Typically, we create plays for schools and public events; this is our first production created for the public, and a big shift from our typical solo-3 actor plays set before a seated audience. We're very excited about this one.
TI: It certainly has been difficult. We were trying to adapt our show “Love and Information” with Company Link to an outdoor production this summer, but that just isn’t going to happen now. So, now we are having to learn how to be filmmakers with no money. It is challenging, we just want to be in a room with people making art we can share. On the positive side, the solo rehearsals we have been doing, are inspiring and the artists just bring so much amazing talent and adaptability to the process. We still hope for a grand resurgence of live storytelling and "tales around the bonfire"!
TBTR: Our dream of developing our #GladToBeHere project in an interactive collectively devised fashion, using shared props and costumes became the next best thing, some masked, distanced meetings in person with no shared items, and a lot of video sessions. Our project in development has some features that really need to be tested with a live audience, so some things are on hold.
Our hope is that folks in Winnipeg and around the world have recognized how special it is to get together for a live show. Streaming has been nice during Covid, but we're tired of staring at screens, and we think audiences are, too. The accessibility and being able to see shows from around the world is something I hope we can keep, while jumping back on the chance to support the arts events in our communities. Get those tickets!
ET: Echo Theatre was set to do a Kids Fringe show in the 2020 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. We were chosen to create a virtual show for the digital version of the festival when it was decided the live event wouldn’t go forward. We did and it was fun to try and create something specifically for the streaming system and the virtual medium we were using. I did a few more virtual theatre and video pieces in 2020 and it has been fun to create for a different medium, but after performing live this winter I am excited for a time when in person theatre can happen more often. I think having to do stuff virtually has been a good exercise for theatre artists, it has created more accessibility where there were barriers before. My hope for the future is that we can keep our live experiences but increase access to these things through technology. I know that I have appreciated not having to find a babysitter and commute to a theatre space these days. Having a baby -now toddler - around it is harder to find time to get out and experience something live. But with the online content, I have actually experienced more culture, and seen more theatre and concerts than the year before! Yes missing the live aspect, and the night out, but also kind of not missing it too much...at least not quite yet. Definitely not missing the guilt of missing a show!
COO: The Circus of Objects DADA DUMBs have migrated to social media platforms. It has been a hoot. But it really needs an audience.
TTL: We are epic internet influencers for now. As for the future... we want you to love yourself just as you are.
W&T: Luckily, Walk&Talk has a history of working as an open-air company. Our show “The Ballad of Johnny Boy” was rehearsed in a group member’s backyard because it featured a canoe that was too big to easily bring to rehearsal spaces. Our company name comes from the fact that our favoured method of casual collaboration is often just going for a walk and talking things out on the go.
This being the case, our process hasn’t changed much, with the exception of changing the odd rainy day work-walk into an online meeting. However, we have had to re-think the kind of theatre we are able to make. Our most recent project, “Blink” was an interesting first step in understanding what theatre might look like during COVID-19. “Blink” was a live radio-play performed to an audience in socially distanced tents. However, if at any time we were unable to perform “Blink" for a live audience, the show itself was recorded and released as a digital experience. The show goes on in smaller and safer iterations as pieces of the theatrical experience are able to be stripped away or adapted as regulations change.
As far as hopes for the future…
Long term, there is the instinctual hope for normalcy in a time where our entire career seems to have been invalidated by unprecedented circumstances. Realistically speaking, there is no way for us to create the kind of projects we thought we’d be working on.
Short term however, the pieces we develop and the spaces we create during COVID-19 are being generated in a time unlike any other. It will ultimately be the art that leans into the restrictions of our times that see the light day.
While these pieces may not have been created in the perfect conditions, it’s hard not to be excited to see what our artists will create with the conditions they’ve been given.
BT: We have planned our Fringe circuit shows and seasons each year (2020 and then 2021), and we have made the decision to postpone instead of go digital each time. We are hoping and waiting patiently to be able to be with you all again live. We hope to see you all soon! Until then, wear a mask, and get vaccinated!
DC: How did we adapt? We have been strategic planning, diversifying our mandate, growing our board, and developing opportunities for new work and training.
Our hopes? Continuing to have fair representation on our stage. Creation of new work featuring new voices. Safe working environments for us all.
We hope for Inspiration birthed out of the crucible that is COVID –19.
Blog-Style #6- “Tell us a funny story about your company”
May 11th, 2021
WST: When we were doing Reefer Madness and a patron in the lobby asked us how we got the cannabis smell in the lobby.
