|Laurence Olivier once said that “in a great city, or even in a small city or a village, great theatre is the outward and visible sign of an inward and probable culture“. There is no better proof of this than in the umbilical connection between Vancouver’s thriving culture and bourgeoning theatre scene.
Here on Cue to Cue we’ll regularly feature in-depth previews and reviews of the shows that create the face of Vancouver theatre, as well as interviews with the local artists behind it all…
It’s a fantastic time of the year for theatre. With the change of seasons come a plethora of festivals to bring in the fall, and kick off the start of the new theatrical calendar year. The largest, and my personal favourite of these festivals is the Vancouver Fringe Festival which is currently in its 27 year and runs until September 18th. If you haven’t ever made your way down to Granville Island for a show, I’m not sure what to tell you other than “go!”. If you haven’t made it down this year, I’d say “go, it’s even better than last year!”.
I saw my first Fringe show when I was 16, and can say without question that it was a game-changer for me. The first of these game-changers was a Monster Theatre show called The Canada Show which drew hordes of festival goers at the 2002 Fringe to see a hilarious re-telling of Canada’s entire history in one hour. Years later, Monster Theatre Artistic-Director Ryan Gladstone is still creating magnetic works in the Fringe circuit and beyond that transcend time and genre to tell stories that audiences wide and far manage to connect to. Now back in Vancouver for his TWO shows in this year’s festival, I had a chance to chat with Ryan about it all. Enjoy!
Who are you?
Ryan Gladstone, founder and artistic director of Monster Theatre.
What is Monster Theatre?
Monster Theatre is an 11 year old independent theatre company that creates, develops and tours original plays. Most of our plays are comedies, but our mandate is more serious. Our plays are always based on history or mythology. Actually my one-man play this summer is sort of about what inspires all of our shows. We believe that the human experience is more or less unchanged for the last ten thousand years – we are born, we live, we come of age, we fall in love, we have children, we die – and that stories are like signposts on the road of life to help us cope. This is why the same story pattern recur over and over, and we believe that it the artists duty to re-tell these stories, adding in their own details to make these archetypes relevant to their own time and place in the world.
What can we expect from the two shows you have opening this week?
‘Houdini’s Last Escape’ is fast and funny with some more serious stuff and tonnes of magic! It is set in 1926, at Houdini’s final performance, and it features Harry and his very loving and very grumpy wife Bess. Harry decides to take this opportunity to tell his life story, coercing Bess to play all the characters – and what a life he had! And, did mention magic?
And ‘Every Story Ever Told’ is really just me, on stage, with a clicker, trying to tell Every Story Ever Told – the show takes some left turns though, I never know how its going to end! It’s a fast-paced show, that basically deconstructs every story ever told, and then tries to reconstruct it, with the help of the audience, into The Perfect Story!
From Shakespeare to Louis Riel, you’re pulling from a wide range of inspiration. What’s your process like when approaching a new work?
Research! I usually come up with the general concept first. Then research for months and months. Then outlines for weeks. And the very last part of the writing process is, words. Although all of our shows continue to change and develop as we tour. You can learn more about your play doing it in front of an audience once, than you can in two weeks of rehearsal.
Does Fringe allow you anything that a standard production style doesn’t?
Basically just to be able to create original shows and tour them across the country waaay easier. It also demands that you create shows that people want to see, as opposed to having your creative process dictated by granting bodies. We only get paid if people come!
Why do you think no matter what the subject matter, Fringe audiences flock to your productions?
Thats a toughy. I feel like we definitely have a bit of advantage because we have done so many shows for so many years, people definitely remember a show they loved, and want to see what that creative team comes up with next. But, at the same time, we are subject to reviewers and bad showtimes just like everyone else!
What is the biggest thing you may know now that you didn’t know when you started this style of work in 2000?
When we started in 2000, we actually were a street theatre company! Even our second production The Canada Show was a street show first. So, we definitely have grown and learned a tonne over the years, but we try to stay true to our roots at the same time.
Vancouver being the end of a long tour, what were you most looking forward to?
A nap on my couch! Even before I moved here, Vancouver was one of my favourite stops on tour. It’s the end of the summer, all the touring folks have made fantastic friendships, it’s so damn beautiful here, and a lot of the stress of the early tour is over.
What’s next for you?
Hum, good question! Having a small theatre company this Monster Theatre means we always have projects on the go, front-burner, back-burner, a couple in the oven… We are doing a remount of our play ‘The Shakespeare Show’ as part of the hold-over week here in Vancouver. We develop a new kids show called ‘Mini Masterpieces’ and tour schools every winter, this year our tour takes us to Queen Charlotte Islands, so excited! Some of our plays are getting produced by other companies as well, Persephone is doing a production of ‘The Canada Show’, and Nephesh Theatre in Israel is translating and producing ‘The Shakespeare Show’! Also, our sister company ‘Here Be Monsters‘ has an amazing annual festival over Halloween, featuring some of Vancouver hippest art, Theatre Under the Gun, live bands, and lots of Monster-y goodness. That’s just the stuff off the top of my head! I guess stay tuned to our website for everything we’re up to. One of my favourite things we have is three original video games! All created by Monster John Schuett. The latest one is called ‘Houdini’s Last Escape’ and is a free download on the Apple iTunes App store, it’s super addictive!
Make sure to head down to Granville Island or one of the off-island venues to see some of the many offerings at this year’s Fringe Festival. As always, stay in touch on Twitter @viaplays, or at firstname.lastname@example.org