Vancouver's Pacific Theatre: Good art with Christian motivation but no "agenda"
Although it is not intentionally a ministry to theatre artists, "there are people whose faith is alive today who might not have been if Pacific Theatre hadn't existed." It is "a place where your art and your faith are accepted. That can be restorative.
Since its beginnings in 1984, Pacific Theatre has become one of the premiere professional theatre companies in Vancouver, winning awards and accolades year after year. Its reputation goes way beyond the Christian audiences which were its staple during the first decade. This coming season marks Pacific Theatre's twenty-fifth anniversary. I had the privilege of meeting with founding artistic director Ron Reed and asking him to reflect on the past quarter century of producing great plays for this theatre-savvy city.
The vision for Pacific Theatre came out of Reed's desire to act in plays that he could be excited about—good, quality theatre that supported his Christian values but was non-propagandist. This meant not necessarily "Christian" in content, but it had to address issues which really mattered to believers. He also wanted the freedom to do mature works that might push "morality" boundaries for some Christian audiences. After Reed graduated from California Institute of the Arts, nobody was doing the kind of work he wanted to be involved with, so he got together a group of like-minded actor friends and started his own theatre company.
The mission of Pacific Theatre is "to serve Christ in our community by creating excellent theatre with artistic, spiritual, relational, and financial integrity." Pacific Theatre fulfills this mission from its space in the ground floor of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, where it has been putting on performances since renovations in 1994 made this venue available. It is an intimate theatre, with 126 seats arranged in north- and south-facing ranks. This means sets and action have to be bi-directional, which creates some challenges but also opens up opportunities for creativity and draws the audience into everything.
From its beginning, Pacific Theatre has premiered new plays that have gone on to great acclaim elsewhere, including Lucia Frangione's Espresso, which critic Colin Thomas of The Georgia Straight called "one of the best scripts ever produced by a Vancouver playwright." Ron Reed's own Refuge of Lies will open off Broadway in September. This coming anniversary year's line-up will include a reprise (with the original cast) of First Christmas, a Pacific Theatre creation from its opening season.
The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards honour the artistic achievements of Vancouver's theatre community. Pacific Theatre has received seventy-five nominations for Jessie Awards since opening in its current location, and has won several awards including Outstanding Production of the Year (Grace) in 2006-2007. It earned more nominations and awards than any other theatre company for 2005-2006.
In addition to its main stage performances, Pacific Theatre operates the community-based Stones Throw Productions, which offers emerging artists and non-professional community members the opportunity to gain experience working alongside theatre professionals. For the past two years, Pacific Theatre has drawn some of the talent for its annual emerging artists show from Trinity Western University's theatre program. Pacific Theatre also reaches out to young audiences, for example with its 2003 school matinee production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
While there is a Christian ethos among the loosely knit company of regular Pacific Theatre artists, and this fact is openly acknowledged, they have never labeled themselves a Christian theatre company. Roles are open to actors regardless of their faith commitment. In the early days some artists would not work with Pacific Theatre because of its Christian orientation. But now, due to its consistency in producing quality work and its non-proselytizing, non-judgmental atmosphere, the company is respected widely among Vancouver's theatre community. As Ron Reed says, since the turn of the millennium there has been "an opening up toward spirituality, even Christian spirituality, in the culture at large, and coupled with the company's growing reputation, we really left behind the stigma of those early days. Now the theatre community actually expresses appreciation for our specific mandate."
The opening to spiritual searching brings in all sorts. Ron says, "There are a lot of black sheep and a lot of lost sheep around this particular flock." Although it is not intentionally a ministry to theatre artists, "there are people whose faith is alive today who might not have been if Pacific Theatre hadn't existed." It is "a place where your art and your faith are accepted. That can be restorative."
In 2006, Pacific Theatre co-produced, along with Touchstone Theatre, the world premiere of Shawn MacDonald's provocative play Prodigal Son—which explores issues of faith, family, and sexuality—drawing positive attention from both the Christian press and the local gay media. It is such daring endeavours that continue to keep Pacific Theatre vibrant and connecting with people from all walks of life who are open to deepening their spiritual and ethical values.
I've been a subscriber to Pacific Theatre for several seasons now . . . they never disappoint.