Chelsea Hunter, the SCA’s Professional Development Coordinator, sat down with Corbin Murdoch, the Managing Producer of Vancouver’s Theatre Replacement and SCA MFA Graduate, to talk about his background, his current practice, and the value of internships in the arts.
Chelsea Hunter: Tell me about Theatre Replacement and what your role is for the organization.
Corbin Murdoch: Theatre Replacement is an independent theatre company that has been around for almost 14 years. It is led by two Artistic Directors, James Long and Maiko Yamamoto. The company exists to support their work and their artistic vision. We don’t have a particular aesthetic and every project is radically different from the last. It is a busy little company. We’ve tried to carve out an international reputation with our touring work but as well as to develop a strong local presence with a slate of public programming for the local community.
In terms of my role with the company, I’m the Managing Producer and I’ve been with the company for almost 2 years now. Because it’s a small company, 3 full time staff and an Associate Producer on contract, we all have a hand in everything. As far as the office management, administration and production, it’s my role to have a bird’s eye view on all that is going on. Some days I’ll be in the office staring at spreadsheets all day and other days, I’ll be running around the city trying to find pink wigs.
CH: Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you found yourself working for a theatre company?
CM: During my undergrad in Environmental Studies at York University, I became more and more interested in music and started my band, The Nautical Miles. When I returned to Vancouver after completing my undergrad, I had this experience in music and the arts as well as working in youth programming and engagement. Those two things, the arts and youth, led me to a job at The Cultch as the Youth Program Manager. I was there for 5 years and during that time programming at the Cultch, I got to meet people in the theatre community, dance community, as well as music. Working alongside the team at The Cultch, the administrators and the technicians, I became interested in the independent artist community and began to recognize it as a place that I wanted to build a career as an administrator and a producer and a programmer. I think it is a really dynamic community and a lot of people are working in really collaborative ways to create systems of support to facilitate what they do. I found it was a really self-reflexive community and proactive in terms of self-organizing. There are a lot of examples of that, such as Progress Lab and various industry associations that have sprung up around the dance community like The Dance Centre or the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists West. There are some really interesting ways people are organizing to create art in this city.
CH: What is TR’s philosophy in working with students?
CM: For the last few years, the majority of the people who have worked at Theatre Replacement have been SFU alumni so we have a really strong connection to this institution and we’re invested in continuing that relationship. It is really nice to have our company as a place that students can find opportunities to launch from. Theatre Replacement is really invested in training which is reflected in the training programs we offer, for really young kids and for mid-career artists alike. We also support young artists through early career development programs and these internship opportunities. We invest company resources in our own professional development. I think there is an ethic in our company that training never stops. It is important that we always keep growing and learning.
CH: Can you tell me a bit about the current internship opportunities you have for a student to intern with TR this summer and how this opportunity would be beneficial to their career development?
CM: This particular internship opportunity is all about our training programs. We have two formalized training programs. One is PantoLand, which is for kids ages 5-10 that is based around our East Van Panto project and the other one is the New Aesthetics Performance Intensive, which happens every other year. This program is where Jamie and Maiko choose two senior artists who they are drawn to artistically and inspired by and invite them to come to facilitate a 2 week intensive for mid-career artists. The guest artists are people who have contributed to the development of their practice in significant ways or are thought leaders. This summer there are 18 mid-career artists, ranging from their late 20s to mid 40s who will be training with these two artists. This internship opportunity is to really dive into these training programs. The students will take a lead role in administering and producing these programs, working with myself, our Associate Producer June Fukumura, and Jamie and Maiko. I think that training and education are kind of the cornerstone of any artistic practice, whether it is pushing yourself as an artist through continued training or pivoting into a teaching practice to support the work that you do. I don’t meet many artists who aren’t engaged in training and teaching on some level. I think it is an important realm for any student to explore.
CH: So, we’ve had a couple of students through, can you think of a time where you just know you’ve taught them something, like you saw a light bulb go on over their head?
CM: I find that the students we work with usually surprised by how much happens behind the scenes and how much work it is to administer a company. Theatre Replacement is in some ways a small company, we produce a lot but in terms of size, personnel-wise, we are a small company, but still the amount of the administration required is shocking to some people. I think students can use this opportunity to understand the diverse skills you need to be a fulltime artist. You’re not in the studio everyday, as much as you would want to be. You may find yourself wrestling with financial statements in order to make the bottom line balance for your funders, coding receipts and all these things. When students or interns come around to bookkeeping package day, they’re usually like “oh my goodness, this is crazy”. All of a sudden we’re interpreting financial reports and trying to figure out what it all means. So yeah, I think that is hugely valuable for students. I think there is a nice balance in our company. We just did an exit interview with our previous Associate Producers and one of the things she expressed was that she was happy with the range of experiences. Like one day she could be in rehearsal but there was also other responsibilities in terms of pre-planning and production and also reconciling everything afterwards. There is a great balance and satisfaction in seeing a project right through to completion so you’re not just passing it off to someone else.
CH: Turning it over, has there been a time when having fresh students around has put the light bulb on over your head? When they’ve pushed you or helped you look at things differently?
CM: The great benefit to me working with students is having to learn about splitting up the work, delegating, and not just passing off all the menial work but also figuring out how our small administrative team can tackle these things together. It has challenged me to create systems, which are definitely still a work in process (haha), which students can step into. The goal is to have clear systems in place so that they don’t have to start from scratch; there is a process that they can learn. There is definitely an opportunity for students to provide me with feedback on these things so we can continually improve.
CH: What does professional development in the arts look like or mean to you?
CM: I guess in the arts there are not particular designations or certifications that you’re going to need to meet like when you become an accountant or something. There isn’t certain boxes that you have to tick to be such and such a thing. There isn’t necessarily a clear path so I think that it [professional development] needs to be individual, highly individual. It is a challenge but also an exciting thing to think of yourself as a student, stepping into the arts community and figuring out where you can fit in. And I think that coming to work for a company like Theatre Replacement or any company that is involved in the community, you will start to understand all the different skill sets. It’s not like you need to learn everything, but you do need to learn a lot. You need to learn more than one thing. I think that a lot of students here at SFU are interested in interdisciplinary work and company models and interested in thinking about how they can create their own work. And that requires being creative, self-motivated and resourceful, and again it’s figuring out what composite skills you can collect to support yourself but also feel like you are contributing to the artistic community.
CH: Do you have any advice for emerging artists?
CM: There is always time to explore something and realize it’s not for you. You don’t have to pursue one narrow career path at the expense of others. Ultimately, if you are pursuing your dreams and passion with intention, it’s only going to benefit you to get a breadth of experience.
For more information about internships through the SCA, please visit our internships page or email Chelsea Hunter to set up a meeting.
Photo: At registration table for PushOFF 2017. Photo credit Jessica Wilke.