In our new series Centre Stage, Grid City asks Fredericton theatre personalities to help shed some light on the city’s vibrant theatre scene. This week we hear from Imaginary Circumstances’ Artistic Producer Alex Donovan.
Unfortunately my answer for this one is incredibly biased. I have a fondness for Memorial Hall on UNB’s campus because that theatre is where I really feel like I began maturing as a theatre artist. I learned a lot of incredible lessons there and it really is a beautiful space. I think plenty of theatre artists would probably answer this question based on the places that hold sentimental value to them. One of my constant frustrations with theatre, and at the same time why I love it so much, is that once it’s over, it really only exists in your memories, and that’s how I feel about Memorial Hall. It holds a lot of fantastic memories.
Tell us about one production you caught over the past year that stuck with you.
The most recent was NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival’s Model Wanted, by Step Taylor. It was a provocative play that really showcased the talent of the actors onstage. The second piece was Next Folding Theatre Company‘s Disintegrate Me, by Ryan Griffith & Jake Martin. The cast was phenomenal and it’s always great to see original New Brunswick works put on stage.
With a few companies rolling out their coming seasons, what upcoming production is on your radar as a must-see?
I’m most excited for Nasty Shadows remount of Rougher Magic. Nasty Shadows was one of the first production companies that I saw when I moved to Fredericton. I got to see the late, great Andrew Jones and Matthew Spinney perform The Dumb Waiter and was completely enthralled. Since then I have seen every production they’ve put on. I was deeply saddened when they took a bit of a hiatus but they’re back to give us a cubist interpretation of The Tempest. Their shows are pure theatrical bliss and always challenging, everyone should check this show out.
Producing a play for the stage presents a number of unique and exciting challenges. Which aspect of production do you enjoy the most?
The rehearsal process is my absolute favourite. I love being on either side of the equation. As an actor getting to play and discover your character and the arc of the play is extremely fun and rewarding. As a Director, it is incredible to watch the show take shape in front of your eyes. It’s especially gratifying to work with actors who come ready to play. What I mean by play is having their lines memorized and aren’t afraid to take big risks. When they’re ready to do this, the rehearsal process becomes an absolute joy.
For a small city, Fredericton has a great variety of theatre happening with each of the several companies representing a unique aspect of the city’s theatre scene. What’s one major challenge you feel every company faces in producing theatre in Fredericton?
This is a huge question and I’m glad someone is asking it. Theatre in Fredericton is vibrant and we’re so fortunate to have a community that supports theatre. I think two of the biggest challenges right now are focused around communication. For one, communication between the theatre companies is lacking. This isn’t because companies refuse to communicate, it’s simply the nature of the game. Producing a show is a lot of work and sometimes you can get tunnel vision, only thinking about your show. For example, we recently put on a show with Imaginary Circumstances and only learned the week of that there was a musical playing the same week as us. It would be great if the Artistic Directors of the companies could meet to discuss their seasons, but that would be quite the logistical nightmare!
The second big issue is finding your audience. Theatre is great, but not all theatre is great. Some shows are better than others and sometimes audiences can get turned off by a bad show. How do we convince an audience to take a gamble on a live performance that may or may not be any good? It’s a tough line to balance but I think the very focus on “good” might be the problem. I have rarely been disappointed by professional theatre. Sure, I might have some gripes about certain aspects of the show but in general I always leave feeling entertained and pleased. That is in large part due to the fact that those artists are professional, disciplined, and trained. They weren’t always like that though, and many professionals, or should I say – all professionals – started in amateur productions like those we see happening all over Fredericton. If we want more professionals and incredible theatre, we need to support these amateur productions. If we do that, one day we’ll leave their shows feeling entertained and pleased every time.
Alex Donovan is Imaginary Circumstances Theatre’s Artistic Director. The company is dedicated to creating intelligent, provocative and most importantly passionate theatre. He is a working actor having recently returned from performing in the Vancouver Fringe Festival with Theatre Free Radical inLac/Athabasca. He is also a director, screenwriter, playwright and graduate of the University of New Brunswick’s Drama program. You can see him next in Theatre New Brunswick’s Somme Letters Home.