• Audience as Ally

    March 29, 2017 by Theatre Aquarius

    Luke Brown is a Hamilton-based theatre creator. He is currently serving as Associate Director for Theatre Aquarius and is the founder of Flat Earth Global.

    One Fringe, not so long ago, I sat in the darkness of a theatre, baffled by what I was witnessing. A convoluted plot, acting that wouldn’t have been out of place in a porno, and non-existent direction had all combined to form a megazord of awfulness.  Looking around the smallish crowd of 10 or so, it was easy to tell that I wasn’t alone in this opinion; I witnessed one person fall asleep, another spend the majority of the show on their phone and one brave soul do what I so longed to do: walk out.

    Despite my best efforts, the writer spotted me on my way out. I searched for something supportive to say, complementary but not too complimentary; vague, you know?  Before I had the chance, they launched into a tirade about how the audience was stupid for not understanding the show. This asshole was blaming the audience. This bothered me. Deeply.

    I’ll be honest, I’m as guilty of doing bad work as anyone else, and I’ll be guilty again in the future. We all make mistakes, that’s part of the process of being an artist, but the one mistake that is unforgivable is blaming our results on the audience. We do shows for an audience. All of the rehearsal in the world can't truly prepare us for what happens when an audience enters; they're unpredictable. Something you think is so clear will make them scratch their heads. Anyone who doesn’t take an audience’s reaction into consideration is showing a fundamental lack of respect and understanding of what the medium is.

    All this made me stop and reflect on the way I work, specifically how I worked on a show called Séance, which I co-created with Nicholas Wallace. During Séance I realized that a script is to a show what Pinocchio is to a real boy; they both require something to become what they desire to be. With scripts, that something is an audience. A script without an audience remains just that, a script and not a show. It’s so easy to think we’ve been clear in our storytelling when in fact we haven’t been, and every performance of Séance showed us where we had gone wrong. Individuals may be useless but an audience, as a group, are always brilliant. If only we had more time to listen and then fix things. This listening to the audience made the show a grind: daily rewrites, not enough time to rehearse them but in the end, the show was better for it.

    Inspired by my conversation with this disgruntled and dangerously untalented writer, and with Strange and Unusual, our next creation on our minds, Nick and I approached Colette Kendall at the Staircase about doing a weekly show. It would give us the opportunity to work in front of an audience and have time to properly rework material. We agreed we’d take a handful of illusions Nick was comfortable with and pair them with untested material. We’d have a week between each show to rework the material. Following each performance we sit down and have brutally honest conversations about what needs to happen to make next week’s show better. We then implement the changes. As material gets to a point where we feel confident about it we pull it out of the show and replace it with something else that we want to try. When we fail, which is often, we embrace it. Failure allows us to see where we’ve gone wrong; it helps us find a way to solve the problems so that the next audience will have a better experience. Each performance reflects what we learned from the previous one.

    Don’t misconstrue this as me advocating for you to abandon your vision of a piece to placate an audience, but rather use it as a tool to gauge whether or not your vision is being communicated to the audience. We do the shows for them. If they’re bored or confused then it’s our fault, not the fault of the person who gave up their time, money and left their house to see our show. The audience is our partner, we need to trust them or we’ll never make that puppet into a real boy.

    You can see Nick and Luke attempting to turn a puppet into a real boy Wednesdays at 8:00 PM until May 3rd. In May, Strange and Unusual will debut at Theatre Aquarius in the Studio Theatre.



    November 11, 2016 by Bud Roach

    David Fallis (Artistic Director, The Toronto Consort; Music Director, Opera Atelier) in conversation with HAC Board member and Hammer Baroque Artistic Director Bud Roach. November 7th, 2016.
    The Toronto Consort will present ``The Italian Queen of France`` at Hammer Baroque on Sunday, November 13th, 2016, 4pm.

