WHERE ARE WE NOW?
I feel like I have experienced a sort of winter in our industry. Where some things must die so that new growth can emerge. I saw the sudden death of my frantic schedule. A full stop that was pleasant at first, but soon challenged our ‘the show must go on’ sensibility to ‘I guess the show doesn’t have to go on… can’t go on” sobriety. I am a passionate theatre for young audience creator, producer, and director at the helm of Quest Theatre in Calgary who feels administratively active spinning wheels, but also feels creatively challenged as we try our best to access young people.
In this extended winter I’ve had unprecedented time to consider marginalized voices and the allocation of power in our organization. I’ve had time to grapple, argue, make excuses, get informed, accept, shift, and start the work. I’ve had time to take stock of what our company is trying to achieve and to appreciate where we have been. Quest, like many other theatre companies, has opened the doors to collaborative projects, experiments, workshops, and play development with other arts organizations, independent artists, BIPoC artists, collectives, and our own family of artists. We have both contributed and received support to keep our company creatively percolating. I am genuinely excited to see how this strange period supports a swell of innovation and positive change in our sector in the coming years.
This pandemic has changed a lot. The playing field has thinned out, there is no doubt. There has never been enough opportunity for all the artists in our sector when there wasn’t a pandemic, and many of Quest’s reliable family of artists have understandably decided to turn to other pursuits. We are hoping the next generation of hardworking, diverse, talented, and passionate batch of artists will… wait for us to emerge from dormancy, wait for cancellations or postponement of projects, wait for restrictions in schools to lift…. then roar out of the wings to inspire us all! It is the end of an era, but the beginning of something else. My Artistic Associate, Ali DeRegt, has blown me away with her talents, her fresh ideas, and her insights. She explores technology in a way I can’t comprehend, and she is discovering secret escape hatches in our playground that I’ve never seen before.
They say theatre will never die… well… not as long as there are artists willing to re-invent, pivot, hibernate, dream, collaborate and fight for it. What will emerge? What grand adventure is around the corner? What essential pieces will survive?
Theatre for Young Audiences dwells in a broad ecosystem of intentions. TYA is experienced by young people through student class projects, emerging artistic collectives, extremely passionate seasoned professionals, and well-established arts organizations like Quest Theatre. The sector’s objectives might be to support curriculum, or facilitate creative communication; to bring joy, or to promote inquiry; to build community or encourage young people to build the sort of world they want to live in. When the adult theatre sector conducts a round table to discover ways we can develop our audiences, invariably the conversation will wind around and land on the importance of exposing young people to quality live theatre experiences in the school system. This readership already knows the broad benefits of theatre for all audiences, so I won’t repeat the massive list, yet despite all this knowledge, TYA continues to be observed as something fun, or purposeful, but not essential. Theatre needs to be re-claimed as essential to humanity, indeed, for young people, it is an essential part of growing up.
It is a revelation for us to be able to articulate the impact live theatre adventures have on our children not only in bringing joy, and sparking imaginations, but also in promoting much needed support for children’s health and wellness. Experiences online and in-person can almost be the same but are not at all the same. The energy of a live, human experience and the joy it brings seems understood universally now.
ASSITEJ, the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People, distributed a manifesto that acts as a tool to support arts advocacy especially related to children and young people and for those who produce it. The manifesto preamble suggests that “more than ever, taking action in favour of an equal and equitable access to arts and culture is an indispensable requirement, as we want our children to live in a sustainable and healthy world.” It goes on to say, “The arts are particularly vulnerable at this time, having been deeply impacted by COVID-19, and the subsequent economic conditions. Arts (and the artists that produce it) are a vital part of humanity’s expression, critical reflection and health and well-being. Children and young people have the right to access and participate in the arts, even and especially in times of crisis.”
Currently our access to young people is challenging through the school system. At Quest, we conducted online camps, and offered live streamed workshops, and considered streaming online productions, but when we ask young people to go online to experience theatre, we are confusing their understanding of what theatre is. What we offer online is not theatre.
Because schools are closed to outside visitors, we devised and delivered a 15-minute outdoor performance called Hello Friend that was as delightful to give, as it was to receive. Outdoor theatre in Calgary, however, has its limitations. Our little project has had to dodge both undulating restrictions, skittish educators, and harsh weather conditions, but what we were able to deliver, brought artists and audiences joyfully together.
Right now, theatre appears dead, but there are signs of rejuvenation, renovation, and rebirth. Pivots, failures, revelations, new faces, unfamiliar forms, and refreshing collaborations is just theatre’s way of evolving to something new. What an exciting time to be an artist!
At Quest we envision a galaxy where theatre is valued as an essential part of growing up. For now, playing to 8 young people in a small family audience is about the average size of our galaxy. For now, those lucky young people will be our foothold in our pursuit of transforming this viable, whimsical, inspirational, cultural, experience we call theatre into something we will all see as essential.
Nikki Loach is a Calgary based creator, and director, who has been the Artistic Director of Quest Theatre since 2009. Some of her favorite directing projects include Snow Angel, We are All Treaty People, and Flibbertigibbet’s Story Exhibit for Quest Theatre, Hay Fever, King Henry IV Part I, London Cuckolds, and The Constant Wife, for Theatre Junction, and Gaslight, A Christmas Carol (01,02,03), Crimes of the Heart, and Miracle Worker for Theatre Calgary. Nikki is obsessed with creating stories through imaginative play. She spends her free time with her husband Christopher and her son, Charlie.