It should come as no surprise that with Vancouver’s Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) now into the fourth year of its summer repertory festival, the company has learned a great deal. Most of those lessons though have little to do with the creative side and everything to do with the business of running a theatre festival during Vancouver’s summer months.
“We have seen our audiences grow over the last three years,” says Ensemble’s artistic director Tariq Leslie. “Last year we grew our audience by 55% and it is on the administrative and management side that we have been honing things, and working each year to tighten things up.”
Perhaps concentrating on the business rather than creative isn’t quite as surprising as one might think though, especially when you consider Tariq and his company have managed to create an anticipated four weeks of theatre in the heart of Vancouver’s warmest season. With not a single piece of the usual summertime fluff seen this time of year as part of its programming, ETC is as serious about its offerings as we Vancouverites can be about getting out to enjoy our all too brief summer.
“I want to do interesting work,” says Leslie. “I’m not interested in doing anything that is fluffy and want to offer a mix.”
Gravitating towards scripts that he likes, Leslie says is thankful that ETC audiences have responded to “some intelligent fare in the summer”. With a list of over forty plays that he has wanted to produce, perform or direct since his second year in theatre school, and new plays being added each year, Leslie has enough material now to keep the ETC festival going for at least another decade.
This year, the three shows performed in rep each night includes Pinter’s autobiographical Betrayal, Howard Brenton’s story of imperialism and abuse of power, The Romans in Britain, and William Wycherly’s Restoration comedy, The Country Wife.
In his choice of Betrayal, Leslie points to his admiration in Pinter’s ability to find subtle differences in how people communicate. “I have always loved his nuance in how people communicated or don’t communicate through silence,” he says.
Dealing with lies and perspective, it is a theme that Leslie says runs through all three plays this year, providing a “perspective on truth and how ones perception can change”.
In Brenton’s The Romans in Britain, which courted controversy in the 1980s due to a scene portraying anal rape, it draws parallels to more modern-day imperialism.
“I had been looking for a play that deals with some of the ideas of imperialism, and specifically the kind of imperialism we witnessed in recent years with Afghanistan and Iraq,” explains Leslie.
Don’t expect any reinterpretation of time and place with this production of The Romans in Britain though, as Leslie eschews the idea of a modern take on a playwright’s work.
“We’re a company that is very concerned with fidelity with an author’s attention,” he continues. “A modern audience is intelligent enough to draw the parallels if they choose. The parallels are there to be seen, but written about the occupation of Ireland.”
Finally, in The Country Wife, which Leslie directs, the company’s usual Jacobean offering in previous years has made way for a Restoration comedy. It is also the closest the trio of plays will come to “summertime fluff” on this season’s roster.
“I always try to choose a play that is an out-and-out classic, and this year we moved to the Restoration period with The Country Wife,” he says. “It is a play that skewers a puritanical sentiment and moralistic points of view. Even though it was written in 17th century it really has a lot to say about the hypocrisy and double standards that exist for women, and explores those ideas from different perspectives.”
The Ensemble Theatre Company 4th Annual Repertory Festival runs July 14 to August 20 at the Jericho Arts Centre in Vancouver. Visit http://ensembletheatrecompany.ca for tickets and information.