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  • 2nd Theatre Arts Committee Meeting Notes

    May 15, 2012 by Stephen Near

    The Theatre Arts Committee was convened for the second time this year by the Hamilton Arts Council as part of our renewed mandate to promote critical dialogue in our creative community.

    This last meeting of the 2012 TAC on May 1 was attended by Luke Brown (Theatre Aquarius), Jason Dick (Hammer Entertainment), Margaret Houghton (Players Guild of Hamilton), Colette Kendall (Staircase Theatre), Ray Louter (Redeemer University College Theatre Dept.), Shirley Marshall (Binbrook Little Theatre)
    Brian Morton (Hamilton Fringe Festival), Stephen Near (Independent Artist | HAC staff), Richelle Tavernier-Clements (Hamilton Theatre Inc), Judith Sandiford (Artword Artbar), Sally Watson (Dundas Little Theatre), Ronald Weihs (Artword Artbar)

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    1) Agenda & Minutes: The Committee discussed the Agenda and reviewed the Minutes from the last meeting (January 31st, 2012). Stephen mentioned that he would like to hold future meetings of the Committee at other theatre venues around the city. Colette also briefly spoke about the Elaine Mae Theatre; a new performance and workshop space now used and rented out by the Staircase.

    2) OAC Grant Workshop: Stephen announced that the HAC will host a theatre project grant workshop featuring a discussion with Ontario Arts Council Theatre officer Pat Bradley. There is a growing number of theatre artists in Hamilton and a desire on the part of the OAC to see them apply for funding. The workshop will take place in the 1st Floor theatre space of the Pearl Company, 16 Steven Street on June 2nd, 2012 @ 1 PM.

    3) Theatre Guide 2012-13: The Committee discussed the issue of this year’s HAC Theatre Guide. Stephen stated that  he would like to involve the Committee in the creation and format of the Guide to a greater degree than previous years. He noted some proposed changes including a larger print run and a widespread distribution model. He did note, however, that more advertising and sponsorship will be needed to make this possible.

    • Concerns - There were concerns about the resolution and detail on the map as well as the inclusion of editorial content. The Committee suggested an open call for editorial content or an editorial board might be a option this year. The disparity between the advertising needs of established theatres with seasons vs. rental theatre venues with no fixed season was also discussed. The present print-run and distribution model is a pressing issue for all companies. The idea of publishing the Guide three times a year (fall, spring, summer) was discussed as a means to help distribution and make room for more editorial content. Unfortunately, HAC resource limitations make such a model unfeasible right now.
    • Redesign – The Committee also discussed strategies on redesigning the Guide. Stephen clarified that the Guide was always meant to advertise theatre within the Hamilton region. The Committee suggested that the Guide might simply be (re)printed through-out the year and filled with an insert featuring up-to-date shows at the rental venues. It was also suggested that linking the Guide with an online calendar. In this case, the ad buy for participating companies would include a banner on the hub website and a link to their individual sites. Jason suggested a radical redesign to the Guide in the form of a tri-fold calendar of shows with minimal ad-space and brief listings of the companies. This format would be more cost effective and might also resolve the distribution model.
    • Purpose – It was agreed that the Guide should be something for patrons to pick-up and refer to throughout the year. Most Committee members agreed that they’d like to see the Guide continue but retooled in such a way as to make it more responsive to their needs. Ron raised the point that the Guide is more than just advertising a theatre season… it is creating the impression and serving the reality that Hamilton is a destination for theatre. To that extent, perhaps it should have more informative and provocative editorial content.

    Stephen wrapped-up the discussion and strongly urged the Committee to provide further ideas or suggestions via email before the next meeting.

    4) Panel Audition Days – Theatre Aquarius is holding a series of panel audition days onJuly 14th – July 15th @ the Studio Theatre. Aquarius hope to allow Hamilton performers the opportunity audition for a broad range of area directors/producers/playwrights. It will also allow different theatre producers to see prospective performers that might be suited for an upcoming show in advance of general auditions. The Committee was enthusiastic about this opportunity to showcase some of the hidden talent in Hamilton. More details will be forthcoming from Aquarius as the dates get closer.

    5) New Business

    • Hammer Entertainment – Jason announced that Hammer Entertainment is moving from their present venue at the Lyric Theatre to the Citadel Theatre (previously known as the Downtown Arts Centre). Their upcoming 2012-13 season will take place here and feature the following line-up: Next to Normal, Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings, Grey Gardens, and Avenue Q. The company is looking forward to the move and anticipate it will benefit the production needs of their season next year.
    • Theatre Season Overlap – The issue of season overlap was discussed by the community theatre Committee members. They all agreed that planning for the upcoming seasons takes place in January but due to contentious dates and scheduling of rehearsals, sometimes overlapping cannot be helped. Stephen offered to create a shared season planning calendar for use by all Committee members either online or at the HAC offices. Such a calendar would allow the Committee to see what dates are being used by the other members.
    • Venues – Brian talked about the closure of Sir John A. MacDonald and the potential loss of the school’s large theatre space. The Committee also discussed City Council’s deliberations on ownership and use of Hamilton Place and the question of programming more theatre in the venue.

