A Backyard Revolution

I mentioned a little while back that there was a meeting of members of the local Ottawa theatre community. Below are the minutes from that meeting. Since then, a preliminary steering committee has been formed to did further into these issues. If you are interested in finding out more or taking part in the committee, please join our Wiki at http://ottawatheatre.pbworks.com/.

Happy reading!

******************************************************** Theatre Community Backyard BBQ, August 24, 2009

The Key Suggestions:

1) Professional Ottawa Region Theatre Alliance (PORTA) - administered by a paid staff member - a volunteer steering committee - perhaps provided a desk in the Ottawa Fringe office - PORTA could ostensibly perform the hybrid function of Toronto’s Association of Performing Arts (TAPA) and the Small Theatre Administrative Facility (STAF), through administering projects such as: o The Ottawa Theatre Passport: a multi-play pass that would allow audiences to pay one membership price for access to a variety of independent productions. Each theatre company would put one play forward each season to be included on the passport. o a central database where information about all upcoming workshops and performances could be posted – could also be an active blog site featuring peer-reviews of productions o PORTAL (Professional Ottawa Region Theatre Alliance List; suggested by Judi Pearl and based on her e-list) would be a comprehensive mailing list which would be used to notify the community of upcoming workshops and performances. Judi has volunteered to manage this list until a paid staff person is chosen. o a roster of mentors (directors, designers, actors, playwrights, artistic directors, general managers, publicists, etc) who would be willing to provide guidance to emerging artists on their projects - this includes assistance in company development, grant writing and the drafting/dissemination of press-releases (ideal for companies which presently lack administrative infrastructure) o a central props/set storage into which companies could donate props, costumes, and set pieces from previous productions rather than throwing them out upon completion

2) A New Space (or an old space re-defined) Is it time to pool resources together and create a new space dedicated to the creation and presentation of new work? Could a collective of artists/companies (not restrictively theatre) pool their resources together and fund a new space? It could function similar to a time-share or co-op. Could the Ottawa Fringe lease a permanent rehearsal/performance space (ex. Montreal Fringe)?

New Play Development Blanket Notes

Is there enough new work being developed and produced for the size of population? - no - what are the problems?

Funding - there is a general lack of knowledge of grant writing

Space - make a rehearsal/performance space available to members of the community

Key Points: 1) The Atelier – many voiced a longing for the NAC’s Atelier where there was a) a space to create new work, b) a programmed season of new work, c) an audience who attended a season of new work – it drew national audiences, writers, dramaturges, directors, and Equity actors - it also supported the playwright, not just the work

2) Is a GCTC Studio Series a potentiality? - many view the studio as an under-used and unaffordable space - a programmed series of works by independent theatres in Ottawa (similar to CanStage’s Berkeley Street Project) - can the GCTC rely on local companies to secure the necessary funding before being programmed? - could it become the replacement of the Atelier with collaboration of the NAC?

3) A New Space - new spaces haven’t contributed rehearsal space (ahead 2 theatres, but down space) - as The Atelier proved, one of the keys to new-play development is a dedicated space to the activity - this becomes particularly pertinent when regarding creation-based/devised work - could a collective of artists/companies (not restrictively theatre) pool their resources together and fund a new space? (ex. The Theatre Centre in Toronto) - organizations that give tax credit to new condos if they offer rehearsal space to artists in Chicago - artists pay fees into co-ops, communal space - could the Ottawa Fringe lease a permanent rehearsal/performance space (ex. Montreal Fringe)?

4) Reading Salon - an opportunity for writers to get together and read their work - task several new independent theatre companies with forming their own unit if one is not provided by a larger regional theatre - sometimes writing groups become production groups

5) Existing Resources

Partnership with the Writers Festival – interest in more playwrights being represented

Potential opportunity for gap programming at Arts Court

There was much discussion over overcome our insularity from the national theatre community. - must take more advantage of Magnetic North Theatre Festival (it’s coming back in two years – let’s be ready with something!) - touring our own work - there must be greater dialogue with the current performance creation trends across our country (exchanges, workshops, touring)

6) The arts community remains fairly entrenched in their separate disciplinary silos. A database that would help artists find the people needed to create cross-disciplinary work (music, language outside of theatre). PORTA’s database could fulfill this function.

Professional Development Blanket Notes

Consensus that professional development opportunities are important- in order to increase artist retention in Ottawa, we must enable artists to grow at their craft

Key Points

1) Masterclasses/Training - accessibility of workshops are an issue – time of year, cost, and time commitment were all sited as reasons not to attend – some felt short, weekend sessions were preferable while others desired more integrated and extended ones - need to place more emphasis on bringing in nationally vital artists into the community (success of Maiko Bae Yamamoto’s workshop at GCTC) - requested masterclasses included: voice training for actors, directing, technical skills (i.e. sound design), arts journalism, fundraising and grant writing, basic admin

2) The need to create an umbrella organization (with an online communication space/database) to help disseminate news of upcoming workshops. The need for a database of mentors was also frequently sited. PORTA’s database could fulfill this function.

3) Next Stage Festival in Toronto is an excellent example of a professional spring-board opportunity for successful Fringe productions. Could Ottawa support/does Ottawa need a Next Stage-like festival?

4) A Conservatory - Volcano Conservatory and the Soulpepper Mentorship Program are excellent examples of intensive annual programs which facilitate interaction, dialogue, and creative growth amongst directors and actors. These units benefit from bringing in respected international artists as mentors. - Could the NAC and GCTC collaborate on creating a professional conservatory of this nature? A director’s lab which also provided development opportunities to actors?

