Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In a Word...Tina Rasmussen

One Show: The Process of There to Here
Finding and bringing the "agressively contemporary"

During the past 15 years, Tina Rasmussen has been engaged in a variety of capacities including Artistic Director, Manager, Administrator and Artistic Producer in organizations specializing in both multi-disciplinary contemporary and classical works.  She has also acted on a wide range of independent international projects as artistic producer, writer, performer, director, adjudicator and dramaturg. Eight years ago, Ms Rasmussen was appointed Director of Performing Arts at Harbourfront Centre, assuming responsibility for all performing arts at Canada’s most prestigious contemporary cultural institution.  This position has included a variety of Artistic Directorships, including that of the prestigious World Stage International Theatre Festival. Ms Rasmussen also oversees the Harbourfront Centre’s dedicated family programme HarbourKIDS, as well as HATCH: emerging performance projects, The Music Garden, and NextSteps Dance Season to name a few. Ms Rasmussen graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary’s Theatre programme, where she also was awarded the prestigious Faculty of Fine Arts Gold Medal. She began her professional career in Edmonton at The Citadel with Robin Phillips. Her desire to contribute to Canada’s performing arts scene led her to move to Toronto, where she assisted Albert Schultz in the founding of Soulpepper Theatre Company. In addition to her role at Harbourfront Centre, Ms Rasmussen runs a small independent artist development and special projects atelier called Culture Shark. She continues to sit on many national and international performing arts panels and juries including Made in Scotland at the Edinburgh Festival, Total Theatre Awards, Irish Theatre Institute and many others. She remains dedicated to programming diverse genres of international theatre, and continues to develop new community-based initiatives to attract new viewers to the theatre arts. 

CHARPO: We'd like to know about the process of acquiring one show. Let's take She She Pop and Their Fathers: Testament. What has to be done in order to get the show from there to here?

RASMUSSEN: The process is a long one, but it’s quite meaningful because of how our relationship with a company flourishes over time. In the case of Germany’s She She Pop, I first saw their production Testament at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2011. A significant aspect of my job as Artistic Director of World Stage is travelling across the globe to see aggressively contemporary work, and though each trip is always packed to the brim, each production facilitates its own individual experience and Testament was no exception.

So there I was, unable to approach the company and express my interest as I normally would because my face was splotchy

After the show ended, I sat in my seat sobbing uncontrollably. I could tell the show had touched a strong cord with the audience, as it took a tranche of King Lear where middle-aged children are coping with elderly parents and flushed out its many poetic and painful dynamics. I really felt, and still feel, that this is a very a topical issue, and it’s also close to home for me as my mother just turned 80; friends are dealing with this, colleagues are dealing with this, it seems to be ever thus. So there I was, unable to approach the company and express my interest as I normally would because my face was splotchy, I was still convulsing from my gigantic cry, and, to be honest, I needed a drink.

A colleague of mine who works at the Irish Theatre Institute and I went up to the Festival bar and found that the company was there. After a few much-needed beers and a quick application of powder, I mustered up the will to talk to company manager Elke Weber, a most commanding, beautifully strong woman, at which point I expressed my interest in the work. I knew that this show had a big future, and was convinced that their future needed to include Canada. And while it’s not easy talking to these artists when you revere them as superstars—generators of such brilliant work—as I always have, it’s also a beautiful moment when you realize that something is about to begin. 
Typically, after I express interest, I like to spend time marinating in the work before following up. I want transactions with these companies to be about relationship-building above all—our performing arts ecology is a small one, and it matters to me that a sense of humanity remains in the industry. Then, once I follow-up with the company, a long series of conversations begin, starting with artist fees, expectations the company has, technical specifics, riders, per-diems, travel, accommodation, and ending with our digesting all of these factors to see if this is a production we can host and afford. If it is, we move on to tax waivers, visas and immigration, production details like power conversion, freight arrangements, and a requisitioning all of the materials we need for marketing. After that, we begin concurrently cultivating partnerships for the production, wherein we approach Embassies and cultural organizations, scholars, practitioners, special-interest groups, schools, and businesses so we can kaleidoscope the themes and ideas of the work to galvanize our publics in coming to experience it. Our outreach is focused on getting the widest swath of person to come see the show. We’re not interested in appeasing; we want our patrons to encounter these really meaningful—and often difficult—questions, be implicated, and interrogate their role within it all.

Once this is all underway, letters of invitation are sent, which then move to full contracts, which then, much further down the production line, move to our picking-up the artists at the airport, taking them to their hotels, helping orient them to the city during their stay, hosting their opening night reception, facilitating the audience and artist development programmes we incorporate into each and every production run, and overall ensure that their experience is nothing short of fantastic. Then, after it’s all said and done, we take them back to the airport and bid them farewell—for the time being.

All in all, I’d say the process of acquiring a production can range from a year to four or five years, depending on the company, its schedule, and our limited window of programming for World Stage, which is February to May. But when it comes to what I call an ‘anchor’ show—in this case, a sexy contemporary company that’s talking about really interesting things in a very accessible and impacting way, and with a lot of buzz to boot—every day of that process counts.

I’m a firm believer that part of the reason for being on earth is to question our place in it.

CHARPO: What is the series’ primary philosophy; for instance to provoke? delight? nurture local theatre? 

RASMUSSEN: There are three pillars that World Stage emulates: questioning, challenging, and experience. We all know what it feels like to hike up a mountain, stopping to catch our breath, helping a friend up a slope, running out of water, squinting because of the blisters we’re making worse with every step, sweating ferociously, regretting the one-too-many layers we put on that day—but when you get to the top, when you stand still in awe of the feat you just accomplished, only then can you realize that yes, you got through something. You managed, and you did it. And undeniably, you’re altered by that experience.

I’m a firm believer that part of the reason for being on earth is to question our place in it. Too often we forget that it’s through the kaleidoscope of art that we appreciate our very being; without it, we’re just utilitarian. Mechanisms. Movable parts without much else. In this way, I think there’s poetry around us all of the time, but it’s up to us to choose if, how, and when we see it. How we engage with this poetry—inside of the theatre or out—is not about perpetual pleasure, or the plague of passivity. It’s about interrogations, realizations, and every so often, encountering a moment that we never forget.  

World Stage begins February 6 

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