GKI: Our public claim to fame occurred during the Flood of '97. Our mascot, Envirosaurus Rex (Rex for short), was stolen out of our tour mini van (festively decaled with Rex's image all over it). We were mid-tour and the show could not go on, as Rex appeared in a few scenes, plus he was also slated to appear in a community clean-up parade that weekend, wearing roller blades and being trailed behind our mini van while holding onto a 30-foot hemp rope.
So, we called the press and Winnipeggers were on the case! Sightings rolled in: There was a blue dinosaur seen walking down Salter. Someone reported attending the same house party as Rex. Two days later, a volunteer on flood watch along a dyke in St. Vital saw a large blue bag, and found inside Envirosuarus Rex, a little worse for wear. Proof of his partying was evident: he'd spilled drinks all down his front and missed his mouth with cigarettes a few times.
It was okay, though, because we had had a replacement Rex made by the mascot makers and were already using it. And then next season's show had the pleasure of writing in a Good Rex and Bad Rex storyline.
TI: Usually the funny stuff is production mishaps, like a fringe show where the "water-baby" doll exploded on stage during a performance and leaked water everywhere. Or during a set build where a designer knocked a can of paint off a ladder and it dumped on her head!
TBTR: Just related to our unconventional performance spaces over the years, we have a ton! A favourite would have to be the bird rehearsal of 2012. We were using this awesome venue for Lungs at the Fringe leased by friends, so we were able to rehearse right in the space. It was the whole top floor of that building kitty-corner to Deer+Almond. As the weather warmed we quickly started roasting up there, so one day we pried open a few windows to get some fresh air. Midway through rehearsal a giant plop of poo landed between Derek and Mel, and Rod, Megan and Trevor. We look up, and ... pigeon! We spent the rest of the rehearsal wheeling Derek and Megan around on scaffolding as they tried to catch the pigeon with a broom and garbage can. I think we also got locked in the freight elevator in that building at one point until Megan arrived to let us out. Good times!
ET: The first time we produced a series of Grand-guignol plays (French horror theatre) was in a BYOV at the Fringe. Our Bring Your Own Venue was the “theatre” space above the Ragpickers store in the Exchange. The space was also used as a rehearsal space for a Marching band, and as a hot yoga studio when it wasn’t being used as our theatre. You had to go straight up a set of stairs and you basically stood in our “backstage” area before heading onto the stage/ audience area. There was one entrance for everyone.
During a transition between plays, someone from the marching band got into the downstairs door which was supposed to be locked. They made it up the stairs and into the backstage area where us actors were waiting to go on. The entrance to the stage was lit and before we knew what was going on, the marching band guy walked out into the light. They stood there for what felt like a very long time while we stood frozen in the wings. I kind of remember speaking to him from offstage (just outside the doorless doorway where he entered onto the playing space) but he seemed stunned into silence. Taking in the full audience and the spotlight just on him. I remember him in his marching band uniform. So, I’m sure it was quite a sight, but our show was weird, so the audience probably thought it was part of it.
COO: The Circus of Objects is the love child of DADA and Fluxus but both deny parentage.
TTL: In our first original full-length show, Fuck Off Check-Off, Babaganoush Lump was so excited on opening night that she accidentally bashed a large hole in the stage left wall.
BT: The cat in our logo is based on a real-life cat named Zella, and yes there is a back story to how she is related to the reason this theatre company exists!
DC: Our first grant applications were pretty funny as they were for for the Donna/Reid company – a play on the names of the two co-founders (Donna Fletcher & Reid Harrison) and an homage to the great 1950's actress who played Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life! We never seriously entertained the idea of keeping the name but it did raise some eyebrows at the Arts Councils! We did not hit upon our name DRY COLD until after we received our first round of grants. The rest is history.
Blog-Style #5- “What has surprised you the most about producing independent theatre”
May 4th, 2021
WST: How tough it is to get grants from the government for small companies. Also how varied the audiences are.
GKI: No matter how complete you think your budget is, there's always something that gets overlooked.
TI: Constantly asking for favours to get the show up can be difficult, but it is amazing how many people that you ask for those favours are so willing and excited to help and participate.
TBTR: How few people are eager to come see it! We had emerged from a theatre program where everyone we were surrounded with everyday was so passionate about live performance, and Winnipeg has a huge Fringe Festival where people line up for hours to see shows! We had no idea how incredibly hard it was going to be to produce independently and attract "real life" people to come and see shows outside of a festival.
This is why we believe WIT is so important. We all need to share our resources and build awareness of independent theatre in Winnipeg.
