Friday, June 8, 2012

First-Person: Rick Miller on going from Stratford to Le Carrefour

By Rick Miller, June 7, 2012
Gaëtan thought it might be interesting to write about “going from Stratford (en anglais) to Carrefour (in French)”. Indeed, it’s been most interesting and I’m happy to oblige. 
Some context: 
Stratford presented a run of my Shakespeare/Simpsons mash-up MacHomer for a month of matinees in May as a lead-in to their 60th anniversary season.  It was my first time playing there.  A week later, Le Carrefour presented the premiere of Rick Miller: VENDU, the French-language translation of my recent solo play HARDSELL 2.0 (adapted from HARDSELL, created with Daniel Brooks). I’ve played Le Carrefour twice before, with Lipsynch in 2011 and Bigger Than Jesus in 2007.
Both experiences have been tremendously positive. The shows were both showered with praise from audiences and critics alike and the staff at both Festivals have been very supportive. But the experiences have also been incredibly different and therein lies the interesting stuff. 

First, let’s take a look at the mandates of each organization, drawn from their respective websites.
“The Stratford Shakespeare Festival aims to set the standard for classical theatre in North America. Embracing our heritage of tradition and innovation, we seek to bring classical and contemporary theatre alive for an increasingly diverse audience.”
“Each spring, Carrefour international de théâtre produces and presents a major festival in Quebec City. Its root discipline is theatre, its artistic choices are influenced by current trends in contemporary creation and are biased in favour of original artistic undertakings.”
Stratford is clearly rooted in the classics, while Le Carrefour ventures into the avant-garde. One represents the height of English Canadian theatre, the other represents the height of French-Canadian theatre, with a further mandate to present a variety of international work. It’s tempting to draw conclusions about “The Two Solitudes”, but that wouldn’t be fair. Stratford is trying very hard to stretch its mandate to include the development of exciting new Canadian work. Le Carrefour is trying very hard to embrace English Canadian artists and playwrights as well. To be considered worthy of both Festivals is an honour. 
Hardsell / Vendu
At Stratford, MacHomer played 25 matinees and one evening show. Schools were the primary target, of course, but each performance had members of the general public as well. To sum up the month in three words: “Students and Seniors”. They all seemed to enjoy themselves, as did I, but MacHomer’s key audience demographic – that elusive 18-49 age group – was in low supply. They did, however, show up on weekends and during that lone evening show the constant laughter was encouraging. For a show that I’ve been performing for 17 years, it’s definitely more fun when the key audience laughs in all the right places. Nonetheless, young audiences are the audiences of the future and if my run turned a few of them into future theatre-goers… merveilleux!  
Once MacHomer ended its Stratford stint, I had a few days to shift body and brain to VENDU in Quebec: a very different show with a very different journey. Whereas MacHomer is a firmly-entrenched entertainment, VENDU is a more challenging experience for both audience and performer, constantly evolving and adapting to the climate.  Although born and raised an Anglophone, I am lucky to speak French 99% without an accent. But learning lines in French is much more of a challenge for me and I put a lot of pressure on myself to not make mistakes. We arrived on Sunday night, set up on Monday, did a tech run for 110 volunteers on Monday evening, did a dress rehearsal and media call on Tuesday afternoon and opened later that evening. 
I am delighted to report that it went beautifully. Unlike in Toronto, the critical response to the show was unanimously positive. Once again, it’s tempting but unfair to draw conclusions about English and French Canadian theatre criticism; the show that opened here on Tuesday is far more coherent and developed than what I presented to Toronto critics last October.
The most interesting thing for me is that the Toronto run of HARDSELL 2.0 timed perfectly with the peak of ‘Occupy’ and now VENDU is playing in the midst of a similar movement in Quebec. Without dispensing judgment one way or another, I find it encouraging that the questions raised in the play are resonating around the world. The post-show talkbacks have been fascinating, as students with ‘Carré-Rouge’ pins debate with older audience members who still don’t know what to make of it all. Every audience member, interestingly, is in that key 18-49 demographic. Every audience member is asking questions about themselves and the future of the world we live in. 
My last two CharPo articles (September 4, 2011; March 4, 2012) have been about ‘control’ and ‘survival’, also with specific references to MacHomer and HARDSELL 2.0. I guess this third piece completes the series, as it seems to be about the ‘future’. As I ponder the future of both of these shows (one rooted in the past, the other in the immediate present), I am left with two very tempting paths: continue developing a relationship with Stratford or continue working in the world of Robert Lepage and Le Carrefour. Take this dilemma to a larger scale, and we see the challenges facing our entire industry: 
  • Can we continue to build bridges between cultures, borders and artistic disciplines? 
  • Can our industry thrive in the midst of shifting demographics, the erosion of the middle class and unstable funding?
  • Where do we sit between tradition and innovation, art and entertainment, commercial and avant-garde, idealism and realism, humor and humanism, home and away?   
As I chew over these challenges from the solitude of my hotel room after 5 months on the road, I realize that neither path (the ‘Stratford’ path nor the ‘Carrefour/Lepage’ path) fits with my intention of spending more time with my family. If only there was a way to plant my left foot in one solitude, my right foot in the other, and my ass at home…
Rick Miller: VENDU plays until June 9th in Québec City as part of Le Carrefour international de théâtre

1 comment:

  1. Oh Rick you are indeed a Tour de Force. I am always thoroughly inspired by your talent and work ethic!


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