  • Interview with Recordist Alison Melville

    September 30, 2016 by Bud Roach

    This week, Hamilton Arts Council Board member and Hammer Baroque Artistic Director Bud Roach presents the second installment of his new blog video series. This second in-depth conversation features Alison Melville (recorder - Tafelmusik, Toronto Consort) who performs in Hammer Baroque concerts on October 8th (ACTA Recorder Quartet) and November 13th (Toronto Consort).


  • Interview with Cellist Alex Grant

    September 22, 2016 by Bud Roach

    This week, Hamilton Arts Council Board member Bud Roach begins a new video blog series featuring in-depth conversations with members of the arts community. New Arts Council member Alex Grant, cellist at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-On-The-Lake, talks about what attracted him to Hamilton, working at the Shaw Festival, and his favourite moments in the current Shaw production of Sweeney Todd, on stage until October 19th.

  • A Labour of Love

    September 1, 2016 by 5 at the First ...

    Rachel Mercer is Artistic Director of the 5 at the First Chamber Music Series. She joined the National Arts Centre Orchestra as Associate Principal Cello in January 2016 and is a member of the Mercer-Park Duo and Ensemble Made In Canada. She plays the 1730 Newland Celoniatus Cello graciously on loan from the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank. Find her at or Follow 5 at the First on Facebook and Twitter @5attheFirst.

    The church sanctuary is filling up as the last audience members take their seats. There is a hum in the air as people chat in low voices, about their day or in anticipation of the concert they are about to hear. Suddenly the house lights dim a bit, the stage lights brighten and there is a hush; a side door opens and in walk the musicians, smiling, with a spring in their step, and ready to give all they can in the couple of hours they share with this audience.

    Audiences at the Oct 2015 concert. Photo by 5 at the First

    This moment, that lasts to the final applause at the end of the concert, is the moment  when the concert presenters finally get to enjoy the fruit of their endless labour. I never realized until I began presenting a series how much goes on behind the scenes to enable those two hours of wonderful music. As a performer, while we communicate for years before the concert about details of programming, fees and travel, the real ground work is being done even earlier with board meetings, fundraising, grant writing, venue booking, programming, fundraising, scheduling, negotiating, promoting, fundraising is a complete labour of love and we performers are so lucky there are those amazing people who love and believe in live music so deeply that they are willing to sacrifice time and financial gain to enable these moments.

    Payadora Tango Ensemble in Nov 2015. Photo by 5 at the First

    While I would never compare myself to these special people, at 5 at the First, my colleague Michele Corbeil and I are the worker bees; me covering the programming, booking, grant writing and financial side, and Michele pounding the pavement with flyers and posters and reaching out to the community for sponsors and volunteers, while being in charge of everything behind the scenes on the concert day. There is always more to do; promotion, finding more money, making sure the artists are taken care of, but that hectic buzz of activity is suspended from the moment the lights go down to the final applause. As a performer, during the concert there are those transporting moments where everything aligns and you lose your self and are just at one with the music, the other musicians and the audience, and time stops; it's an addictive high that feeds our need to perform. But it's another kind of reward, softening and heart-warming, when you sit in the audience and see their smiles, see the heads bobbing, hear your amazing colleagues on stage, hear the audience appreciation in applause and words afterward, knowing that you took part in making it happen.

    5 at the First Artistic Director Rachel Mercer. Photo by Nikki Wesley

    5 at the First's opening concert features String Extravaganza VI - the return of our audience's favourite string group - in a concert of duos, then all six musicians together for Erich Korngold's gem of a Sextet. Korngold has a large body of work, but is most well-known for his film composition, including the score for Errol Flynn's Robin Hood. The rest of the 2016-17 season features players from across Ontario in programs of beloved and rarely-performed music, including Schubert, Haydn, Vaughan-Williams, Rossini, Canadian works, and an all-original jazz concert of Darren Sigesmund's Strands Ensemble. 5 at the First is grateful for support from the Ontario Arts Council and individual donors.

    *Banner Image: Rachel Mercer [Photo: David Leyes]