ET: It is continually surprising that you can have a great show and that doesn’t always translate into financial success. It is also surprising, when it happens that a production receives funding, how much easier it is to produce theatre with some money up front.
COO: The COO produces cabaret - a form of theatre. The surprise is the hidden talents of Winnipeg artists.
TTL: The fame and the money.
BT: My point of view (Sami speaking) is usually from the booth, maybe in the audience occasionally. And what caught me off guard the first few times was the amount of joy and the nerves that came from watching the audience react.
DC: The deep support of the theatre artists and the theatre-going community has been a gift to us. The audience’s desire to see challenging work has fed our development and allowed us to take chances. We are also constantly amazed at how creative we have become at stretching every penny!
Blog-Style #4- “What do you miss most about theatre during COVID-19?”
April 27th, 2021
WST: The live audiences. The hugs from the cast members.
GKI: Seeing the kids faces, watching their reactions, and most of all their questions and comments.
TI: The connective pulse between live performance and live audience, and the camaraderie of castmates.
TBTR: Sitting in the performance space, soaking it all in and being inspired. All of us love the performance run and attracting people together to experience a story. BUT, we've realized that the rehearsal time is the most rewarding. Getting to work together, and with the artists we bring in for each project, is so special. Every show is a giant puzzle that seems impossible during the first week of rehearsal, and slowly cracking it together is incredible.
ET: I did a live theatre performance in February 2021 outside of people’s houses. I was outside in the snow and they were inside watching through the window. The first show I did, I set up, I was rehearsed and just hoping that my props didn’t fail or break. I started the show and started to engage with the audience inside (the kids and the adults). I suddenly felt this wave, this force of energy coming at me. The kids were so excited! I realized that I was doing live theatre and it had been a while. Something clicked inside of me and my energy and their energy met each other, and we could have generated power for someone’s house with our collective energies. I was teary eyed afterwards because after doing a bunch of virtual theatre things I had forgotten what that feeling was. It was the best.
COO: My live audience at C-Cues. On the other hand the Circus of Objects has Vern in 5 online performances festivals during the pandemic.
W&T: The most melancholic thing about theatre is that there’s a lot to miss. What I miss most about live theatre are the moments just before a show, when an audience is entering a theatre, finding their seats and making conversation. Wishing actors well in the dark before the show begins. Those vibrations before a show are an incredibly intimate experience.
BT: The audience, the energy, the joy, the nerves, the magic, in a space that is shared with theatre seekers and theatre doers.
DC: The first read of the script. The initial cast Music rehearsal. The moment an actor finds their voice as the character. The moment the lights hit the stage. The first time the band tunes. The sound of the first laugh from an audience. The joy of the ensemble. The light reflected off of the faces of the audience. The swell of voices in the Finale of the show. Magic as applause floods the theatre. The act of creation.
Blog #3- “What was a failure you faced as a company, and how did it help you grow?
April 24th, 2021
WST: The year we thought we could do a season of 2 full productions with little funding. We realized soon after that we can't rely on subscription sales.
TI: Defining "failure" is difficult. Every project provides growth, but I'd say not being swayed by other people’s visions and staying true to the concepts we wish to explore and present has been important.
TBTR: Back in 2008-09, after we had a successful run of The Bush-Ladies at the Fringe and then outdoors in Assiniboine Park, we were encouraged to make the show into a tour. We were directed to the touring funding through MAC and looked into what would be required.
From there, we focused on making this tour happen. An aspect of the funding, at least at that time, was that you had to show demand for the tour on your funding application. We made a promo video and put together packages and price structures and went to the Arts Network Showcase to raise awareness about who we were and what a great show this would be to bring to their communities.
We received many expressions of interest, but then none of the funding came through. To do the show without funding meant that our prices would have to go way up, and be out of reach for the communities, so the whole thing fell apart.
We learned about the value of our own time and effort. Trying to coordinate that tour (again, with no staff) completely distracted us from other TBTR projects and ate up most of the miniscule resources we had socked away over the years.
It's important to be ambitious as artists, but it's also important to value your time and not feel pressure to always say yes, or you'll burn out. Sometimes you have to give a smart NO and focus on who you are and why you do what you do.
ET: the time I paid the artists $30 after expenses because we didn’t make enough money. Don’t spend money and then bank on your show being a huge hit...although not sure how we could have avoided the costs. We needed the rehearsal space and we didn’t get it for free...we needed the venue, and that we got discounted quite a bit. There was a big cast, and we borrowed a lot of stuff but there were some big costs! It hasn’t stopped me from doing big cast shows, and actually I then started putting my stuff in tinier spaces...But I really try to get rehearsal space we don’t have to pay too much for because that was killer.
