Published on April 1st, 2016 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Katrina Dunn
Two couples sit down to dinner and ignite a moving and funny exploration of a hot button issue, rendered in dynamic dialogue by an exciting young writer.
This is the set-up for Late Company, written by Jordan Tannahill and produced by Touchstone Theatre.
Katrina Dunn – Touchstone Theatre’s Artistic Director – directs this production and she spoke to us to give us some insights into the play and the process of putting it together.
Can you start by telling us a little bit about you and how you came to be involved with Late Company?
I am the Artistic Director of Touchstone Theatre and my job is to program the season’s activities. I originally programmed Late Company for the fall of 2014. It really struck a chord with my audience and was nominated for several awards, so I elected to remount it as part of our 40th Anniversary Season.
What can audiences expect from this production?
This is a character driven drama. Two couples meet for a kind of restorative justice dinner after the teenage son of one couple has committed suicide. The son of the other couple has bullied him in high school. It’s a naturalistic play, but we’ve set it in an immersive environment, so that the audience really feels like they are in the room where it’s all happening. So expect top notch acting, and a big emotional ride that will feel very close and present.
What are the three most important things that stage directors needs to remember to be most effective?
It’s your job to steer the ship despite the nature of the waters, so hang onto that wheel.
It’s a collaborative form, so respect your collaborators and learn how to encourage the best from them.
Try to be a blank space every time you watch a run. Remember that your audience has only what’s onstage with which to make sense of the production.
What was the biggest challenge for you in directing the play and how did you overcome it?
This biggest challenge with this one was in modulating the audience’s emotional experience. The stakes are high so the temptation is to get very hot very fast. We solved this by try to really listen to the language and see where we had alternate playing options. We also identified where we really wanted the show to peak and worked on pulling back in the lead up to those moments.
You’re also the Artistic Director at Touchstone Theatre. What are the main responsibilities of Artistic Directors and what’s a typical day like for you?
As I said, I program the season. But I also fundraise (grants, foundations, corporate), put together artistic teams (designers, casting, technicians), and supervise my staff. It’s a job with a pretty broad skill set required. You need some business sense, as well as a vision for the company and high level of artistic skill. Oh, and my job is up for grabs by the way! We are currently looking for a new AD to replace me at the end of next season. Take a look at Touchstone’s website – the staff and board page – for details.
How would you describe your vision for Touchstone theatre and its productions moving forward?
Touchstone does only Canadian plays and we tend to be a playwright-focused company. In the last six years I’ve also introduced a focus on new Canadian musicals. For me, it’s really important that my audience gets to sample, through Touchstone, the finest voices in Canadian theatre.
What’s the most important piece of advice that you would give to aspiring theatre directors?
Just do it. There is no way to learn without getting in the room, working with actors and putting shows up. Find a way to do that without bankrupting yourself. And develop a critical dialogue with yourself where you can (supportively) assess your own work as a way of learning and growing outside of whatever critics and others might say.
How would you describe the current state of the Vancouver theatre industry?
It’s amazingly vital. The growth in the last 30 years has been phenomenal. Artists now move here to be a part of it, whereas when I was young, everyone was moving away. It’s very exciting to me to see all the sub-communities and groups of artists taking things in different directions.
What books and authors have been influential for you in your creative journey so far?
Any of Anne Bogart’s books.
National Performance by Erin Hurley.
I don’t read books about directing, but I hear there are some really good ones!
Where can we find out more about you, Touchstone Theatre and Late Company?
It’s all at TouchstoneTheatre.com. Hope everyone can come and check out this moving and important show!
Thanks to Katrina Dunn for speaking with us!
Late Company is now on at the Evergreen Cultural Centre until April 2nd before moving on to the Vancity Culture Lab from April 5th to April 9th.
Tickets are available through TouchstoneTheatre.com.