MainLine Gala for Student Drama: An Interview with Ian Truman
Hey! Mary Lee Maynard (my wife) asked us to do a series of interviews so you get to know the Gala a little bit better (as well as the people running it) so here is mine.
(P.s. une traduction de cette entrevue sera disponible plus tard ce soir, lorsque j’aurai le temps de la faire après mon shift.)
How did the event come to exist?
I guess I was the instigator. Three years ago I was studying at Concordia University (so was Mary) and Jeremy and Amy (from Mainline/fringe) were at this sort of fair the university held for arts students. That’s when Mary met Jeremy and they talked for a while about what sorts of new artistic projects they could build in Montreal. I had a drama (writing) class that semester and I had a plan to take a bunch of short plays from people in my class and make a Concordia-based event out of it.
So Mary kicked my ass (she does that a lot) into seeing Jeremy, which I did. I sent him an e-mail with an outline for the project and we agreed to meet to talk about it. So I went to MainLine. I’d say we stood there for a second, trying to size-each other up and I think the handshake was a well-felt handshake.
I proposed my single evening of short Concordian plays. He said that it would be better to do a city-wide event for student. He was worried that just Concordia plays would not make an evening strong enough to attract a crowd (that room needs to pay itself, at least.) I was happy to see he wanted tocontribute actively and build a bigger event that I had anticipated.
So I re-worked the plan, submitted it to Jeremy and he approved of the revisions. That’s when we splitted the Cegeps and Universities for the postering and we got a few teachers on board. The first year we had three English shorts to show and there was enough people in the room to pay for our expenses. I think we gave each team a hundred bucks or something. I was glad just to be able to do that (let alone, to not lose any money).
Me and Jeremy e-mailed each other, saying that we needed to meet in a few weeks to talk about what went right, and how to expand the event.
I was finish my degree and I had very little time. I didn’t think I could do another year’s worth of volunteer work. So my wife Mary decided to take over most responsibilities and I would move to a supporting role (driving, doorman/security, postering, translating etc…) while she handled the stage management and Jeremy handled the room availability and communications efforts.
The second year we agreed to do four shorts in both French and English languages. We also agreed to do three shows because the first year had gone better than expected. The second year we nearly sold out two representations and ended up overselling the last show (while refusing people at the door) which meant that the Montreal cultural life was ready (if not deeply in need) of such an event.
And so, I guess this is year no. 3 and we have gotten more submissions than ever, more professors have invited us to talk to their classes so I think this one’s here to stay.
I must admit that I had never been to MainLine or Fringe before that meeting with Jeremy. I spent my youth and young adult life at this community room called L’X, in punk and hardcore shows (You’ll get why I’m talking about this in a minute). L’X (now the Katacombes) had this vibe about it. It was all ages that was unique. If you had heart and a band, you could play there and the people who ran the place when out of their way to make it cheap and accessible for you. When L’X closed down I was sad and I felt that the city had little to offer me as far as creativity goes (since then, a cool arts venue took over L’X’s former building, but that’s another issue) – SO!!! Moving forward –
I wasn’t too sure about anything “theatrical.” Most theaters I had been too were snobish, full of bourgeois people I highly dislike (can’t beat the working class out of me, sorry) and aside from the great, great work of Montreal Playwright David Fennario, I found little kinship to the milieu. (I think that Fennario is definitely a black sheep in the milieu as well even though I never met him personally.)
That changed the moment I say MainLine’s door. I was like, “Fuck, this is L’x all over again. This is awesome.” The door is sketchy, the stairs are crooked the place is ramshackle and that was fine to me. That tells me that the folks running this place care more about putting on shows than about pleasing the uppity crowds of the world who want fancy wines, post-modern tiles works, large mirrors and designer bistro tables or some shit.
Truth be told, I don’t think the Gala would have existed if it was not for Jeremy and MainLine. I know I wouldn’t have set it up anyways.
What is your role now in the event?
The roles haven’t really changed since last year. Mary did such a great job in supporting the productions (as well as stage managing) that we agreed (me and her) that she should stay in the lead. As she is also working in television, cinema and theatre full-time the rest of the year (winter is almost always slow for the industry) it allows her to stay busy, help the community (which is something that is really important to all of us, I know) while she is not swamped with work elsewhere.
Jeremy still handles the room logistics and most of the communications. I know that the rest of the staff, like Al and Amy, also do more than their fair share to help out the event with answering the phones and mail, posterings, e-mailings, social networks or media relations.
I mostly handled the planning (which, Mary would say is my biggest strength) and I give creative feedback (editing) on the written texts. As far as the planning goes, very little has changed since the first year. Each year we expand the scope of the event, but the (strong) base remains the same. As Jeremy once said to me, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”
As far as the creative editing goes, we do not impose any changes to the productions. That would go against the idea of the Gala. What we do, for example, is say “this will be hard to implement in a room of this size because of a), b), c)” or things like “that character is out of balance or had too little stage time to have the impact you want him/her to have.”