COO: Everything is a success and a failure. Success and failure are not really issues. One just does. The DADA DUMBs are conceived, props gathered and done once without rehearsal.
TTL: We were horrified to receive a 4 star review of our 2016 Fringe production "The Shit Show." Thankfully, we also got a 2 star review which recognized the true crappiness of our piece. We learned that no matter how hard you try, you can't disappoint everyone.
W&T: The development of our current project “End of the Line” has been an incredibly slow process all things considered. It began as a vague concept around two or three years ago and, in those years, every attempt at creating “End of the Line” was met with a feeling of “not quite”. It was like a form of emotional writer’s block. Over the years, words were written and things were made, as the project took on new forms and faces, but the development of “End of the Line” was often a story of one step forward, two steps back.
It is a difficult thing to show up to a project again and again and seemingly go nowhere.
The growth came with time as “End of the Line” was benched in favour of other projects. Eventually, years after its conception, after dozens of failed opening lines and multiple scrapped concepts, something stuck and it became a story that was ready to be told.
BT: Beau was founded in 2017 with the purpose to tell stories that we thought were meaningful, empathetic, and important. We wanted audiences to talk it out, to find another perspective. As we grow, we have had the privilege to learn from IBPOC artists in our community, because of their labour, and the Black Lives Matter movement, this industry and the world, has been called to action. We understand that we need to do more for the underserved in the Winnipeg theatre community, to be an effective part of change, and that starts within the company in its roots and leadership. In the past we have failed to understand what is needed. More news is coming on our action plans moving forward. Please stay tuned, and do not hesitate to contact us anytime @beautheatreco.
DC: In order to show growth as a Company we were pushed into a two-show season by Funders. Producing Musical Theatre is very, very expensive so our budgets are quite high. This push happened to correspond with the National Actors’ Association CAEA pushing us into a different producing agreement which increased our costs by over 20% just a month and a half before our first show. Budgets had been finalized and this was money we just did not have. Where to find $15,000? We had to face cancelling shows and putting our casts and creative teams out of work. We refused to do this. With the help of our hard-working board and our generous private and foundation donors, we were able to raise the money, small donation by small donation, in just two months. It was a scary time but we did it. It taught us that Dry Cold could face any challenge and that we have the best supporters in the city!
Blog-Style #2- “What is a defining moment in your company’s history?”
April 20th, 2021
WST: I'd say Spring Awakening 2011 - which was our first big cast show at the Tom Hendry Warehouse. We had started doing musicals at the Fringe Festival for a number of years and that was the first show we branched out on during the winter months.
GKI: In 2019, we realized we needed to operate under a serious carbon neutral policy. For a company that had always toured, and often from B.C. through Ontario, we needed to do better. From 2008 to 2015, we owned tour busses powered by biodiesel, but they were expensive and hiring a stage manager who is also a mechanic is hard, so we opted to design smaller, more tour-friendly sets that could be packed into a small car. We still took planes between provinces. While purchasing carbon credits seemed helpful, we weren’t satisfied that planting any number of trees or carbon capturing programs would actually erase the environmental damage created by the air travel and the driving.
So, the question became, how can we tour less but still reach a large audience, while holding onto the live aspect of what we do and avoiding a straight-to-video approach? After 30 years of touring, we are rethinking our primary activity. In the last year, we have created 2 new programs, each creating a much smaller environmental impact. We're pretty proud of them and look forward to more projects like them in our future. We have explored a bike-powered Winnipeg school tour for next year.
TI: Being able to find, build, utilize, and share our theatre studio space as a hub for creation and production.
TBTR: I vividly remember opening the envelope from the Winnipeg Arts Council in 2007. To that point, we had applied for a number of project grants from various sources, and we were always denied. We had done four shows on what we called "poverty budget" (we'd do some fundraising to have a bit of money to pay for a few props and costumes and a venue, and then the artists would split the box office. Never do the hourly wage math on that, it's depressing). 2007 was that critical two-year point where most new ventures either disintegrate or grow.
So, I get this letter from WAC and it's thin. Another rejection letter for sure ... but it wasn't! It was our FIRST grant where we could actually PAY (extremely modestly) ourselves to do a show! The project was Oedipus Rex and it made us believe that maybe we should keep going.
ET: I think part of what defines Echo Theatre is that we haven’t really had a defining moment: we’ve embraced a wide range of theatre styles and themes, basically anything that excites us artistically. One thing that encompasses everything that we’ve done is that it has all been extremely challenging. With that in mind, our 2007 production of Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers probably set the bar for us, in terms of what could be achieved through sheer creativity and determination - it was a financial success and an artistic triumph, and it proved a lot of people wrong.