    6) Next Meeting – the next meeting was tentatively scheduled for June 19th, 2012 with a location yet to be determined.

    The Theatre Arts Committee will continue to meet regularly throughout 2012. Inquiries about this committee of the Hamilton Arts Council can be forwarded to Stephen Near at stephen@hamiltonartscouncil.ca.

  • Theatre Arts Committee Meeting Notes

    March 21, 2012 by Stephen Near

    The Theatre Arts Committee convened by the Hamilton & Region Arts Council brought together Artistic Directors, Managers and Theatre Artists from across the wide spectrum of theatre companies and venues. As part of the Hamilton Arts Council’s renewed mandate to promote critical dialogue in our creative community, we have restored this valuable forum to promote collaboration among arts organizations and inform our ongoing arts advocacy in Hamilton.

    This first meeting of the 2012 TAC on January 31 was attended by Dan Abbott (Players Guild | HAC staff), Luke Brown (Theatre Aquarius), Jason Dick (Hammer Entertainment), Colette Kendall (Staircase Theatre), Ray Louter (Redeemer University College Theatre Dept.), Brian Morton (Hamilton Fringe Festival), Stephen Near (Independent Artist | HAC staff), Richelle Tavernier-Clements (Hamilton Theatre Inc), Nea Reid (Village Theatre Waterdown | Burlington Slam Project), Lilly Small (Great Big Theatre Company), Sally Watson (Dundas Little Theatre)

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    1.  Current theatre work in Hamilton – The Committee members discussed some of the theatre projects now taking place at their venues or later in their season. Among the highlights were auditions for upcoing productions, preparations for announcing 2012-2013 seasons, and updates on shows that are now up-and-running. We note the diversity that comprises the members of the Committee ranging from community theatre groups to professional comapnies to independent artists and theatre space venues.

    2.  Challenges facing theatre artists in Hamilton

    A) Venue Concerns: One of the main topics of concern to Hamilton theatre artists is the need for secure and reliable venues where artists can grow and audiences can be developed. Some of the community theatres rent their spaces from the city whilst others own their own space. The general consensus is that if companies can own their own venue their long-term sustainability is likely increased. Their ability to maintain a strong profile in the community and keep production costs low is increased. One of the issues raised with venue, however, was the matter of how theatre companies of all varieties can actually fill a 300 to 500 seat theatre when multiple companies across the region open and run production at the same time. When theatres in Hamilton are sharing both actors and audiences it is difficult to get full houses all around.

    B) “Old” vs “New” Theatre in the City: This issue has permutations in a variety of sectors. Several companies noted challenges in adapting modern theatre practices (online ticketing, building-wide Internet, marketing strategies, etc.) with the older community theatre traditions. The Committee also noted there are more theatres doing the same type of work in the region. Combined with the fact that there are a lot of productions being done across the region means companies and artists are inadvertently competing with each other for audiences. The Committee notes that Hamilton theatre artists don’t tend to work together in a unified capacity and agreed that the Committee could be a strong step towards such cooperation. Jason and Richelle both suggested the Committee could help coordinate the theatre seasons of the city’s companies so scheduling conflicts are less common and competition for share-of-audiences is less frequent. The Committee discussed the idea of a collective of companies sharing one venue and consistently producing one show per month to increase audiences and exposure. This model has seen success in other cities like Toronto (The Theatre Centre for example). The Committee also talked about the challenge facing Hamilton artists regarding audiences that don’t normally go and see theatre. This matter was raised on a broader level as the Committee discussed how the numbers of people attending live theatre are down nationwide and wondered how Hamilton theatre companies might work on an artistic level to redefine theatre and make it more appealing for audiences. Richelle also mentioned a problem with regards to Hamilton artists is that they don’t tend to see each other’s shows or appreciate the work of other companies. She demonstrated how she is working to encourage theatre artist cross promotion by purchasing bulk ticket orders for her company members. Ray mentioned the idea of a Theatre Artists Pass system that would encourage this further. The Committee discussed that a new incarnation of the Pass system for opening nights would be a great initiative.

    C) Advertising: The matter of how to tackle this persistent and challenging issue was high on the Committee’s agenda. There is a consistent problem facing small or community theatre companies in the form of ever-rising advertising costs. Jason suggested the Committee might work with the Hamilton Spectator or other media outlets to take out a large ad space buy to collectively promote the theatre seasons or shows of several companies. A group of companies might pool their advertising resources together and purchase a “bulk” advertising space on the radio, CHCH or in the Spectator. The Committee also discussed how both the Spectator and the View have seen a diminishing degree of active theatre coverage in recent years. A smaller pool of critics combined with the fact that a show can really only feature a preview or a review (not both) means less of a profile for featured artists or companies. Both Jason and Richelle mentioned the boon of targeting community news publications for advertising as their readership is broader(delivered to every single household) and the publications are free. Other Committee members stated that social media has taken on a much larger and more effective role in advertising. Nea said that VTW has spent less money on advertising this past year while focusing more on social media as creative way of reaching out to audiences. Colette Kendall mentioned how she is running her entire venue as a space-for-rent open to parties, classes, karaoke, etc. alongside theatre. She has made sure the building is plastered with promotion materials to garner greater attendance for the theatre in the place.

