Make way for the Neanderthal Arts Festival, a new, adventurous festival lumbering over to The Cultch this summer. This festival will highlight bold, innovative work from visionary artists and will run from July 21st to August 1st at The Cultch. One of these local visionary artists is The Cultch’s very own Head Front of House Manager, Dave Deveau. Describing theatre as “the ultimate conversation about humanity”, Dave has started two theatre companies in Vancouver and is now working on various projects at home and in Toronto. His play, Tiny Replicas, will be at the Neanderthal Arts Festival (July 21 to 25) and we took this opportunity to pick his brain about the festival, his work, and the secret to his success as an emerging playwright and theatre company creator.
You are behind both Zee Zee Theatre and Thirty Below Theatre. When did you start these companies and what are they all about?
Thirty Below Theatre emerged as a project in the final year of my undergrad at York University with the mandate of producing plays by Canadian playwrights both past and present. There are a multitude of companies in our country who help develop work by young playwrights, but very few who actually see them through to professional productions. The company itself formed in 2005 with the English-Language world premiere of Canadian master playwright Michel Tremblay’s The Train, which I translated and directed. The company has produced a show every year since.
Zee Zee Theatre is my fiancé Cameron Mackenzie’s mastermind project which he formed at the end of 2008. It’s a registered non-profit that focuses on the stories of the marginalized as seen through small moments. It launched with Bryden MacDonald’s Whale Riding Weather in February 2009, followed by my own play Nelly Boy last October, which earned the company its first Jessie nomination.
What made you want to start theatre companies in Vancouver? What challenges have you faced?
As any young artist out of theatre school can attest, it’s hard to get hired, particularly if you’re a director or a playwright in a city that’s not yet familiar with your work. You need to get your name out, and the best way is to do it yourself. One thing Cameron was adamant about with the formation of Zee Zee, was that everyone got paid a professional living wage from the get-go. It’s vital because otherwise you’re dismissed as amateurs and we don’t have the time or patience for that. So despite not receiving any government or foundation funding for Whale Riding Weather, Cameron chased funders and patrons and was able to employ a full roster of Equity actors and professional designers – something I still stand in awe of.
What have you found most rewarding about your experience?
It’s the ideal scenario – enabling your partner to succeed and vice-versa. We’re lucky to have a successful playwright-director relationship and to have a similar aesthetic sensibility in our programming. Not every show Zee Zee produces will be one of mine (though the next one sure is!), but it’s ideal to have that relationship, both professionally and personally.
What, in your opinion, is the key to a successful theatre company?
Pay your people! If we don’t value the people doing the art, can we really value the art?
What makes your work unique?
What makes anyone’s unique? We all have our own voice, but I often get the question of “What is queer theatre? What about your work is queer? Is that important?” I think that I write queer plays for a broad audience, not work for the queer community, but work about it, work that is sharing aspects of queer life with the rest of the world. I think it’s vital to use this medium to bring people together, not strictly to appeal to one demographic.
What has been your most memorable Zee Zee/ Thirty Below Theatre moment?
Proposing to my boyfriend during the curtain call of Thirty Below’s My Funny Valentine. Everyone in the audience (which consisted of our nearest and dearest) was in on it. I’d told them all to bring champagne in their purses! Cameron was hugely shocked…. It made sense to do it onstage during a production that we’d both created together. Theatre is in many ways our first child.
Thirty Below produced Tiny Replicas which is being presented at The Neanderthal Festival. What is it all about?
Wow, it looks like that last question was the perfect segue: it’s about a gay couple who wants children and approaches their female friends to help in the process. Most Canadians don’t know about the legal challenges that present themselves with adoption, particularly for gay couples wanting children.
What should theatre-goers expect from Tiny Replicas?
An emotional, laugh-out-loud, at times, heartfelt look at people desperately trying to make something happen despite their own biologies. Nine months going by in the span of an hour…, and some pretty wonderful man-on-man love scenes. How do you like those odds?
What shows at The Neanderthal Festival are you looking forward to seeing?
I’m really keen to see Countries Shaped Like Stars and Highway 63: The Fort Mac Show, which are the two national shows – I know artists involved in both of them and have seen amazing work by them in the past!
Rumour has it you are leaving The Cultch come August. What is your plan?
I’m writing full-time! All those backburner projects are cutting to the front of the line. I just won the Gordon Armstrong Playwright’s Rent Award, which is delightful, and I’m going to spend some serious time reinvestigating my craft. And then, of course, I have a wedding to plan!
Showcasing experimental work from Left and Right Minds Initiatives and the Upintheair Theatre Society, the Neanderthal Arts Festival will comprise of six one-act plays from local and national companies. The festival will also have an additional component called The Walking Fish Festival, which will feature five shorts from emerging artists. Theatre patrons can expect to be dazzled by theatre that takes risks and pushes boundaries. From the apocalyptic horseman of The 4H Club to the tin-can telephone romance of Countries Shaped Like the Stars, this festival is all about raw, evolving theatre.
Tickets can be purchased online at tickets.thecultch.com, or by phone (604.251.1363) or in person one hour prior to show time.