Q&A with Alina Cerminara, Artistic Director, and Lisa Webster-Gibson, Outdoor Stage Coordinator
Please introduce yourselves and your present roles with Gabriola Theatre Festival.
ALINA: I got involved with the theatre festival last year as a volunteer stage manager and theatre liaison, and I’ve delightedly moved up the ladder to Festival Director. It’s very exciting. This role includes everything from acquiring main stage shows, to coordinating with the outdoor stage and more.
LISA: I have volunteered at the festival for 5 years. The first two years I coordinated the kid’s tent, the third year I was the outdoor stage host. Last year I hosted and coordinated the outdoor stage and this year I am the outdoor stage coordinator. I love getting to meet the musicians and artists – Gabriola has so much talent for such a small place.
Tell us a little bit about your background growing up and how that contributes to your present role.
ALINA: Folk Festivals galore! Like many other prairie people, my family took full advantage of Albertan folk festivals, from North Country to Calgary & Edmonton Folk Festivals to the Big Valley Jamboree. But we couldn’t resist the pull to the island, and have been attending the Islands Folk Festival in Duncan for more than 15 years, along with the Jazz Festival in Victoria and the Vancouver Island Music Fest in Comox. This love of all things music was mixed with a love of theatre, where my family and I always had seasons passes to Alberta Theatre Projects and Theatre Calgary. By working with ATP in my teenage years, I felt it was only natural to move to Victoria and specialize in theatre and creative writing at the University of Victoria. This is where the love of supporting the arts was truly born, and this is how I really ended up as director of the Gabriola Theatre Festival.
LISA: My mom was a very dramatic person who had an enormous love of the theatre – developed through years of little theatre in her hometown of Vineland Station, Ontario. She literally grew up next to a theatre and couldn’t help but get involved in any way she could – acting, directing, whatever. She carried this interest with her wherever she went and eventually came to be a 35-year volunteer Board Member of the Blyth Summer Festival. Hence, a large part of my childhood was spent in and around professional theatre and theatre festivals as I tagged along with her. One of my strongest memories is attending the original production of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ when I was five years old. I can still recall believing that the actors on stage were real! For years I thought Jesus had really died before my eyes… and I can still sing every single word of that libretto! So until I went to university, I spent all summer attending plays and volunteering alongside with her at the Festival. And even though I grew to know that the shows weren’t ‘real’ it was fun to suspend reality just for the length of a play. I guess an appreciation of theatre and a strong commitment to volunteering were just part of our family values!!! It seemed only natural to volunteer for the Gabriola Theatre Festival.
How has the outdoor stage evolved along with the festival?
ALINA: The outdoor stage has really grown legs over these five years. What was once a stage solely for Gabriolan musicians has expanded into a stage for all kinds of artists! From homegrown bands with deep Gabriola roots, to clowns from all over Vancouver Island, to circus performers, to poetry. And that isn’t all. We’ve got 12-year-old Gabriolan guitarists and multi-genre cellists that grew their talent in BC and are now entertaining the world. The theatre festival has gotten bigger, better and more inclusive, and the outdoor stage has done the same.
What is in store for the outdoor stage this year?
LISA: This year’s lineup includes a marching band (the Ken Capon Memorial Marching Band), torch singers (Kathy Mac and Friends), acrobats (BC Circus), original jazz (Sean Pollinger and friends), a bit of the blues (Renovation Blues Band), and a whole lot of music – something for everyone’s tastes. Check out the website for full line up. http://artsgabriola.ca/gabriola-theatre-fest
Lisa, we understand you are a performer yourself; tell us about this and other things you do creatively?
LISA: My love affair is with spoken word – poetry, storytelling, slams – I love it all. A wonderful mix of Mohawk / Delaware and Scottish Canada heritage (fierce and frugal) – I have inherited the storytelling gene and live in a world rich in vocabulary and performance. My performances delve into a range of topics from native identity to life on a Gulf Island to the world’s worst first job. My current project, “My Life Through Expletives”, is intended to be a six poem show that explores our relationship with language, the good , the bad, the misunderstood – all WITHOUT the use of swearing. This show is the result of a late realisation that most of the key moments and lessons in my life were the results of ‘getting in trouble for swearing’. My debut performance was a 45 minute reading broadcast live at the 2010 National Campus and Community Radio Conference. I am also drummer for SHED, (‘beachbilly’ / ‘folktronica’/ ‘hillpunk’), www.shed.bandcamp.com.
