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Navigating the Undercurrents: an interview with Pat Gauthier (part 3)

So, two weeks, six shows, and it’s over, right? Not quite. Pat Gauthier lets us in on the future of the undercurrents theatre festival.

What do you think of the independent theatre collective as a way of making new work? This is obviously something that you’ve had some experience with.

I like to work in different ways. When I work with Mi Casa, I work completely differently than when I work with Gruppo Rubato, because I’m personally affected by how the artists I’m working with work. I think it’s a very effective way—it can be an effective way, but I still think that you need a captain. You need someone to. . . I don’t believe in the 1970s socialist collective creation model because I think they’re trying to please too many masters. “Okay, fine, we’ll put your scene in the play, Andrew, but if we put your scene in, we have to put my scene in too.” Right? And both of those scenes could be terrible. But to appease each other we both get our way, and the play is kind of limp. I love the collective energy, but I strongly believe in having a captain that’s driving the artistic vision of the ship, whether that’s a director, or an actor, or a writer, or a producer—whoever that is, it doesn’t matter. Generally, it’s the director, or writer, but Mi Casa is very driven by Nick [Di Gaetano] and Emily [Pearlman] as performer-creators. I’m there as a director and I do that job, and we’re all equal collaborators, but they’re the ones who have the strong vision for the show, and who really drive that. That gives for, I find, me, the director, a great framework to play in. “Oh, this is our world? Great. I can totally work within that world.” It frees you up in the sense that I’m not struggling to create the world; I’m struggling to help shape it.

It’s as if you’re given a text and, “This is established”.

Exactly. It’s a different set of muscles. Take The Crucible. The Crucible is The Crucible. Now how do I, taking all this information. . . how do I stage the show? Then with Mi Casa shows, well, this is the text, and this is a song, and these are the performers; how do we mush that together and create whatever we’re working on?

It seems to have worked out well—although I have yet to see Countries.

Oh, really? Well, you’re the only person in town. [laughs] We’ve done it for as few as sixteen.

I’ll wait a little while before I rent Mi Casa.

They’re cheaper than you think.

So how do you think this [undercurrents] is going to come out? Do you think you’re going to do this again?

I was in Montréal last weekend, and I’m going to Toronto next weekend to see shows for 2012. So, right now, it is happening.

Okay. It’s that certain.

Yeah. Now, things could change, right? But I had a great talk with Lise Ann; she wants to do it again, I want to do it again, the board and executives approved the budget for next year, so it’s in the budget for next year. It’s just all moving forward. . . I mean, I have a diabolical five-year plan for how all this should all turn out. We know where we want to go with it, and kind of take it slowly. Six shows is a good number for a couple of years, we think, and for however long. Centaur [Theatre Company, Montréal] does the Wildside festival, which is where I was last weekend. They’ve been doing it for fourteen years, and they just expanded this year to include their second space. They were traditionally a six-show festival; they went to eight this year, year fourteen. So we’re well aware of where the festival sits and where it is. Growing it is great, because if we can include more local shows, and include more national shows, that’s fantastic. It comes down to “Will people come?” Ticket sales are strong right now. We’ve almost hit our ticket sale goal for the entire festival. We were modest in our budgeting. We were like “Okay, I think we’re gonna come. . . let’s lowball it.” And we probably did lowball it, but better to do that and have a bit of extra money when the festival’s all done than to be too ambitious and be overbudget. We come out with a tiny surplus, it just gets applied to next year, and away we go.

When you say “national”. . . are you going farther west than Toronto?

What I try to do is time trips to Toronto with when out-of-town companies are there; when other festivals like the Wildside festival. . . I’m going to Next Stage in Toronto next weekend. It’s not like you can cherry-pick, right? If we had money to send me to Vancouver, great. Fringe is a good time as well to go to these places and see what’s touring Fringe that’s national and might be able to. A lot of times too, maybe there are shows—I was in Vancouver for a number of years and there were a bunch of shows I saw when I was there that would be great shows, but then again the trick to bringing in an artist from Vancouver versus bringing in an artist from Toronto is that it’s much more expensive for the Vancouver artist to get here than it is for the artist from Toronto.

But if they’re already in Toronto, you know that they’re at least capable of touring that far.

Exactly. We had limited resources; this year we couldn’t afford to pay for artists’ travel or accommodations, which is reflected in the fees. If you’re an out-of-town artist, we’re paying you a bit more because we know that that money’s also paying for your travel and your accommodation while you’re here, versus in-town artists, who probably already have a bus pass. As the festival grows, and we get a larger profile, we can hopefully afford to, well, we’ll pay your travel. That makes a Vancouver artist getting here much simpler, if we could pay the thousand dollars, the fifteen hundred dollars that it’s probably going to cost to bring the three of them out.

You think it’s got a future? I hope you’ll expand in less than fourteen years.

I think we can do it in less than fourteen.

Check back for part 4 of this exclusive interview with Pat Gauthier later in the week.