5) The theatre community needs a bar. This needs to become a vital cornerstone in our community.

6) Increasing caliber of arts reporting will in turn increase caliber of work - a committed community of bloggers who attend every show and write informed peer-reviews (could be posted on PORTA’s website/database) - Plank Magazine in Vancouver was sited as an example of a successful theatre publication – could we work with Guerilla magazine to improve quality, quantity, and frequency of theatre reporting?

Audience Development and Community Outreach Blanket Notes

Common points from all four blanket sets: 1. share/pool resources 2. develop a shared subscription or passport (to a number of theatres) 3. develop an theatre calendar – on line and print 4. develop a theatre website 5. share theatre ad space 6. Do social media initiatives 7. Develop a blog group for the theatre community (both theatre bloggers and bloggers from other interest groups) 8. Collaborate on mailings (piggy back on each others’ mailings) 9. Inserts or ads in each other’s house programs 10. Do cross promotion with each other 11. Word of mouth is good 12. Work collectively with media 13. need a balance of traditional methods and social media methods 14. need for more mainstream media participation

Debate 1. to target/segment audience according to the theme(s) in the play vs not to do that

Common Barriers 1. ticket prices too high 2. theatre company marketing budgets too low 3. human resources 4. training and skills 5. track record of the theatre company 6. independents under value their work 7. audience think they will feel stupid 8. the walls of the theatre/venue – we need to get out from behind the walls: do theatre outside, or do sneak peak/mini “commercial” or live teaser of a scene from the play in a public place 9. Competition 10. The theatre companies not knowing about opportunities to develop audiences 11. The majority of the public do not attend if they are not familiar with the name of the play 12. limited space 13. difficulty securing project funding

National Reliance 1. Initiative to participate in a national theatre magazine to gain a national profile for the theatre work done in Ottawa. Example: Plank Magazine out of Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto www.plankmagazine.com. Previews, reviews and discussion stories, what’s happening type articles.

More good thoughts 1. Need to bring theatre to the audiences instead of the audiences to the theatre 2. videos of our collective work 3. Coming soon to a theatre near you: screens up in public areas showing short videos of a number of theatres’ work 4. setting up sets, props, costumes in public places or in each other’s theatres in order to cross promote the work of each other 5. Be interactive with the audience 6. Build a conversation with the public 7. make it a whole experience for the theatre goers – from the minute they walk through the door – the show – a talk back or reception afterwards 8. Cross pollinate with other art forms 9. Set up meeting with the Citizen – in print, on line, how can we help you help us 10. Develop a theatre alliance group 11. Importance of publicity: 1. know the show 2. know the audience 3. know where to find that audience. Know how to spin the plot of the play to develop interest, prep media and prep the artists 12. Work with tourism 13. Engage the business community

Questions 1. What role does programming play in audience development 2. What role do the media play in audience development? 3. Why do music concerts and big events (spectacles) draw people? 4. How to get Cultural diverse audiences (programming, outreach, diverse actors on stage) 5. Chicken and Egg Question: What comes first – critical mass in audience, performances or artists 6. How do we help each other thrive

GCTC will work on Affordable rental possibilities in the studio Exploring how to continue the production mentorship program Hosting master classes at affordable rate Work with who ever is interested in audience development

Independent Theatre Blanket Notes

Common points from all four blanket sets: 15. sharing resources; publicity lists, volunteer base, performance schedules, 16. sharing physical resource; rehearsal and storage space 17. Create an online inventory of available props, costumes. 18. Create a “Theatre Alliance”. 19. create central box office, promotional tools, subscription season 20. Need a paid person to run “theatre alliance” 21. create a committee to oversee the “alliance” 22. Local community needs to get exposure to work outside our region to expand our horizons and raise the bar 23. Need more bartering among companies 24. advertise together to get impact 25. Need to get younger audience engaged. 26. There is a lack of communication among theatre companies 27. No training on how to create companies

Debate 2. Do we need lasting independent theatre companies? Should project based work be enough? 3. The limits/benefits of a mandate? It should be a living document to be revisited. 4. How much does audience need come first? 5. Value of Project funding vs. Operational funding. 6. When to incorporate? Or incorporate at all?

Common Barriers 14. lack of “affordable” space 15. equity vs. non-equity mix. Makes harder for Equity members to work on some projects 16. Lack of funding makes us competitive with each other. Need to rise above it. 17. National presence overshadows local work 18. Time spent on admin/production vs. creating art 19. Insurance

More good thoughts 14. Get city on board to create kiosks or billboards to promote local theatre 15. Have a collective season launch 16. Plan ahead. Good theatre takes time. 17. The resources are there but need to get to the people who need them 18. With collective wisdom you need a collector 19. Tie Theatre Alliance to Rideau Awards (Dora Awards given as an example) 20. CAO is a great resource that is underused. 21. Other available resources; Flying Squad, CRHC 22. Sometimes failing is the best training

Questions 7. Where does money come from to create “shared” pool? 8. Do we need to “grow” to be considered successful? 9. How do we maintain rigour while doing other jobs? 10. How do artists find information? 11. Do we even know who the independent theatre companies are? 12. What drives the need for independent theatre? 13. What does the city get out of a community? 14. How do we convince city of the value of that? 15. Where are the francophone companies? How do we work with them?