The Vancouver independent theatre scene is bringing back HIVE 3, the queen bee of contemporary theatre experiences, with a sweet mix of independent companies offering a taste test of creative work to suit all cultural palettes.
The third collaboration of its kind, HIVE borrowed the idea of a gallery of short live performances intended for intimate audiences from a similar concept in the visual art world called Swarm. The theatre version of a movie trailer or the musical equivalent of chamber pieces, the premise of HIVE is that each piece is resented in under 10 minutes for audiences of less than 10 people.
It started at Chapel Arts in 2007 as a one-off event, but the buzz from the consistently sold out shows was enough to get the Magnetic North Theatre festival to pick it up and include it in their circuit. The HIVE consortium of twelve companies put the idea to bed until the Cultural Olympiad, the Olympic-sponsored arts body, asked them to return to the honeycomb with performances scheduled to coincide with the Paralympic Games.
The idea is a clever way for artists to dodge the sting of further funding cuts to the profession as governments attempt to recover from the swollen budget the Olympic infestation will leave in its wake.
For many, HIVE is a way to prevent their companies from going the way of the bumble bee. It is cheap to produce and there is safety in numbers with a broad audience drawn in from their combined demographic of dedicated theatre-goers. But what is new for the companies is that the shows pull in people from outside mainstream theatre crowd in the visual arts, fashion and music communities who weren’t going to their individual shows.
“It’s kind of a great introduction into theatre in general. It makes people feel like if I hate it, it’ll be over in ten minutes and then I get to move onto the next thing and I think people really like that. I think there is a kind of adventurous quality to it. It added a bit of hip to a form that a lot of people see as a bit sterile. Actually feel like they’re a part of what’s happening,” said Craig Hall, artistic producer of Rumble Productions.
But perhaps the greatest reason for being involved in this new theatre genre is that the artists have a more freedom to take risks and explore in an environment where if no one likes their stuff there isn’t as much on the line. And as the ideas crystallize they stay fresh with short rehearsal periods and a workshop feel to performances. Short works that gel with the public are seed pieces for longer works later on. What often results is a cross-pollination different companies who decide they want to create something together.
Of course since the Cultural Olympiad is the sponsor it is a given that many companies will address the controversy of the Olympics.
“It will come up. It almost has to,” said Hall, “I would be surprised if a number of different groups didn’t go after it directly. Everyone sort of has a different bee in their bonnet about separate issues.”
One issue is the clause included in HIVE’s contract with the Olympic organizers that limited artistic freedom of expression around issues pertaining to the Olympics itself which caused some companies to consider canceling the deal.
“There was a real possibility that this wouldn’t happen, that a number of the groups would have pulled out,” Hall said.
They challenged the language and it was changed to accommodate HIVE’s demands to be free to comment on what Leaky Heaven Circus co-artistic director Steven Hill called a pivotal moment in Vancouver’s history.
“The feeling prior to the Olympics was that anything was on the block that anything could be negotiated with. If you’re not allowing freedom of artists then what are we becoming?” Hill asked.
Hill was one such participant who was firm that his company wouldn’t participate if it was to be used as a marketing tool under a code of silence.
“The fool keeps people hopeful in the presence of tyranny. In some way I was feeling that we were a bunch of fools if we went into it with that contract but we didn’t want to be a fool in that way, not the official fool,” Hill said.
The contentious issue of artistic expression informed Leaky Heaven’s piece starring Lesley Ewen which will include video images of local suspenseful horrors as well as footage from the current Iranian revolution.
“We weren’t interested in doing something topically political but then one felt that one was obliged to. We come from traditional clown and the clown has got to break the rule or they’re just bad clown and it’s got to be a dangerous rule. It’s got to be a rule that’s worth breaking,” said Hill.
HIVE 3 is presented March 11-14 and March 17-20 at the Digital Centre for Media at 577 Great Northern Way in Vancouver.