“So I put on my show. What happens next?”
My good friend Paul Van Dyck just flew in from New York and boy, are his arms tired - hardly surprising, since his successful production of Paradise Lost features an extensive use of marionettes which he manipulates throughout the show. This new production was a resurrection of one Montreal saw almost two years ago and its existence is an answer to the eternal question that plagues all Montrealers who develop original theatrical work: “So I put on my show. What happens next?”
Montreal’s stages are a breeding ground for new theatre, but once the initial production is over, it is a constant challenge for artists to help the new work mature. Our stages are filled with the echoes of the innovative: Penumbra (Rabbit in a Hat), Johnny Canuck and the Last Burlesque (Mainline Theatre) and Life is a Dream (Scapegoat Carnivale) are all examples of recent shows which are each a paradise lost: each deserve further development and each will probably have to go somewhere else to get it.
Although independent artists are starting to make the jump to the mainstream our shows are rarely as fortunate.
Paul Van Dyck is not the only artist to have realized this frustration: attention must be paid to Sidemart, Uncalled For, Dance Animal, Ned Cox and yes, even yours truly: all of us developed shows here before taking them into that great and terrible place known as the outside world. Part of this is fueled by the search for fresh audiences, but it is also a result of a glass ceiling our community has erected over our heads.
Although independent artists are starting to make the jump to the mainstream – Andrew Shaver’s recent stint at Centaur comes to mind – our shows are rarely as fortunate. Although Montreal’s major companies – Centaur, Segal, Infinitheatre, Imago, BTW – all do their part to develop new work, these are always in-house creations. To the best of my recollection, none of them have ever snatched a show out of the independent theatres and helped develop it as part of their mainstage season. Generally speaking, if an indie show hopes for another kick at the can, they have to pray for a slot in the Wildside.
...there is a void in our community which is keeping us from establishing ourselves as a vital part of Canada’s theatrical identity.
Obviously, it would be absurd to suggest that the major companies have a duty to help these shows develop – it would strain their resources and each has a mandate which shows like Paradise Lost simply don’t fulfill. But it cannot be denied that there is a void in our community which is keeping us from establishing ourselves as a vital part of Canada’s theatrical identity. We embrace the innovative but are shirking at the responsibility of helping it mature. Simply put, we are in desperate need of a producing organization who will make sure our independent theatres are not both the birthplace and grave of new theatre.
Our community has made a place in our theatres for the established play; we have made a place for the world premiere by an established playwright. We have made a place for the well-loved classic, the contemporary masterpiece, the zany burlesque and a musical about smoked meat. Surely there is room for one more: surely there is room for professionally developed original work that demonstrate our commitment to not only imagining great theatre but also to bringing it to the light of day.