10 questions: Cole J. Alvis

1) What the fuck is going on?
I’m sitting in the Equity Showcase office logging some volunteer hours to subsidize rehearsal space here before this joint closes. Oh, and our new website is up.

2) How have you developed as an Artistic Director since starting (plural productions) in 2006?
My initial impulse, coming out of theatre school, was to start a company called “GendeRevolutions Theatre” as a vehicle for a lesser-known Tennessee Williams play that is still close to my heart. I even had a mandate:

“To dissect the intersection of gender and sexuality and bring healing and understanding to the shared human condition.” (Oh, dear.)

But at the same time I was developing a solo show about famed Albertan high school teacher Jim Keegstra, who taught his own version of what happened during the Holocaust, and as an umbrella for both projects I felt limited by the loud Gay Political Theatre(!) niche my company name was screaming.

When I started collaborating with filmmakers and soon to be Co-Artistic Directors, Raha Shirazi and Chelsea McMullan, I found we each had a similar vision of inclusivity in our work and were mutually interested in each other’s field. Together we represent a company that produces theatre and film in their standard forms as well as what can develop when collaborators from various backgrounds get together and make art.

As Artistic Director, like most positions in the independent arts, I find myself sporting many a hat they may not have taught me how to wear in theatre school and the learning curve is steep. My first lesson, clearly, was how mandates are more effective when they are about how we work rather than focusing exclusively on what we’re trying to say with the work.

(Plural Productions) Raha Shirazi, Chelsea McMullan and Cole J. Alvis.

3) What’s the story behind the company’s name?
My Dad is a Freemason and, although he is sworn to secrecy about what goes on in those old churches with the boarded up windows, he brought home the concept of “pluralism” (meaning no wrong answers, just many right ones) and it stuck with me. Since transitioning from my days as a GendeRevolutionist to the track that (plural productions) is on now, that word as an acknowledgment of diversity is appropriate for the range of artistic endeavours I hope to achieve with this company.

4) How do you manage the developing goals of two separate companies, as Co-Artistic Director for Plural Productions and Director of New Play Development for Theatre Best/Before?
Mostly I don’t. When (plural productions) took off I demoted myself within Theatre Best/Before down from the broad title of Artistic Producer to the more specialized Director of New Play Development. What works best with either company is a strong core of driven individuals who are able to pick up the slack when necessary. Many hands make light work, if you will.

5) How do you go about choosing work for the Theatre Best/Before reading series?
What’s exciting about readings is the cost-effective opportunity to have a shwackload of actors on stage working on plays with technical requirements not even a Co-Pro between CanStage, Theatre Calgary and Neptune Theatre could afford.

As far as play selection goes we had the most success this year by asking the same core of driven folk involved what piece they wanted to work on next. This year’s New Play Development Workshops took the form of a call for submissions that went out last Spring manifesting in the plays workshopped in January ’08 (There You Go And Here You Are by Natalia Goodwin) and very soon (Eclipsed by Paula Schultz) on Thursday, May 29th @ 8pm in the Guild Room at Equity Showcase Theatre.

6) How much of your work as an artist is informed by your experiences living in rural Alberta?
It was relatively easy for me as a gay man to escape to Toronto and find an accepting populace within the theatre community. But something that pricks my conscience every so often is how little I’m doing for the next generation of queer individuals growing up in the village of Duchess, AB – population 978.

I’m in talks, presently, with Buddies in Bad Times Producer Jim LeFrancois about a project he’s coined Reaching Out To Rural Canada, wherein a troupe of queer artists with a camera leave the comfort zone of inner-city TO and assess how to connect with communities outside of our diverse urban centre.

7) If you could change just one thing about theatre in Toronto, what would it be?
Mo’ money.

8) Why is theatre important?
Theatre is a forum for public communion in a world inevitably being taken over by your TV.

9) How do you feel about the idea that Canadian theatre artists are afraid to publicly criticize each other’s work, which leads to a culture of silence at the expense of shared artistic growth?
I think it sucks. And yet, we’re all trying to do this thing because we love it and if the thing we’re trying to do isn’t well received or well attended it still takes just as much work as when it sells out and garners all sorts of attention. Criticism is always tricky. Throw in the public element and you’ll get why it’s taking me so long to choose how to articulate my answers to these questions.

10) Do you have any unifying theories that inform your approach to acting?
Breathe. And, if you believe it – I’ll believe it. It’s always easier for me to believe it when I’m up there and breathing. Without breath comes the kind of acting none of you are going to criticize me for in public.