The 19th annual SuperNova Theatre Festival runs until May 20 at Neptune Theatre in Halifax. This year’s festival will feature 8 full-length productions by local and out-of-town artists, plus a variety of shows and activities designed for youth. The event also features the return of the Ten-Minute Play Contest, which showcases 4 short plays written by Nova Scotian high school students, performed by professional theatre artists. Recently AE spoke with the festival’s Artistic Producer Charlie Rhindress.
How long have you been involved in theatre?
My first professional gig was working as a production assistant at The Ship’s Company Theatre in 1986. That job involved chipping rusty paint off the side of the ship and cleaning the toilets. I eventually got promoted to sound operator.
How did you get involved with the festival?
I became Artistic Producer of Eastern Front Theatre in October of last year. The Festival is a major part of Eastern Front’s operations and one of my first duties was picking the visiting shows for this year.
What are the challenges of the position?
My challenges as an Artistic Producer are probably the same as Artistic Producers all across this country. Theatre is expensive to produce. Box office, while important, probably only covers about twenty percent of our budget. So, the vast majority of my time is spent fundraising and trying to get new sponsors and donors. Then you spend an awful lot of time convincing people to come to the shows. So, it often seems I spend more time making “the case” for theatre than actually making theatre.
What are the rewards?
It is exciting to present new works that no one has ever seen. To have a hand in making those productions possible is very rewarding. The biggest reward however, is sitting in a theatre with a group of strangers having a communal experience. Art reflects life back to us and when its good art it is true and we see ourselves up there on the stage. It makes us feel a little less alone.
What is the festival's core mandate?
The mandate of the Festival is to feature Atlantic Canadian works and to give Halifax audiences a chance to see some of the best shows from across the country.
How has the festival evolved over the years?
The Festival started out presenting new works and works in development. It was much more like a fringe festival, with a lot of works still in their early stages. Over time the “tried and true” shows from away were added and production values increased.
What can audiences expect this year?
The theme of this year’s Festival is Our Stories on Stage. Almost everything in the Festival tells an East Coast story or was created by East Coast artists. This year’s Festival aims to be accessible and is a celebration of our artists and stories.
Are there plans to grow the festival next year also?
Since this is my first year running the Festival I hope to have a detailed post mortem after the Festival to determine what worked and what didn’t. It is important to identify the role of the Festival in the community and to make sure we are fulfilling that role. Based on what we learn this year the Festival could look very different next year or there may just be some small tweaks. But we won’t be making those decisions until we see our audience and artists’ responses to this year’s offerings.
What are your thoughts on the state of live theatre in Halifax and Atlantic Canada?
I grew up in Amherst, NS and graduated from high school in 1983. At that time there was very little professional theatre in Nova Scotia. There was Neptune, Mermaid and Mulgrave. That’s it. There has been huge growth since then. Thirty years ago there was no Eastern Front. No One Light, 2b, Zuppa Circus, Victoria Playhouse, Festival Antigonish, Live Bait, Shakespeare by the Sea, Valley Summer Players and on and on. And those are just some of the major players on the East Coast. In order to make a living in this business it is often necessary to create your own work. I sometimes think there is just too much theatre out there now. There is a limited audience and it is strained. I wish there were more opportunities for playwrights to get their work produced and for actors to be on stage so that everyone didn’t have to start a company every time they wanted to do a show.
What are your thoughts on the state of live theatre in Canada?
I think there is some amazing work being done in this country. We are new to theatre. The Greeks have been creating it for thousands of years. The Brits for hundreds. Even the Americans have been major players for almost a century. But Canadian Theatre was essentially born in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. In that short period of time we have created an impressive body of literature. Playwrights like David French, Sharon Pollock, Joan MacLeod, Daniel MacIvor and Wendy Lill can stand proudly beside anyone on the world stage. But we struggle with funding. Always. Theatre is expensive to produce and people can’t afford $75 tickets. But even with government funding and corporate sponsors theatre tickets can be too expensive for much of the population. It is cheaper and easier to stay home. Over the last twenty years, with the explosion of the internet and now movies on demand and Netflix, it is easier and cheaper to sit on the couch and get your entertainment there. We have to make theatre so compelling that people are willing to leave the house, give up an evening and part with their hard earned cash to have an experience they can’t get anywhere else. We do offer something unique. What happens watching a live show can never be recreated. That exact group of people will never be together again having that exact experience. It is our job as theatre artists to make that an experience worth having.