What drives theatre? Or what is the drive towards theatre?
ALINA: Empathy. Collaboration. Engagement. The exploration of life. When you’re watching the stage and there is nothing between you and the performer but air, no digital lenses or filters. To rework the old saying: Film is art. Television is furniture. Music is passion. Theatre is life.
LISA: Theater is a wonderful blend of actor and audience. Neither could exist without the other. Theatre is driven by the deep need / desire we all have to connect with each other, to share experience, and feel alive with that experience. Especially, if that experience makes us laugh, or learn.
I have heard that the theatre/writing degree along with other art program cuts across BC and Alberta Universities are hitting students hard? What is the direct connection between writing and theatre and at the organizational/event end of things do you see areas of development and new possibilities?
ALINA: Writing and theatre together mean you get to work on something from the very beginning to the very end. Ideas in your head come alive onstage. There is nothing like learning how to work with other people to bring these ideas alive, and there is nothing like learning how to problem-solve together to make these dreams an onstage reality. The theatre/writing degree and many other programs like it provide practical skills, theoretical understanding and a deep respect of everything it takes to produce a play. By losing these intertwined programs, there’s a chance that perspective, respect and thoughtfulness will be lost as well. There are many ways that theatre and writing can be incorporated into the festival. We’ve started to do that this year with the Gabriola Teen Project. The Kids Corner will have their own little stage this year for performing on, and a workshop based on emerging artists for these youth and the public is also being held. To develop a place for writing in this festival may mean searching for more ways to support it, but if the demand is there, the Gabriola Arts Council will find a way to do it.
LISA: Arts programs, like environmental programs are always hit hardest and seem to be the first to get the axe by any administration. Most students today could not get by simply on a writing career alone – which is unfortunate. Creativity needs time and space and attention – which are often fettered when you can’t make a living off what you love to do. The direct connection between writing and theatre is, of course, words – everything in life is connected by words. An idea is ephemeral only until it is written and shared and given shape and form. One of which is the form of theatre. With the current cut backs in all arts funding, I think organizationally, we will have to begin again to think in smaller but more effective ways. Perhaps, like the trend to ‘slow food’ there could be a trend to ‘slow art’ – more organic, closer to home, but, not any less professional – much like the Gabriola Theatre Festival itself.
Can you tell us more about the teen theatre project?
ALINA: The teen theatre project, “Ssh! It’s A Secret Company” was born with the intention of creating a fun-filled, interactive, improvisational piece to be performed at the Gabriola Theatre Festival’s outdoor stage. Kayte Summers, Director of the teen theatre project and certified drama therapist said: “Above all, the teens need to feel successful. They must be offered the opportunity to help shape their creative project. It is for them and must come from them supported by the guidance from theatre professionals. Their voices need to be heard and respected.”
What benefits can youth gain by trying and participating in theatre?
LISA: From my own experience growing up in theatre, I gained an incredible sense of self and creativity. Theatre can be a very safe place to try out new ways of thinking and being – which I think most ‘youth’ are experimenting with anyway…! You meet lots of people you might not have met – especially across a wide range of ages.
Do the youth continue through out the year with other projects?
LISA: Absolutely! On Gabriola, there are a variety of opportunities – whether it is through the Gabriola Players – especially the winter panto, Miss Mara’s dance classes, school productions and programs like the one being organized through the Gathering Place. Some of the jams accommodate kids and teens as well, so there is always that opportunity as well for musicians. The Isle of the Arts – sponsored by the Gabriola Arts Council (see their website) also hosts a variety of creative workshops. Poetry Gabriola Society hosts an open mic the Third Thursday of the month and they are collaborating with the local grade seven class for a reading of the poetry the class has written this year!