The show that should have not been included in Undercurrents

Undercurrents 2012 is long over but I’m happy to report it was once again a success. Congratulations to Patrick Gauthier, and the GCTC, for running a great event!  This festival is a great addition to the Ottawa scene.  I would love to see it continue to grow and nurture local talent.

Undercurrents celebrates “theatre below the mainstream” and for the most part it does this very well; however, this year there was one show that I felt didn’t really fit in with the spirit of the festival: Blue Box written and performed by award winning Carmen Aguirre and directed by Brian Quirt. 

This show was sold out early and received praise from critics so why do I think it shouldn’t have been included? What I like most about the Undercurrents festival is that it gives an opportunity for independent and under celebrated artists (independent theatre often flies below the radar) to showcase their work in an established theatre. Aguirre’s Blue Box, however, is not in this category.

Who is Carmen Aquirre? This Vancouver-based actress/playwright is an impressive figure on the Canadian cultural landscape.  She has numerous film and TV credits (30+) including a lead role in Quinceañera  (a Sundance Festival award winner).  She has written/co-written 18 plays.  She was playwright-in-residence at The Vancouver Playhouse from 2000 to 2002 and was also playwright-in-residence at Touchstone Theatre in 2004. She is deserving of all this success and is firmly a part of established theatre/film professionals in this country and has been for over a decade.

Blue Box was directed by Brian Quirt. For those who don’t know, Quirt is the former associate artistic director of the GCTC and the current president of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas. In fact, he has directed two shows recently at the GCTC.  In 2011, he directed Whispering Pines  and in 2010 The List. Both these shows played on the Irving Greenberg (GCTC) main stage as part of the GCTC’s regular season.

Quirt’s company Nightswimming has produced over 25 shows and has been in operation since 1995. Perhaps this is why he was able to attract such high profile talent such as Aguirre to work with.

 In every way possible, performer/creator, director, and company, Blue Box is not theatre “below the mainstream.” For this reason I do not think it should have been included in this year’s Undercurrents festival. I think the only question is why did the GCTC not choose to include this show as part of its regular season given the show’s pedigree?

Patrick Gauthier has an excellent eye for theatre and I enjoyed his (and the GCTC’s) programming of the 2012 Undercurrents festival. That being said, next year, I hope Undercurrents returns to the 2011 format that celebrated/promoted the work of independent non-established artists. There is a very real need for this kind of independent festival in Ottawa and it is what makes Undercurrents special.


3 responses to “The show that should have not been included in Undercurrents

  1. Heather Marie

    Yeah…I think you’re getting pretty hung up on the phrase “below the mainstream” which you have interpreted somehow to mean ’emerging’. Do you really think “Blue Box” would have worked on the GCTC mainstage?
    This festival was clearly promoted as including the hottest of independent theatre, not the least well known.

  2. No.

    Just because a work is produced by established professionals does not make it mainstream. We’d have to throw out LIVE from the Belly of a Whale, Highway 63 (produced by a TPM resient company), and Weetube 5400 as well under this specious reasoning. Are you including Margo MacDonald, Andy Massingham, and Theatre Smith-Gilmour in the set of exclusively independent non-established artists highlighted in 2011?

    Blue Box sold out early partly because it was early in the festival, and partly because Something Fierce was on Canada Reads at the same time (a happy coincidence).

    So, no.

  3. Yes, it’s a good thing that the organizers published the change in the programming, particularly as it is a departure from the original intention of the festival as expressed last year.

    I certainly could be wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time) or misunderstanding Pat’s intentions for the festival, but when I hear those words I think the focus of the festival is/was to provide a venue for small independent artists to showcase their work. The kinds of artists that perform at Fringe shows across the country. Pat’s right. There is a real need for supporting small artists like this. In contrast, when I look at the pedigree of Blue Box (former associate director of the GCTC, a company that boasts being able to fund and produce new work in theatre spaces across the country, and an actress with a very impressive resume to say the least), I don’t think it fits the bill. Though granted words like independent and mainstream are very loose and open to interpretation.

    My point is this: I think this is a great festival and what makes it great is Pat’s decision to highlight work from smaller independent theatre artists who are unlikely to find a place to present in mainstream theaters. A stepping stone for companies that perform in festivals like the Fringe. Quirt, Nightswimming, and Aguirre when compared to the CVsof others, he presented in 2011, look quite anomalous. If this is the direction he and the GCTC hopes to take the festival, power to them, but I hope he will continue to program in the gap between Fringe and established theatre. That, in my opinion, is what makes Undercurrents special.

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