Theatre Caravel presents Sea Change – An Event to Gather the Community and Celebrate Work in Development Over the Baked Goods Table
Interview by: Hallie Seline
I sat down with Eric Double and Julia Nish-Lapidus of Theatre Caravel to discuss their upcoming 15th edition of Sea Change: a night of new performance going on this Saturday October 12th. We talked about community in the arts, the draw of baked goods and audience participation and the importance of providing a relaxed venue for artists to present and develop their work and for audiences to witness and interact with the work in development of local artist.
HS: Let’s begin with you telling me a little bit about Sea Change.
ED: Sure! Well Sea Change, a night of new performance is the event that we, Theatre Caravel, run as part of our company initiatives. It’s a quarterly event where we invite artists of all different types, be it visual artist, musicians, poets, playwrights, mask performers, clowns etcetera, we’ve had it all, and we invite them to show fifteen minutes of new work that they are working on in front of a pretty diverse audience, to sort of inspire the artists to continue working on their pieces and giving the audience a chance to see work in development in a very supportive, creativity conducive environment.
JNL: It’s also about the meeting of all of the different artistic mediums. The whole idea behind Sea Change was that we didn’t want to be a theatre company just for theatre people. We love music and visual art and all of these different mediums, so we thought why don’t we invite these amazing people we know who are doing other artistic things to come be part of our theatre company through this event with the hope that connections would be made between the musician and the spoken word artist and so on. We’ve actually had a lot of Sea Change performers meet at the event and hook up to do shows together afterwards, inspired to mix their two mediums. That was one of the ideas behind the event – to say it’s not about the theatre community only, it can be about the artistic community as a whole.
HS: So would you say that was your main inspiration – to create this sort of artistic event in the city which people can feel part of?
ED: Well, yeah! It actually stemmed from this idea that was inspired by Julia’s parents, who had been going to these events called House Concerts. We thought it was a really novel idea that local musicians like the Wainwrights would put on these tiny concerts for maybe maximum fifty people in someone’s house, in a relatively laid-back performance.
JNL: They were my parents’ neighbours who were doing these concerts for maybe thirty-five to fifty people. They would get really great musicians and put on a show in their house. They would do it maybe six times a year and it would completely sell out! It started off with just their friends but then their friends would tell people and so on and by the time my parents moved in next door, they had to buy their whole year’s subscription to these House Concerts in advance because it would sell out like crazy. People just loved being there. They would serve food and it had a super relaxed vibe while providing this amazing musical experience.
So originally Sea Change was supposed to take place in one of our houses… that was the plan! (They both laugh). Then we just realized that we didn’t have houses that could fit all of the performers and more than fifty people at once.
ED: The idea was to incorporate the laid back spirit of these events, because up until that point, I don’t think I had ever been to anything that wasn’t just theatre focused and was really that relaxed, basically. I think we were kind of hungry to explore our inspirations behind our own artistic practice, and hopefully do that for other people too.
JNL: And supplying free food was a big part of it for us. As much as that seems like an afterthought of ‘Oh yeah, there are free baked goods’, for us that was also a big part of creating the community feel at Sea Change of really bringing everyone together on multiple levels. Though we couldn’t do it in a home, our focus was still on making it feel ‘home-y’.
HS: Of course! Well, people connect and come together over food, art, music…
JNL: Exactly! Well I bake, my mom bakes, and this woman who was best friends with my grandmother, who is pretty much like a grandmother figure to me, she bakes too! It’s like family baking for everyone at Sea Change, which I think makes it a little more special. And people always enjoy being able to go over and talk to the little old lady who baked those brownies that they love.
ED: Yeah, I baked once…
HS: Oh? And how did that go?
ED: Really good, actually! It was from a box. It was our birthday cake but still, I baked it. It’s as far as my baking contributions have gone though so far.
HS: So how long have you been doing this event? Was it 2009 when you had your first Sea Change?
ED: We launched in May of 2009 and the one coming up on October 12th will be our fifteenth!