COO: A defining moment yesterday is not the defining moment of tomorrow. Because the COO applies its own definition of wabi Sabi the shining moment is the next.
TTL: Obtaining VIP status at Whiskey Dix.
W&T: Winning the Harry Rintoul Award at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival was a big moment for us as a group. We got our start in the Winnipeg Fringe Festival and receiving some form of recognition for our work was a sign that we should start taking ourselves creatively as creators. Since then, we have been reaching out to and working with many wonderful artists. The Harry Rintoul Award was a kick in the butt that helped give us the confidence to get our name out into the artistic world.
DC: Producing the Manitoba premiere of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. It was the show we had dreamt of presenting from our inception and we were thrilled when it was a sold-out, smashing success!
Blog-Style #1- “Tell us your origin story!”
April 13th, 2021
WST: Winnipeg Studio Theatre was founded by Kayla Gordon in 2006 with the creation of the new musical Hersteria by Sharon Bajer. Soon after, Winnipeg Studio Theatre joined forces with Brenda Gorlick to create the StudioWorks Academy.
GKI: In 1991, household recycling was a new concept to Winnipegers. In the eyes of Jeff Golfman, it wasn't catching on fast enough. He had just begun Winnipeg’s first recycling program, Plan-It Recycling, and was looking for ways to help families understand what it was, how it worked, and why it was a good idea. He recalled watching groups perform sketches in his elementary school gym about the dangers of the chemicals under the sink and imagined something like that but teaching environmental awareness and responsibility. So, he started Green Kids Inc. Our first school tour was 3 weeks long and was written and performed by three activists with courage and naivety enough to throw themselves into a sketch-comedy show about our environment and perform in school gyms and playgrounds.
TI: Born out of the U of M theatre program, Theatre Incarnate was formed by graduate students in 1996 and continues to be led by three of its founding members, Eric Bosse, Brenda McLean, and Christopher Sobczak. Sharing core visions of what they believe theatre has the potential to be, has kept them playing and experimenting with form and content.
TBTR: Theatre by the River started as a dream project for a group of theatre students graduating from the UofW. What if, aside from being actors and working on mainstages, we could produce shows that were important to us? We could decide what to do and how to do it, instead of just auditioning. We incorporated and just started to figure it out!
As the years went by, much growth and development happened. It's incredibly hard to become a consistently producing company with no staff. We had to learn a lot about how to focus our time and efforts on what we truly wanted to do, instead of spreading ourselves too thin and burning out.
ET: Echo theatre started off with a bunch of wide-eyed university theatre kids getting a spot in the Fringe. After that show, those kids started a different theatre company, but some of those members still kept the Echo Theatre name to then do some theatre for kids. After that show, all members except one decided not to continue with Echo. Everyone gave their blessing that I (Charlene) could continue to use the name and do whatever I wanted. So, I did. Under “new” direction, Echo theatre produced Roald Dahl’s The Twits in the Summer Winnipeg Fringe then Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers in the Winter Master Playwright Festival. From those beginnings, I maintain the mandate that I get to do whatever I want haha!
COO: The Circus of Objects is a work in progress that has returned to its roots. It is not what it was when it made its appearance at the WIT community meeting about two years ago. It has it roots with SHARED STAGE (1982-87). A cabaret format set in a bar, and the home of the DADA DUMB.
TTL: The Talentless Lumps were born out of humanity's recycling bins. We are here because we love you.
W&T: Walk&Talk Theatre was founded in anticipation of the 2017 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. It was nothing more than three friends out to make a show and some memories in the summer of 2017. Though we had never formally worked together what we found in our haphazard group was an interesting aesthetic of music, absurdism and movement that has continued to develop and evolve as we have grown as artists, both individually and as a collective.
DC: Dry Cold was born out of frustration and a desire to see more modern, strong book musicals on Winnipeg stages. 20 years ago the musicals being produced were almost exclusively Golden age standards with the majority of leading cast members coming from away. We wanted to give voice to all our fabulous local Musical Theatre performers and shake things up by producing current, cutting-edge musicals - featuring our own established and emerging Manitoba talent. We brought together the best of the local Opera, Musical Theatre, and Theatre Community - producing 5 Manitoba, Canadian, or Western Canadian Premiers in our first five years! Premieres of shows by composers such as Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown, Finn, Yeston, Kander & Ebb, Simon, Guettal, and Ahrens & Flaherty