Around Town: Keeping theatre accessible to all

Michael D. Reid, Times Colonist

When we heard a “dark night” social event was in the works, we assumed it might be Batman-themed, albeit surely not to celebrate Ben Affleck being anointed as Hollywood’s next Dark Knight.

Intrepid Theatre’s fundraiser last Monday at Phillips Brewery wasn’t anything of the kind, its title referring to the night most theatrical productions take a break.

Dark Monday was as much a celebration of Intrepid’s 11-day Uno Fest as a way to help fund and draw attention to a perk not all theatregoers are aware of.

“It’s a way for Intrepid Theatre to keep going with our pay-what-you-can initiative,” said general manager Heather Lindsay, referring to an option offered on opening night of every show during Uno Fest, Canada’s premier juried theatre festival of solo performance that showcases artists from across North America.

“We always want to keep theatre accessible and affordable. We never want to turn people away no matter what income level you’re at.”

A lively crowd of artists, sponsors, community leaders and volunteers enjoyed Phillips brews on tap and pizza courtesy of The Joint at the informal gathering at the Government Street brewery.

Victoria MP Murray Rankin stopped in with his pal Glenn Thibeault, the NDP’s Sudbury-based national caucus chair and Small Business, Tourism and Consumer Affairs critic, on their way to the airport. It was at the end of Thibeault’s whirlwind visit, part of “a listening tour” that included his small-business consultation with the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce earlier in the day.

Although Thibeault said he has never considered himself an “artsy type” he is “slowly becoming one” since his 10-year-old daughter began singing in community theatre.

Other notables in attendance included Magnetic North Theatre Festival’s Brenda Leadlay, Dance Victoria’s Jason Dubois and actor and Story Theatre Co. founder and artistic director Jim Leard.

“I came for the free food!” quipped the theatre veteran whose son, rising actor and storyteller Jeff Leard has proven the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. Leard Jr. has enjoyed considerable success on the touring circuit with The Show Must Go On, which he performed here last year, and Gametes and Gonads, his one-man show performed here at the 2011 Victoria Fringe Festival.

His friend and fellow UVic grad Sam Mullins couldn’t resist ribbing his accomplished father about the impact his son’s success is having on Leard’s reputation.

“I keep meeting people now who say, ‘Oh, you’re Jeff’s father!” said Leard.

“It’s no longer them saying to him, ‘Oh, you’re Jim’s son.’”

Uno Fest remains one of his favourite theatre festivals because of its focus on solo performance, says Leard.

“One-person shows have that sense of adventure, and it’s real storytelling. People are allowed to experiment, to play. They aren’t acting, they’re sharing.”

Mullins, who attended UVic from 2004 until 2008, admitted coming back to perform Weak Sauce, his comedy “about first times, second chances and third wheels” was slightly surreal.

“I forgot all about the flowers,” said the Toronto-based actor who grew up in the Okanagan before moving here to attend UVic, and later to Vancouver.

During his return visit, Mullins reacquainted himself with Victoria “which now feels really small, but in a good way” compared with Toronto, and took a nostalgic stroll through the UVic grounds.

“Oh, man, I felt more feelings than I was prepared to have walking around, especially through the old theatre building.”

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