Theatre in an Elevator!

You have two evenings left (today and tomorrow) to catch The National Elevator Project (NEP) at Mag North. Edmonton’s Theatre Yes has commissioned five-minute plays from across the country to be performed within working elevators. “The actors will be only a few feet away so the experiences are intense,” says Heather Inglis, founder of the NEP and artistic producer at Theatre Yes. “Many people say that the plays are so engaging that five minutes is all they need to feel they have had a complete theatre experience.”

 Inglis shares more about the intriguing Project:

When and why did you first become interested in theatre?
HI: I've been interested in theatre my whole life. I’m an example of a child who was immersed in the arts and fell in love with them at an early age. Before I even knew what a theatre director was, I forced my younger brother to perform plays under the walnut tree for my extended family while I stood on the sidelines to watch.

Are they the same reasons that you continue to be involved today?
HI: I’m happy to say theatre has become my career – and it is pretty all consuming. I can honestly say I’m not exactly sure why I created those early 'backyard works' and in some ways I’m still kind of mystified by the source of what drives me now. What I do know is that I love theatre – all of it. I love theatre people: actors, writers, technicians, producers. I love the meetings and the smell of latex paint and even writing grants and making budgets. Most of all I'm delighted when audiences are delighted. I’m really fortunate that I’m able to do what I love.

What are the challenges of the vocation?
HI: All the things one expects from a career in the arts are kind-of true: the paid work isn’t always consistent, you probably won’t get rich, the hours can be long. There are like any profession’s ups and downs; pros and cons. But it is always challenging and hardly ever boring. Dangerous yes, but routine can be lethal.

Is your creative process more 'inspirational' or 'perspirational'?
HI: I would say it is a bit of both. I get ideas and then it usually takes a long time for them to make it to the stage. Often times it is two or more years from the moment I know I want to do something to it finding a life on stage. A lot of this has to do with the time it takes to raise the funds to produce fully professional theatre. It is just not a fast process and in that time there is a lot of perspiration involved.

What inspired The National Elevator Project?
HI: Our company is very interested in site-specific work, and works that engage very small audiences. The thing that is specific to theatre, that sets it apart from other forms of narrative storytelling is that the actors in a play are in the same room with the audience. Living, breathing performers of great skill who's energy you can feel, are present with the audience to tell a story. We’re interested in amplifying this reality and making sure that is central to our work. We wanted to see what would happen if the performers were very close/among the audience in very small rooms. In elevators – like it or not — we collide with people. We ascend towards the sky and plummet to the earth while jammed into tight spaces with people we don’t know. Our lives are shaped and transformed by transactions and collisions with strangers. We wanted to explore moments of transition in our lives. The times where things happen that change us forever. The elevators are metaphors of transformation and transition and they make for exciting experiences in and of themselves because elevators rides come with baggage which is then amplified by the play. These are plays for people that want adventures. 

What can audiences here expect to experience?
HI: The audience can expect a completely unique theatre experience. The actors will be only a few feet away so the experiences are intense. Many people say that the plays are so engaging that five minutes is all they need to feel they have had a complete theatre experience. The audience will be in the thick of the action, placed in the midst of hyper-real  performances that will leave them tingling and talking for hours afterward. It is really something they won’t forget.

What are your thoughts on the current state of theatre in Canada?
HI:  I think exciting things are happening. A new generation of bold, brash theatre artists are finding their way into leadership positions in the country. As this happens, a new theatre is being built that challenges more conservative notions of what the art form is. Don’t get me wrong I love the proscenium arch. And to keep live performance vital we need to find out how to engage new audiences in new ways. That is happening more and more and it is TERRIFIC.

What can we be doing better?
HI:  The biggest challenge is the limits of funding. Artists work very hard to find funding that allows audiences to see theatre at a price they can afford. I can honestly say I spend most of my time finding funding for projects.  What would happen if it was even a tiny bit easier? Funding for the arts is a small ticket item on the budgets of every government who funds it and yet the economic spin off is both huge and documented. In the arts a little bit of funding goes a long, long, way. Even tiny increases from federal and provincial governments would make gargantuan differences to artists who are creating the social capital Canada needs to meet the challenges we’ll face in the next 50 years.

What's next on your creative agenda?
HI:  We have a number of dates cooking to perform plays from the National Elevator Project at events in the coming year - all to be announced. We’re developing a commission for a play to be written which will go in a shipping container and we are looking forward to co–production of a new play with another Edmonton theatre in the next season. That is all I can say for now.  But more interesting plays in more interesting spaces…more intelligent theatre for adventurous audiences.

The National Elevator Project

Today (June 24) 5:30-8pm (The Maritime Centre, Fortis Properties)
The Tip of Things by Catherine Banks (NS)                
Commissioned by Mulgrave Road Theatre
Admission by donation

Tomorrow (June 25) 5:30-8pm (The Maritime Centre, Fortis Properties)
Earworm Duet by Megan Coles (NL)
Commissioned by Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland
Admission by donation

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