Chip Chuipka: The Play’s the Thing
by Barbara Ford
(production photos courtesy of Sidemart Theatrical Grocery)
A quick study with a naturally analytical mind, an eye for detail and just plain good instincts, Chuipka had one heck of a learning curve in Saskatchewan. He believes that at all costs one must protect the play. The challenge when working with directors or actors who sometimes veer from that basic tenet, is getting them back on board (sorry ... more railway humour) without alienating them or creating friction within the company. A few dishy anecdotes, (though he is the height of discretion) demonstrated that Chuipka has become somewhat of an expert at this. Though a sensitive and compassionate soul, “it’s important to protect everyone’s ego and be gracious,” he doesn’t suffer fools. If the play is sending out distress signals, there is no way he’s going to let it suffer if there’s a way to save it. “I like to work openly, honestly. Levity is a big thing: it opens up room for comment and progress. Collaboration is the hardest thing in the world but there is nothing better than bringing together great artists and once it’s over, they’ve had an impact on each other. That’s a really great thing.”
There are those who think that acting is all about what they’re feeling. Chuipka reminisced about working with an actor who asked him what he thought of their performance after what they considered a particularly good night. Chuipka came clean saying that the audience wasn’t feeling what the actor was feeling and it was inhibiting the play. Not surprisingly, his response didn’t go over well however one night the actor arrived to do the show with a bad flu. Chuipka said, “They dragged themselves in and just did the play. They were riveting.”
A certain Ottawa theatre critic’s reviews were becoming increasingly nasty and personal, using his column, as Chuipka put it, “like a circus of vitriol.” There was lots of grumbling in the community but no action so Chuipka decided to ban the critic from his opening nights and sent a written request to meet with the editors of the newspaper. The two parties met but the paper threatened to shut down the productions, launching a targeted smear campaign … media attention that no amount of money could have bought. “Even the sports guy who wrote up the bowling scores got in on the act,” Chuipka chuckled. Chuipka knew he had to keep a tight lid on the situation, so no matter who in the company was approached by media, all enquires were referred to him, a single voice. The paper tried to get the company’s funding pulled, going so far as to appeal to the city’s mayor, but she was fully behind the company’s efforts.
He used a Woody Allen film to drive home his point. “Woody walks into a Hollywood party and spies his ex-girlfriend, Diane Keaton, on the arm of Alan Alda, a cliché Hollywood producer they, as a couple, used to laugh at- the ultimate betrayal- but Woody’s face doesn’t move. It’s the audience that suffers all the hurt and humiliation for him. It’s brilliant.”
|The Real Chip Chuipka