    D) Audience Development: Stephen asked the Committee for more information about their attendance this past season. Generally, the Committee members saw an increase in their audience numbers this past fall though they acknowledged it is too early to determine if this will hold in the long run. Luke said that Aquarius’ attendance is generally up but continues to fluctuate from show to show. He mentioned that Aquarius has been working with a consulting firm on other methods of audience outreach. Richelle and Sally both said that there has been a growing trend for community theatres to make conscious and realistic decisions about their programming. These decisions not only reflect the mandates of the company but also the type of work specific audiences want to see and what is deemed “commercially viable”. Brian talked about the need to understand two types of audiences for the theatre: the core audience (those that are loyal to the company no matter the show) and the swing audience (those who are attracted to a particular show). The swing audience is, in many ways, the most lucrative and most difficult audience to attract and retain. Dan and Jason both said that there are probably many in the community who don’t know about the diversity of Hamilton theatre but would come out more frequently if they did. A higher degree of media exposure is likely needed to reach such people and to keep reminding them that theatre is out there and available to be seen. Colette said the Staircase has a policy whereby most shows produced in the space must help promote other shows in the space by announcing at the end of the show and holding flyers in the program.

    3.  How can the TAC address these challenges?

    A) Collective Grant Application:  A grant application by the HAC on behalf of the Committee members for the purposes of hiring a marketing professional to do publicity and consult on marketing issues might be feasible. Stephen mentioned that Pat Bradley(the Theatre Officer of the Ontario Arts Council) has expressed interest in seeing more theatre-based applications come out of Hamilton. Ray mentioned that such a grant could also be used to create a downloadable database or Smartphone app listing all of the theatre venues and contact information in Hamilton. The app would be especially useful for getting information into the hands of theatre students or theatre artists new to the city that are looking for opportunities to work in Hamilton.

    B) Hamilton Arts Council Annual Theatre Guide: This successful and award-winning advertising pamphlet will, once again, be compiled and put together by the Hamilton Arts Council. The Committee will take a more active role in the creation and compilation of the Guide this time around. The Guide has been nominated for a Hamilton Tourism Award two years running and there are plans afoot to see the design improved.

    C) Theatre Information Initiatives: There were two ideas on how the TAC can increase the profile of the theatre community and get the word out to theatre artists on potential work opportunities. The HAC Audition Board is open for use by any Hamilton theatre group that is looking for actors or backstage crew. Luke mentioned that he and Stephen are working on publishing a Hamilton Theatre Venue Guide (perhaps in partnership with the Cobalt Connects) detailing names, locations, rates, etc. of different theatre venues in the city.

    D) Panel Audition Day: Luke stated that Theatre Aquarius might be interested in hosting a day or two of scheduled auditions that would allow the local theatre companies to audition and interview local actors and artists. This might take place in the summer once all of the theatres have declared their seasons and it would teach audition skills to new actors and put directors and producers in touch with performers or crew that want to do their shows.

  • Creative Keyboards Short Story Contest 2011 Winners

    March 7, 2012 by Stephen Near

    Creative Keyboards Short Story Contest 2011 Winners Announced!
    On Sunday, March 4th at Homegrown Hamilton, the winners of the 2011 Creative Keyboards Short Story Contest were announced. Furthermore, this year’s contest marked the inaugural presentation of the Kerry Schooley Award. The Award was established to honor Kerry Schooley, who passed away in 2010, and his legacy as one of the city’s strongest literary arts advocates. The winners of this year’s contest are as follows along with comments from the Final Adjudicator Frances Ward:

    First Prize Winner (Recipient of the Kerry Schooley Award)


    Judy Millar (from Nanaimo) – Cracks
    “This story is about the effects of superstition on the impressionable mind of a child. Once a superstition seed has been planted, even when you become a rational adult, you never forget. An-other example of the disconnect between the parallel but separate lives of children and adults when it comes to processing life’s events…. all my favourite elements are at work here: great writing, dark humour and a beautiful surprise ending that totally confirms the poor seven-year-old main character’s worst nightmare!”

    Second Prize Winner


    Melodie Campbell (from Oakville) – Life Without George
    “A very well written story which includes all my favourite elements: smooth writing, dark humour and an ending that catches me off guard. Who hasn’t, at some point, had evil thoughts about a significant other? Thankfully not many of us act on them. But if I can be made to understand how and why they act and react as they do…and enjoy the ride…the writer is very skillful.”

    Third Prize Winner


    Tudor Robins (from Ottawa) – Mason and Dillon Go on Vacation
    “A real heart-breaker… when a story can affect me that deeply on an emotional level and the writing technique doesn’t distract me from going there, I know it is good.”

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