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Saturday, July 20, 2024

In Conversation with: Daniel Deorksen and David Thomas Newham

Seven Tyrants Theatre founders talk about establishing and running their own company

So, you want to be an actor. You audition, get into a good school, and after graduating it is time to find work. Often young acting school graduates finding work challenging in a sometimes over-crowded market. The entrepreneurial start out by creating their own work, and show-by-show they start to build reputations, which helps to attract mentors and peers.

This is the case for friends Daniel Deorksen and David Thomas Newham and their company Seven Tyrants Theatre. From small beginnings, over their years the two have sought out opportunities and have now taken up residence in their own studio theatre space above the legendary Penthouse Cabaret.

Closing out their current season, Deorksen and Newham will star in a remount of their critically acclaimed and Jessie Award-winning show, A Steady Rain, which plays the Tyrant Studios (1019 Seymour St, Vancouver) May 23-31. Visit for tickets and information.

In this Q&A we talk to the two actors about their careers, and what it took to create their own theatre company.

This interview has been edited.

Where did you train and how did it prepare you for the career that you have now?

We both graduated from the UBC BFA Acting program, so we trained formally as actors.  We also had some great mentors and board members who offered us advice early on. Only actual experience in the field can truly offer any preparation for a career in the arts: you have to get out there and do it.

Why did you start Seven Tyrants Theatre? 

We wanted to produce our own work.

How did you go about finding and creating work as a young company? You seemed to show up in some unusual places, like the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Gardens?

Early on, we learned how to produce shows on absolute shoestring budgets. We found ways to partner with larger organizations who were looking for the kind of content we could produce.

At the Garden, we wrote a trilogy of plays that ran over three summers and dramatized some of the history of the garden’s beautiful architecture. The relationship continued and we went on over the following five years to produce a highly successful Halloween experience in their space, which brought thousands of people through the garden each year.

Similarly we also did work at Science World. But we’ve also rented traditional theatre spaces for some projects. We have tried to stay open to finding different methods of producing works.

You seem to have a core group of actors? How do you pick material?

We pick material based on what is most interesting to us and what we feel will best fit the resources we have at hand. Over the years we have actually worked with over 150 different actors. But it is true that we have also been lucky to have developed close relationships with some great performers who’ve come back to work on more than one production. We believe that an ensemble who are familiar with one another can bring about magic on stage.

What kind of attitude or drive does it take to be a successful theatre company?

Perseverance. You have to want it a lot and be willing to work harder that you’ve ever worked for less money than you’ve ever made. Giving your absolute best to what you do, but not taking it too seriously.

How did you end up at The Penthouse? 

One of our board members was involved at The Penthouse and he introduced us there many years ago. When we were first rehearsing Beggar’s Opera in 2013 we used it as a rehearsal space.

In early 2018 we wanted to do a show for our tenth season that featured the two of us on stage together. When we read A Steady Rain we felt it could be done in an intimate setting like the private rooms above the historic Penthouse nightclub.  The building is actually part of the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame and there is quite a history in the space. After our first run of A Steady Rain, we were fortunate to be offered to take on a residency in the space and to create Tyrant Studios as a home base for presenting our work.

In addition to our season of theatrical works, we now present music and comedy every week in our 50 seat lounge. That’s over 100 nights per year of weekly lounge entertainment in addition to the four productions we mounted this season.

It’s been a huge challenge and a lot of work, but it’s also been exciting and we’re all about pushing the envelope for what our company can achieve.

What is your take on the business side of show business?

The business side is important, especially if you are independent of government subsidy. It all has to make sense, artistically and financially.

Choosing material to produce is a key business decision; it effects how many people will be interested in experiencing a production. It’s important to find your audience and to understand what they want to see and how they want to be challenged. But you don’t go in to present live theatre to make money, so it can be paradoxical.

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