It’s always respectful and constructive. So far the feedback from students and professors has been great and so we keep going. I’d say from experience, that 80% of the suggestions me, Mary or Jeremy come up with have been implemented by the productions on some level but they always have the final word.
Why is it important that the event be bilingual?
It just made sense to me. My francophone heritage has never stopped me from working in English or Spanish (a little) or in any language or milieu for that matter. I am tired with Qc politics where it is still (somehow) considered divided between Francos and Anglos. That’s not the Montreal I know, and well, that’s not Montreal at all. This event is to support Montreal theatre and to do that, you have to have both languages. (I remember saying to someone I would gladly admit some Spanish or Yiddish or any other language as long as it was still mostly in French or English for the majority of the crowd to understand the play.)
So in short, I didn’t want such a creative event to be blocked by outdated politics. The reality is that if you are young and living in Montreal, you ought to understand (at least) French and English, if not, then I guess the event’s just not for you.
Where do you see the event in 5 or 10 years?
I don’t think the basic plan will change that much. It will still be in Feb, or maybe early March. That is due to the simple fact that the school year starts in September and students need time to put up their plays with their friends and colleagues. We also need time to advertise the call for submissions, give them at least six weeks of preparation (meetings, rehearsal allocation, prepping the rooms, the logistics of set building/moving during the event itself etc…) and you have to take into account the fact that most of us work 60 hour weeks starting in March. So the dead of winter allows us to take better care of that event.
I’d say that four evenings is as much as we can ask the students, otherwise we would step on their studies and that wouldn’t be helping them too much either. It will probably grow in terms of media coverage. The event could very well launch more careers and some of the people who participated in the event in earlier years will have growing careers (I’m thinking of Grace Gordon here.) And I mean, Grace worked her ass off for probably a decade in dozens of events to be where she is, but she still forwards the facebook memos about MainLine which gives us a certain visibility. So, I guess everyone is growing together.
I guess in five years, instead of us running after artistic journalist, they’ll make time for us in advance and try to scout out the next great Montreal talent. I mean, that is one of the purposes of this event. If one day we can have a representation that is solely for talent scouts, journalist, blogs (or media in general), agencies (writing, acting, directing, artistic etc…) then, you know, my work will be done. I’m not saying that we necessarely want to be a hub for Random House or Warner or, whatever big media company…
But if the students get a chance to network because of the Gala, then at least they will get to decide for themselves which direction they want to take with their careers.
What about you? What do you get out of it?
I guess you could say it’s part of the sub-culture I grew up in. I was (and still am) really into punk and hardcore, and the DIY kind of punk and hardcore. I was talking about L’X earlier and I cannot stress enough how much that venue has changed my life. I was born in the East End of Montreal and, you know (or actually, you probably don’t) it’s arguably not the nicest/easiest part of town. So my parents moves to the suburbs as soon as they could afford it. It’s funny, because it was not before I came back to Cegep in Montreal that I met with a bunch of people from Repentigny who were punks or artists and such. I guess we didn’t really know there were so many of us there in the first place. We probably thought we were alone in the universe, but it turns out we weren’t. Anyways, what I want to saw is that I met this guy named Matthieu Lachapelle and he was the guy who organized all the punk shows in Repentigny (and some in Montreal as well) and I often just tagged along, even starting my own bands at some point. He had this mentality that if you could get three bands and 40 kids into a room (any room) then you could have a hell of a show. That was the DIY spirit.
We then met people in our own, unique, circles. He and his band toured Europe on meagre rations (but they did anyways) and I joined the student movement that year (I think.) We lost touch since, but I guess what’s important is the idea that you can do pretty much anything if you have a will, a good plan and forty kids in a room.
So organizing events and people, movements etc… is something that I very often did both in politics and in cultural domains. As L’X closed down, I felt there was a cultural void in Montreal and I was struggling with my own ideals in political science (let alone, dropping out of school to work in a factory.)
But, I mean, don’t go and believe that I started the Gala out of altruistic idealism. I believe that any cultural movement (or even social movement, I could say) needs to be energetic, self-sustained or it dies. As am I an artist (mostly a writer) I need a thriving artistic community in order for my work to be meaningful within a certain society (in this case, the Montreal artistic community) if, by my actions, I put forward a good event that improves the artistic offer of the city, then the community grows. And since I am a part of that community, I grow with it both spiritually and in my career.
I have received interview and met key people because of the Gala. I have used my participation in the event to get letters and admission into a masters program (it so far failed, but that’s not the issue.) I also hope to write movies out of my fiction one day, so a theatre like MainLine is a place that’s right up my alley.
On a more social level, I guess that I really like the people at MainLine. I think we get along. I always get a warm welcome from everyone even if I don’t spend as much time there as I should, so I guess that’s something as well.
That’s pretty much it for now,
Thanks and take care.
My name is Ian and I’m a hardcore kid turned writer. I have been straight edge and vegetarian for at least a decade now and I hope to bring the passion, verve and dedication of hardcore into the art form of the novel. You can find me in Montreal, Quebec, with my wife Mary and daughter Kaori.