HS: Wow! How have you seen Sea Change develop over these four years?
ED: Well, I mean you get better at running an event after you’ve done it for a couple of years, so that’s kind of nice. We’ve gone from having three-hour meetings about it to planning it over text messages sometimes… (they both laugh). It’s kind of nice that it’s taken on a life of its own. I think how we’ve seen it develop is that, as Julia was mentioning the community aspect of it, we’ve not only seen performers come back to be part of our audience but performers have come back, and we often invite them to come back when they have a different medium they want to work in. One notable example is our friend Shawn (Jurek), who’s going to be performing at this next one. He originally started as this backing musician for one of our other artists who came to perform…
JNL: He did that twice.
ED: Yeah! And then he said, “You know, I also do photography. Can I put up some photos at the next one?” And we were like “Of course!” And now he’s going to be performing his own music! He, like many of us including Julia and myself, are a little more multidisciplinary, as I think you kind of are in the theatre community just naturally. If you’re producing your own work you’re going to be doing more than just acting or producing. Many of these artists do this, as well. We’ve seen more and more artists come back in different ways and collaborate with one another as well. So yeah, I guess it’s really grown into this community of collaborative artists and invested audience members over the past four years.
JNL: We have a lot of regulars who we just know will show up every time who have been there from the beginning and it’s been interesting to see new people come on and in turn become regulars as well. Most of our performers tend to, if they are new to us, after performing once, chances are we’ll see them at another one as at least an audience member. Because of this, our audience has grown even through just having new performers. I mean each performer usually brings their own audience and we’ve seen through this that people come back again and again because it’s just a great experience. It’s just very cool to see that audience base develop in such a contagious way.
Most of our audience are not, actually, theatre people too! They vary in age… really a whole gamut of ages. We get people who are, for the most part, interested in the arts in general. They go to theatre and to concerts and then they find Sea Change and think this is something where they can kind of see it all and feel like they are even a part of it. I’ve had a lot of people who are not in the arts say that this makes them feel like they are a part of the community versus going somewhere else where they are just sitting in the audience and feeling more like a separate spectator. It’s developed that way in which the community is building, not just with performers, but everyone in that room becomes a part of the event.
HS: To what level is Sea Change participatory or is it just by the nature of how it is, the audience feels part of the event?
JNL: We’ll we encourage audience involvement and it also just sort of happened that our performers started getting the audience involved in their work. We have a lot of musicians who do call and response stuff with the audience and people always come to us timidly saying, you know “I was thinking of doing this thing and it would involve having the audience do something with me?” and we’re always like, “Yes!” This is the type of audience that feeds off of that type of thing. They are going to get involved and we love it! We had a performance once of a play reading and she needed people to throw ping pong balls as pellets of ice getting thrown at the actors throughout their scene, and the audience loved it to the point where people would hold on to balls and throw them at performers later on during the night because they thought it would be fun. We’ve had times where a musician needs to re-tune during the set and one time someone started telling a joke and when they still weren’t done tuning one of the audience members stood up and shared one of their jokes and now it’s a thing that sometimes happens throughout the event. It’s an opportunity where the audience gets to participate and talk to the performers and everyone gets to share a little something. It’s great watching aspects like that develop.
ED: I think that’s also partly because of the venue that we do it in, which is called CineCycle (behind 129 Spadina Ave.). It’s a bike shop that is converted at night into some sort of performance venue, often times for film screenings. If you go there during the day you would never believe it’s actually a venue. It’s a bike shop and there’s just bike stuff everywhere, but then Martin, the guy who runs it carts all of the stuff out and transforms it into a performance space by night. I think when people come into the venue for the first time they are a little taken aback at how personal it feels. It’s not like a traditional venue. It has a lot of character to it, so immediately when you’re sitting there and you’re watching a performance piece going on in an unusual setting, it kind of breaks down a barrier. The audience is kind of on top of the performers in a way that there really is very little fourth wall. This allows those barriers to break down, causing the event to be a little more immersive.
