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Jackie Maxwell. (Glenn Lowson)
Jackie Maxwell. (Glenn Lowson)


Movies offer escape. Theatre lets us understand Add to ...

We know budgets are tight. But how is the financial squeeze playing out artistically?

Albert Schultz: I suppose the reaction to the financial meltdown is no different in the arts than it is anywhere else. We're stung, we're cautious, we're wondering what we might have done to protect ourselves and hoping it will all end soon.

If we're really lucky, we have - either consciously or unconsciously - anticipated something coming, and our current programming speaks to our audience's concerns. We're about to open a Depression-era play by Clifford Odets called Awake and Sing! (it opened earlier this month). We just closed David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, a play that comes out of the last recession and, in hindsight, comes as a warning of unregulated corporate greed.

Perhaps the life we imitate is given more meaning by the relevance of the art we make, and probably the art we make is enriched by the additional stresses of our lives. Mostly though, we're thinking about two things: getting the show up and paying the rent.

The choice in our case is for the audience to decide if it wants to escape - albeit thoughtfully - or dive in seeking explication, context and challenge. Jackie Maxwell

Jackie Maxwell: When the financial world crashed last fall, a Shaw supporter said to me, "I guess this is why you programmed your Noel Coward cycle." I laughed (or as much as I could at that point) and told him that the Cowards had been planned for over a year and that it was merely a lucky coincidence that these pieces - so many of which are indeed designed to amuse - are currently unwinding.

I think, though, that, as Albert says, one is always aware, consciously or unconsciously, of the endless and extreme vagaries that affect us moment to moment, and that, in programming an extensive season, these complexities and inevitable ups and downs are bound to be reflected. The choice in our case is for the audience to decide if it wants to escape - albeit thoughtfully - or dive in seeking explication, context and challenge. We offer both ends of the spectrum.

I will say, as I put the finishing touches to our 2010 season, that I do see a thread running through it, and that is definitely "money" - how we use it and how we abuse it, past, present and future!

Heather Redfern: At The Cultch, our context is very different than yours - we program and commission contemporary, theatre, dance and music. But I'm certainly going to be very interested to see how artists creating shows this year deal with the uncertain times. That said, much of our current program was also in place before the crash, and we live in the bubble of the pending 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Still, looking over our program, I see an emerging theme too: A desire for transformation and the uncertainty of the journey - whether it be funny, beautiful or dark.

So, okay, that's right now. But like Jackie maybe I can turn the question around to ask how what we're living through now will affect what we see next season. Will we look at the stage then and think, 'Yes, I know where that was coming from?'

I think a challenge that we are going to face in the theatre is how to keep up with an increasingly technology-dependent audience. Albert Schultz

That is a key question - and which plays are really resonating for you during this recession?

Schultz: Whenever I've thought of tailoring a programming choice for an awaiting and eager audience I have been mistaken. Like Jackie with the Coward plays, I have found that my moments of zeitgeist-catching prescience have been entirely accidental or at the most subconscious.

Here's a theory, Jackie and Heather: There are three categories of plays that will always, when programmed, give the impression of prescience. One is plays about the futility of war ( Lysistrata , Hair , even Romeo and Juliet). Sadly, we can always find a real life corollary for these. Secondly, plays about the failure of a "system" to address the needs of society (many of the plays of Ibsen, Shaw, Miller, Brecht etc.). We can always find real-life parallels to this phenomenon. The third category that makes a programmer look prescient is the play that makes us laugh out loud, something we are always in need of. There are many plays that fit in these three containers that slosh around in my head constantly.

Then there is a play that never leaves me and never seems to lose its poignancy and (strangely) its urgency. That play is Thornton Wilder's Our Town , a play that gently urges us to slow down and take note of the everyday miracles of our existence. We have done it three times in 10 years at Soulpepper. We will, I think, do it again.

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