This month, as part of the artsUNITE / UNITÉ des arts national launch, we will be highlighting four of our partners from across the country. This week, we sat down with Chelsea Haberlin the Artistic Director of BC’s Neworld Theatre. We spoke about their new season Flux, the inimitable magic of live theatre and the importance of slowing down.
I’d love to hear more about Neworld, its mission, its values and what your role at your organization is.
I’m the artistic director at Neworld theatre. I’ve been the artistic director for about a year and a half. Neworld has been around for about 25 years. We have a mandate to tell stories that explore identity and to tell stories that have been historically marginalized, that haven’t been given center stage. In all areas of our work, we aim to challenge systems of oppression.
I’m really curious to know more about your new season Flux, you mentioned leaning into the things that we can do and not trying to falsely replicate those that we can’t. I’m wondering what this looks like for you, what kind of tools have you come to rely on to make theatre and make space for these kinds of stories?
The reason our season is called flux is because nothing is permanent right now, everything is really in the moment. So, we decided to slow down. We looked at postponing some of the works that were intended to be live and pivoting in order to take on new pieces that were built for digital formats. Instead of just taking a play and putting it online, what is something that people can do safely in this moment? Well, they can walk around listening to pod plays on their headphones and be out in nature alone. Pod plays are plays designed for an audience of one. We also started a project called remember November, a time capsule project where 24 folks created time capsules of the month of November 2020. It was a way for people to find something to connect to in this very odd time and to think of a way to remember a month that in so many ways could have been entirely forgettable because it was the grayest, darkest, most isolated month in many of our lives. The idea is that in five years, the people who created the time capsules will come together and open their boxes and share the stories of the items that are in their boxes and remember this incredibly unprecedented time together. And then maybe there’s a play there. Maybe there’s something we make out of those pieces that we put aside.
“Dust” Neworld Theatre short film
We also set about making a short film, which was ultimately so much more work than we had intended but we’re actually going to be premiering it in March. We’re really thrilled that Vancouver International Film Festival is going to be streaming the film on their website for a month. We’re also doing it in partnership with the Arctic Cycle, who presents climate change theatre action.
I’m wondering if there’s anything coming forward in the year of 2021, any specific approach to digital theatre making that you’re most looking forward to exploring?
Boy In the Moon. Marcus Youssef and Meghan Gardiner. Photo by Matt Reznek
That’s a good question! It’s tricky because I am quite hopelessly devoted to a live audience. I am just not interested in theatre online. I have had a year to see if I can come around to it and the truth is I am really looking forward to having people gather in theatres again. But we are putting up a play in March called the Boy in the Moon in partnership with the Rare Disease Foundation. The play is a story about a boy with a rare disease and his family’s experience. The RDF said to us early in the process in 2019 “Is there a way you can bring this play into people’s homes? Can you film it?“ and we said that wasn’t something we did. But now, because of the pandemic, it will be all live streamed and it’s amazing because that’s exactly what their community wanted. I feel really excited about telling a story that speaks specifically to individuals that haven’t had their stories centered in this time, and brings the play to them in the way that they asked for.
We are coming up on the year anniversary of the initial shutdown. Is there anything that you’ve learned over the last year that will become a part of Neworlds permanent ethos moving forwards?
Our producer, Sandra Henderson, brought with her some ideas around the ways that we should be caring for each other and that’s really become a big part of our work. She calls it the framework of care. And I think prior to the pandemic, we were moving so quickly that we weren’t always doing a great job of actually honouring that commitment to care that we had made. I think the pandemic has allowed us to slow down enough to start to pay more attention to how we are caring for each other.
And I think another part of that is that it’s okay to slow down, it’s okay to do less and to maybe not work as hard. I hope that in the arts community, maybe even globally, we’ve had a similar realization of how good it feels to slow down.
And finally, what is one piece of advice that you would give theatre practitioners as they tried to stay afloat and stay creative in these tumultuous times?
I think so many of us have operated for so long with a scarcity mentality: there isn’t enough time and there isn’t enough money. I think that makes us treat each other poorly and shortchanges the art. So what I’m trying to do as we come out of this is know that we have enough, we have more than enough time and money to do the work with kindness and with rigor. And I think if you approach every season with that mindset, it’s incredible what’s actually there.
For more information on Neworld Theatre, visit their website here and follow them below: