What does one do after graduating from theatre school? For four Studio 58 graduates it has meant the creation of one of our city’s newest independent theatre companies, Speakeasy Theatre. If starting your own theatre company wasn’t risky enough though, they are also taking risks in both play choice, and how audiences will pay to see their first production.
With recent graduates Markian Tarasiuk and Mike Gill at the helm, the duo are joined by fellow alumni Tom Krushkowski and Olivia Hutt with a mandate to present works “that don’t cover meaning in fog or metaphor”, but are presented “like that drunk who’s finally got the courage to shout it out”.
Their inaugural piece is designed to bring that mandate to life, in a production of Nathan Cuckow and Chris Craddock’s 3…2…1. Telling the story of two young men from Wetaskiwin, Alberta who decide to skip their best friend’s funeral and lock themselves in a garage with several cases of beer, some Jack Daniels, and a cornucopia of pharmaceuticals, the play seems a perfect fit for the company’s philosophy.
First coming to Tarasiuk’s attention while he was searching for a final monologue to perform as part of his training at Studio 58, it was from seeing himself in its characters that drew him to presenting 3…2…1 as Speakeasy’s premiere.
“It is written by two prairie guys, and I immediately recognized it was me in that play,” says Tarasiuk who hails from Winnipeg. “It was my friends that I grew up with, my high school friends. There aren’t that many shows that has those guys in them, and while they’re definitely not the best people to watch on stage, that is one of the best thing about this show.”
It was also that raw, and sometimes violent, examination of life, religion, love, friendship and homophobia in 3…2…1 that Tarasiuk found so compelling.
“It is sexist, racist, homophobic … all those things you don’t like,” he says. “Their banter is quick and witty, but who are those guys when you strip it all away? It gets quite dark and intense, and really real; it is unapologetic for what it is.”
Presenting a play like 3…2…1, with its dark underbelly, for Vancouver audiences isn’t the only risk that Tarasiuk and his team are taking with their first show. They are also emulating a recent phenomenon in the U.K. where the price of admission depends on what you think the play is worth after you see it.
“It is not a ‘pay-what-you-can’ thing,” says Tarasiuk who finds himself having to explain the difference to potential audience members. “You go in for free and after the show you decide what that hour and fifteen minutes of your time is worth.”
Recognizing that it may be a tough sell to persuade audiences to take a chance on a brand new theatre company, Tarasiuk believes that this is one way in which to establish themselves.
“Whether you think it is worth five dollars, or you didn’t like it all and pay nothing, or if you really like it you pay more, it is up to the individual audience member to put a price on the show,” he explains. “It might be a risk, but there are a lot of people out there that don’t know our company and may think, why should I spend twenty bucks on a play when I could spend ten on a movie, or a little more to see an Arts Club show.”
Excited by the model, Tarasiuk says it is one that has been quite successful for theatre companies in the United Kingdom, and one he is hoping will resonant in Vancouver.
“Profits went up by 20% and houses up by 20-30%,” he says. “It is something that we’re hoping Vancouver will embrace, but we’ll find out.”