JNL: Going off that, my mom is selling the tickets at the front, so she’s the first one who’s going to greet you as she’s sitting there, proud and excited about the event. It’s very cute. We’re also walking around saying hi to everyone, the performers don’t hide backstage, they have seats in the audience and watch the rest of the show until they get up and do their thing. And there is always a crowd of people hanging around the baked goods table just chatting and meeting new people. The energy is meant to be very warm and welcoming. We’ve put a lot of emphasis on that.
We’ve also kept it at a seven-dollar price point if you book in advance and ten dollars at the door for the past four years, with no intention of making it higher and I think that goes into the idea of community. We’re not trying to make money off of this event. We cover the costs to have the event because having it and providing that space for everyone is the most important part of it all. We don’t want it to be the kind of thing that anyone has to think twice to come to. We hope that seven dollars makes the event accessible enough and the goal is to make the whole thing as easy to be a part of for anyone and everyone.
ED: Yeah, I’ve had lots of friends say that we could make it more expensive, partly as a compliment because they thought that the value was worth it and the product was worth it, which was nice to hear but again, as Julia was saying, it goes into our mandate of how we run Theatre Caravel as a company. It holds the same sort of ideals that we like to run our show with. One: they’re about community, Two: they’re also about new work and taking risks, Three: they’re about kind of expanding your horizons, I guess you could say, in the collaboration with artists, working in a multi-disciplinary format, etcetera. So the seven dollar thing kind of plays into that as well,
JNL: It’s just fun having people come up to me and try to pay for the baked goods and I tell them not to, that it’s all part of it. For seven dollars, it’s all of the performances, the whole evening and all of the food there. Half the time the night ends with me sending someone home with a whole cake or batch of left over cookies.
HS: Putting on an event like this for four years, you clearly have seen some merit in providing this kind of event for the Toronto arts community. Why do you think events like this, where you say the venue feels a little more personal and people feel a part of both the event and its development, are so important to provide for the arts community?
ED: That’s a great question and I mean I’ve seen other events crop up around the same time that we started doing this, like Crapshoot with Theatre Passe Muraille, which I think is pretty notable for providing an event for many artists who are starting their pieces, and I think that these events have this sort of laid-back atmosphere which I think has a lot to do with their success. In terms of why that’s important to the theatre scene, I think it’s partly because in our generation of theatre creators there’s a lot of us, basically, who want to have a voice and there aren’t enough avenues for us to get it out there in, maybe, the traditional sense. These kind of low-key events give an opportunity for artists just to try something out. It’s an opportunity to fail and succeed on their own dime, sort of thing.
I think Sea Change has been successful, partly, because the artists feel comfortable just putting themselves out there. That’s why it’s so endearing, that’s why the audience gets on board so easily, because these artists are doing it for the love of doing it, not because there’s any type of pressure on them to either get a job or to meet a certain expectation. People just want to see the performers do really interesting work and take risks. I think that this format is popular because people, audience members and artists alike, want to feel like they are part of a community that supports them.
JNL: And I think it’s important from the audience perspective too in that it kind of makes the whole arts world more accessible to everyone. It lets everyone be a part of a special little event where new theatrical work is being created and it’s an opportunity to invite anyone and everyone to come and be a part of its creation. Haley McGee (Toronto-based playwright/performer – Oh My Irma) has workshopped sections from a couple of her plays at Sea Change. I’ve had a lot of people say to me, “I saw it at another place and it was so great because I had seen it in earlier stages here at Sea Change before. I remember being a part of it and talking to her about the piece and answering questions she had about it while she was still writing”. I think that kind of accessibility to new local work is important to the audience and their investment in the arts community and it’s important to the artist to be able to show their work at these stages to an audience that they don’t completely personally know. It’s a real integration of audience and performer, I think, which is really crucial to developing continued support and attendance of the arts outside of events like these in the city.
HS: What do you hope for the future of Sea Change?
