Want to Work in Theatre? Produce It Yourself

December Man, produced by Saskatoon’s Live Five, an example of indie theatre

Producing independent theatre in Saskatoon has always been an uphill battle thanks to resources, funding and public interest.

But a local theatre company, Live Five, has been making it easier for artists to create theatre for the past eight years. The company is currently embroiled in the second show of their 9th season: The December Man by Colleen Murphy. I sat down with director Brian Cochrane and producer/actor Aaron Hursh for a conversation about the challenges and rewards involved in producing theatre.

What is Independent Theatre?

Independent theatre generally differs from regional theatre in one major way: resources.

Independent shows consistently need to create more with less, and because Live Five is an artist driven enterprise, they are free to pick edgier, less mainstream plays. “It’s not like you’re presenting shows that have already proven themselves, everything is a risk,” said Hursh. Both Cochrane and Hursh agreed that Live Five is “an important foil to what we get at regional theaters” and the type of plays they choose, “complements and contrasts with what [Persephone is] doing.”

Live Five is technically an umbrella organization that acts as a go-between for independent theatre companies, facilitating the rental of space, promoting their season and taking care of administration needs. They operate under a Festival Agreement, which means every year applications are submitted and the board collectively picks five or six independent theatre companies to showcase that season. Live Five is about, “getting people excited, it’s about creating a community, creating a dialogue,” explains Hursh.

Why Produce?

Producing your own show offers a freedom that is important to artists at every stage in their career, but can best serve up and coming theatre professionals by exposing the audience to new talent. Hursh initially started producing theatre to showcase himself, hoping it would lead to roles in other major theaters. Now he feels that, “we can tackle bigger issues, more specific issues, more exciting themes” with independent theatre. “In Canadian theatre you pretty much have to self-produce because in a centre like this you could wait a long time [for work], no matter how talented you are,” Cochrane adds.

If you want to work in this industry, the easiest way is to be proactive and create your own art.

As a producer you are in charge of getting the ball rolling by choosing a play that excites you, securing the rights to produce it, working with “people who are going to push you and who aren’t going to let you half ass anything,” setting up a budget for yourself and finding a performance space. The best advice veteran producer and director Cochrane ever got was, “start planning two years in advance, pick a show, pick a date in the future. Boom. You’re working on something.” “Make that the thing you’re going to do that year,” Hursh agreed.

Besides exposure, indie theatre is important for young artists because it gives them an opportunity to establish a reputation. “When you produce your own shows you get to show people you have talent, but you also get to show people that you can get shit done and that you’re not a flake, so you’re not just drumming around asking for work because it’s your fancy of the week,” Cochrane summed up. “And you also get to show people you have taste.”

Most importantly, producing theatre offers the opportunity to connect with other like-minded artists and create valuable relationships. Most indie productions operate under a Cooperative Agreement, which means everyone involved has an equal stake in the show and after recouping costs all profits are split up equally. As both Hursh and Cochrane have found working on The December Man, “you’re all seeing different facets of each other’s creativity… and the collaborative partnerships you can hatch from [producing independently] are vital.”

The December Man is a story about a family struggling with the aftermath of the École Polytechnique tragedy. It is now in its final weekend: Nov. 29th- Dec. 2nd. Visit livefive.ca for more info.

Photo: Kent Allen, Aaron Hursh and Sharon Bakker in Fire in the Hole Productions – Photo by Nathan Hursh