Sunday, October 27, 2013

artistic director journal | pacific theatre newsletter, fall 1984

This being our 30th season, I had intended in September to post bits and pieces of Pacific Theatre history. Alarmingly, I couldn't find the boxes containing our archives. But they turned up a couple weeks back, and I've only now found the time to start looking through the files and pulling things that catch my eye.  

Here's where it all started - a photocopied newsletter we mailed out in the fall of 1984, penned by a fellow from Edmonton named Alan (can't come up with his last name) while the four company members were away on a Thanksgiving week retreat creating our first Christmas show.  I've had serious misgivings about posting it - it seems so far from who we are now - but...  What the heck. 

click to enlarge

Wow, does that sound religious. (Not to mention earnest.)  It's just not something we would write in 2013, twenty-nine years down the road. Not that there's a word of it I don't agree with, or believe, after nearly three decades. But the style...  Kind of reads like a religious tract, or a slightly old-fashioned Bible School essay. Interesting to see the "not propaganda, not evangelism" right there at the outset, even though the whole thing is couched in such churchy language.  But still, no wonder people in the Vancouver theatre community had their qualms.

The Wilkinson quote comes right out of a Regent College syllabus. Loren and I co-taught a summer school extension course several times at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, making connections between the Christian faith and the art of theatre.  (Some of the best experiences of my life, those weeks in Ashland).  I still think it's good stuff - while being acutely aware of what a different cultural moment that was, both in our particular Christian subculture - which was still took a pretty 'separationist' stance toward culture - and in the culture at large, which was far more antagonistic to Christian spirituality in 1984 than it is today. (I'll write more about that another time. But for now, suffice it to say, there's been a significant sea change in the representation of Christian characters, the openness to Christian spirituality, not only in theatre in Vancouver, but in the culture at large.)

There wasn't anything like Pacific Theatre around in 1984, apart from a couple of fairly young companies in Seattle and San Diego (both of which are still in operation, with strong ties to PT).  You can hear it in these words - we were convinced the Christian community would have no idea what to expect, or what to do with us. Any more than the theatre community. Glad that changed. Eventually.

Pacific Theatre's first public performance was a set of songs and a couple scenes from COTTON PATCH GOSPEL - one evening in September, in one of the portable classrooms that then comprised the Regent College campus. We played it again for a Harvest Celebration at St John's Shaughnessy church, but took another five years to get the full show onstage.  We ran it in Studio B at the Gateway Theatre in fall 1989 with two members of the original company (Allen Desnoyers and me), with Christmas Presence regular Garth Bowen on fiddle and guitar, and two other actors rounding out the cast (hmm... Brent something-or-other played Jesus, and Chy Campbell's cousin played bass. It'll come to me...).  We mounted the show again in 1994, with Tim Dixon, Spencer Capier and Wyndham Thiessen joining Allen and me, a production we remounted and toured a few years later. Morris Ertman directed all the iterations - and recently mounted another production of the show at Rosebud, where he's now the Artistic Director.

MY SON, MY BROTHER, MY FRIEND we did as a staged reading for several years, swapping in actors like David Swan, Dirk Van Stralen and Mark Bennett at various times. (It would be interesting to read that one again.)  The CHRISTMAS SHOW ended up being our first full production, a collage piece we titled FIRST CHRISTMAS: AN ENTERTAINMENT and toured to about a dozen churches and theatres around the Lower Mainland - which really was a lot like an early version of what's now our annual tradition, CHRISTMAS PRESENCE.  Roy Salmond joined the company for that one.

263-1110.  That was the second line at my Kerrisdale apartment, the Pacific Theatre line.  Crazy: not only did we forget to include the 604 area code, we didn't even bother to give the address of our website.  Or a fax number, or email address.  How unprofessional.

And yup, we had a church touring group in those days.  Kind of a calling card, to introduce us to the Vancouver church community, which we figured would be the core of our audience - as it was for at least our first decade and a half.  The Pacific Theatre company actors didn't act in Salt Company shows at that point, but directed them, and wrote some of the material.  Angela Anderson was a Regent student who also directed a few of the sketches - before she married and became Angela Konrad, got her MFA or became the head of the TWU Theatre program. It wasn't until fall 1985 that young Tony Ingram joined the Pacific Salt Company - before UBC, or Studio 58, or Stratford, or Jessie Richardson awards, or any of that.  Salt Company regulars over the years included Andrea Smith, Sallie Boschung, Debra Sears, Damon Calderwood, Cynthia Hopkins, and a lot of other folks. And it was something like 1993/94 (or 92/93?) when Erla Faye Martin (now Forsyth), Francis Boyle and I joined the ensemble for a season. By 1996 or so, churches pretty much had their own drama programs, and there just wasn't a lot of work out there for a church touring troupe.  Also, with the opening of our own theatre space in 1994, and the possibility (necessity) of staging entire seasons of mainstage shows, there just wasn't the time or energy - and by then it was evident that it really wasn't the core of our vision. So that was the end of Pacific Salt.

"Christian Theatre."  It shocks me that we ever applied that descriptor to ourselves.  It wasn't long until I started saying "Christian is a great noun, but a lousy adjective" - especially when applied to a play, or a theatre company.  Just sets up too many mistaken expectations, none of which are helpful.  But I guess I hadn't come to that realization quite yet - because there it is, indisputably, in print.  

The CHRISTIAN THEATRE REVUE we did produce early in 1985 - an anthology piece called BEHIND OUR SCENES consisting of scenes, songs, improv, even a couple dance numbers, chosen to give kind of a sampler of the sort of work we wanted to be doing.  And sure enough, we produced THE ZEAL OF THY HOUSE as part of the Images Festival in spring 1985, just as advertised - with company members Byron, Elaine and Allen anchoring a non-professional cast (which included Loren Wilkinson). My first directing gig. If I'm not mistaken, Anita Wittenberg ushered.

TENT MEETING didn't end up on our stage until April 1997, when Morris and I worked together on an extensive rewrite that ended up touring Canada (as far as Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg), and being nominated for Dora Mavor Moore and Sterling Awards.   But I'm afraid we never did produce Allen's quite wonderful Rosebud-birthed musical WHEN THE SUN MEETS THE EARTH. 

Still do. Some things don't change. (Though now you can just send the bucks straight to us - as grateful as Capilano Christian Community might be for your donation.)

By fall 1985, Canada Immigration said Elaine had to head back to the States - we weren't paying a living wage, and her time was up.  She married the chairman of our board and moved to Kansas City, and pretty much never acted again.  At the end of 1986 Byron also hung up his skates, though he returned a couple years later to tour in an early iteration of THE DRAGONS PROJECT, shows about chemical dependency we took to schools and community centres around BC and, eventually, the north. After leaving theatre completely for a lot of years, Byron is now the resident scenic carpenter at Rosebud - Morris Ertman is a persistent man.  Allen continued with Pacific Theatre a while longer, but turned to full time music for a number of years before founding Canadiana Musical Theatre, which tours schools to this day, including a brand new piece Allen's created about Emily Carr.  

It all seems very long ago.

1 comment:

Ian Farthing said...

Fascinating glimpse - thanks for sharing! It's good to see where we've come from. Really good.