ED: Well, that’s a great question and one we’ve been talking about a lot now that we’ve done four years of Sea Change successfully. We’ve talked about a few different things… I mean ideally having something like a residence program would be really nice to have – Sea Change, not necessarily on a larger scale, but maybe over a longer term. We’ve been looking into potential grants for artists and maybe even multidisciplinary collaboration between artists, which seems to be happening a lot more these days, to create more of a long-term opportunity and have Sea Change be a place where they can show what they’ve been working on.
I’ve also thought about doing a young company of sorts, starting from the ground up, having them either just be there or workshop some stuff. So yeah, there are a couple ideas on the table right now for the future of Sea Change.
JNL: We’ve talked about wanting to do kind of a larger scale festival sort of event, either running a longer period over an entire day or the course of a whole weekend, bringing in a lot of both past performers and new performers. I feel like that might be an anniversary celebration sometime. Our anniversaries keep sneaking up on us so we keep missing it, but it’d be great to do just a really big Sea Change – Sea Change on steroids! We also want t-shirts! We have buttons and magnets so I feel like t-shirts are the next step up.
ED: Yeah, we’ve had over a hundred twenty performers now so there’s a pretty good well to draw from to welcome a lot of people back. We’ve had quite a few returning performers throughout these years and they seem to really love returning. I mean one of our performers is coming back from Zurich, moving back two days before Sea Change, and she already has her tickets! It’d be great to get all of these people back in a room together to sort of celebrate this community, which has sprung up around it, thankfully. I mean we were never sure if it would catch on and people seem to really love it! I think it may have something to do with the baked goods… (laughs). It’s all about the brownies!
HS: It’s always about the brownies. Tell me a bit about what you have planned for your upcoming Sea Change.
ED: Well our Sea Change coming up is jam-packed, as always! We have a playwright named Claire Acott, who has done a Toronto Fringe show in the past and is currently working on a new show, so she’ll be doing a part of that. We also have another Fringe veteran, Laura Anne Harris, who instead of doing a one-person show, she’s going to be trying out a four hander for the first time. Again, one of our greatest joys is watching artists try out new things. We have Shawn Jurek who is our musician. He’ll be doing a lovely acoustic set. Then we also have a new sort of music/theatre piece with Andrew Gaboury, who’s a playwright and has also done stuff with us in the past, and a couple of his fellow artists (Kira Hall and Rob Schuyler) who are making a new music/theatre play. Not a musical, per say, but the mix of music and theatre into a new piece. Then we have one of our, I like to call them, our Sea Change stars, like our greatest hits, an artist coming back named Teodoro Dragonieri and he’ll be showing some of his world-class visual art. I’m not kidding… it is incredible work! It belongs in a museum… or somebody’s house if you want to buy it, you can at Sea Change! So we are really lucky to have his work, and the work of the rest of these artists, which will make for another jam-packed night.
JNL: I was also thinking of looking up new cookie recipes… I’m thinking chocolate but I’m still undecided.
HS: I was going to ask, what’s new on the baking front but I guess they’ll just have to go to find out!
ED: Exactly! Well, thanks so much and we look forward to seeing you all around the baked goods table on Saturday.
Theatre Caravel presents Sea Change: a night of new performance.
What: 15th edition of Sea Change: a night of new performance. Brilliant new performers, and a couple favourite past performers, all trying out some incredible new work you won’t see anywhere else. Come to see new work, stay to chat with the artists, and then stay later to finish off the complimentary baked goods!
Claire Acott – Playwright
Andrew Gaboury, Kira Hall and Rob Schuyler - New Music Theatre
Laura Anne Harris - Playwright
Shawn Jurek - Musician
Teodoro Dragonieri - Visual Art
When: Saturday October 12th, 2013
Doors – 7:30pm, Show – 8pm
Where: CineCycle (behind 129 Spadina Avenue)
Tickets: Admission is ONLY $7 but seating is limited and spaces fill up quickly, so RESERVE YOUR TICKETS NOW by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info check out the Sea Change page on Theare Caravel’s website: www.theatrecaravel.com