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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

2017 Pull Festival Q&A: Derek Chan

Chan directs Maleficarum and The Girl on the Moon at this year's Pull Festival

The Pull Festival, Vancouver’s annual festival of ten minute plays, returns for its sixth year featuring works by Vancouver-based playwrights.

This year’s Pull Festival saw over 50 play submissions and 60 directors vying for spots, with the festival’s jury ultimately choosing six original plays and three directors.

In the first of our series of Q&As with this year’s Pull Festival directors, we chat with Derek Chan about the festival and the two plays he will direct.

Why did you decide to submit your name as a director for one of the shows at this year’s Pull Festival?

I love directing, so I’ll take any chance I get. The timing worked out this year, and the Pull Festival folks seem like a fun bunch to work with.

Tell me about the plays you are directing.

They are such wonderfully contrasting pieces.  Maleficarum is a witches ritual and asks questions about the persecution of witches and women throughout history.  The Girl on the Moon is a tender story between two childhood sweethearts who were separated by death.

What is it about the play you are directing that excites you the most?

Dale MacDonald, playwright of Maleficarum, experiments with the visual representation of performance text on the page, and how the spatial relationships of the words informs mood, tone, and rhythm.  The bravery and poetry of the script really gets me going.  Dale’s impulse to challenge form and structure is something that, as a playwright and director, I resonate strongly with.

Keara Barnes, playwright of The Girl on the Moon, crafted this little gem that switches from innocent love to this sense of immense loss in a split second.  I am touched by the delicate relationship between the two characters.  Keara has written in all these wonderful imagery that I am very excited to tackle and translate from the page to the stage with my cast.

The plays are just ten minutes in length – as a director does this frighten you or excite you?  Why?

Absolutely terrified.  But the fact that I am terrified makes me excited.  I love being terrified- it keeps me on my toes.  I like getting my ass kicked.  This is not the singular reason why I’m terrified, it might not even be why I’m terrified at all.  But, there’s a theory that the audience, on average, needs seven minutes to get settled in a play.  These are 10-minute plays.  Oh, and have I mentioned I’m terrified? But I love it.

Do you approach directing a short play the same way you do a full-length play?

The fundamentals are always the same, I feel.  You still need to think about the imagery, the themes, the rhythm, the pacing, the tone, the transitions, the relationships, and so on.  As with any piece I direct, I look for every clue the playwright has given me; I do my sketches and scribble pages and pages of staging and style possibilities; and I dream about the shows.
It is also quite different.  Because this is such a short process, many steps need to be expedited.  There is less time for ensemble building.  We need to establish a common working vocabulary quickly.  My usual creation process involves a little more devising time with the cast and layering different stage elements into the piece.  But we don’t really have that kind of luxury in a festival setting like this.  Also, a part-time rehearsal schedule means you don’t get to be as immersed in the process.  Choices need to be made faster, and the experience can be quite a departure from working on a full-length show.  Then again, that could be a good thing.  Makes me try to be more precise with my direction and choices.

But, as with any show, the important thing is to understand the context of the process and focus on what is achievable within the parameters we work with.

This year’s festival returns to its roots at Little Mountain Gallery – it can be a challenging space to work in – do you use it your advantage or is it just another venue?

I love the LMG.  As a theatre maker, I believe in crafting a piece in conversation with the space it takes place in.  Little Mountain Gallery has all these interesting features that can be challenging, sure, but I find those oddities inspiring.  In fact, I prefer spaces like that.  I love creating in theatres with distinct characters.  The space becomes another living, breathing collaborator.  The other day we had a venue walk-through and I turned into a little kid in a candy store: “Can we use this little nook there?  Ooooh, a tiny balcony- do you think…?”  Oh, it’s never just another venue- every space is special.

Why should someone want to come see the plays you are directing?

Why should someone want to come see the entire festival?  It’s new work.  It’s live performance.  It’s a communal experience.  It’s got 6 very different shows and something for everybody.  It’ll be a good night out. And there is beer.

The Pull Festival plays the Little Mountain Gallery (195 East 26th Ave, Vancouver) March 22-25. Visit for tickets and information.

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