When creating your own job in Theatre pays off

Elena Belyea (Laurence Philomène).

I knew that it was something that I wanted to do. When I went in to my interview at NTS, they asked me where I wanted to be in 10 years and I said I wanted to be writing and performing my own work, and I brought up Karen Hines, who does the Pochsy character. She was kind of what I had in my head when I said that I wanted to be doing solo work.

There is this constant fear among young artists about whether or not they’ll ‘make it’. While still in school, all is fine and well — but when faced with the reality of having to support yourself completely with your art… it’s terrifying. Most of us have resigned ourselves to the fact that most likely we will have to continue in the world of Joe Jobs for at least a couple of years out of school. Luckily within the Canadian theatre scene, there is a very strong culture of creation; most schools and mentors tend to encourage creating your own work rather than waiting for work to come to you from very early on. However, as anyone who has ever done a Fringe run knows, the possibility of every show you create being a success, or even breaking even sometimes is slim. Even less likely is that your successful show will happen within the first year of you leaving school.

There is this constant fear among young artists about whether or not they’ll ‘make it’. While still in school, all is fine and well — but when faced with the reality of having to support yourself completely with your art… it’s terrifying. Most of us have resigned ourselves to the fact that most likely we will have to continue in the world of Joe Jobs for at least a couple of years out of school. Luckily within the Canadian theatre scene, there is a very strong culture of creation; most schools and mentors tend to encourage creating your own work rather than waiting for work to come to you from very early on. However, as anyone who has ever done a Fringe run knows, the possibility of every show you create being a success, or even breaking even sometimes is slim. Even less likely is that your successful show will happen within the first year of you leaving school.

Enter Elena Belyea. She is currently living the Canadian theatre fantasy. Right after graduating from the National Theatre School’s Playwriting program last summer, she created Miss Katelyn — a solo show that after experiencing success on the Fringe circuit, was picked up by a few more festivals across Canada. About her success, Elena is straightforward: “I had no idea that it would be picked up so enthusiastically by different places — I mostly applied to these things as a sort of test run [for the piece]. We got really lucky, people were interested in producing us, and so now just figuring it out how to tour it will be the next challenge within the show’s development”. Between running around from city to city, Elena was able to sit down and answer a few quick questions for Artinest about her show and its run.

What has been the trajectory of your show Miss Katelyn?

Miss Katelyn’s Grade Threes Prepare for the Inevitable started as a monologue I wrote in a Creation Workshop with the show’s now dramatist Iris Turcott, during my second year of Playwriting at the National Theatre School of Canada. Since then, it’s developed into a full length-play which was presented at the 2015 Montreal and Edmonton Fringe Festivals this past summer, then again at the 2016 Wildside Festival and Chinook Series in Montreal and Edmonton, respectively.

What are the next steps for Miss Katelyn? Are you hoping to continue to tour with it?

I’m going back to work on the text with Iris to experiment and see if there are any other opportunities for the script to go deeper. (Specifically, a week-long, on-our-feet workshop in Toronto.) After that, who knows!

Would you say your relationship to the show has changed throughout its runs?

Definitely! My relationship to the character, as well as my/Miss Katelyn’s relationship to her class, shifts with each new audience, based on the wild, sometimes mind-blowing, variety of offers made by her “students” as the run goes on. (Asking questions, throwing paper, talking back, running backstage, etc. etc.)

Never assume anyone is on the same page about anything.

Had you done solo work before this?

I did a 20 minute solo show called White Night in 2013, in a back alley after dark as part of Found Festival, a site-specific multidisciplinary arts festival in Edmonton. I also performed a few solo clown turns after taking a Baby Clown Intensive with Mike Kennard and Neo-Bouffon workshop with Karen Hines back in 2010. However, this is my first one-act solo show. I knew that it was something that I wanted to do. When I went in to my interview at NTS, they asked me where I wanted to be in 10 years and I said I wanted to be writing and performing my own work, and I brought up Karen Hines, who does the Pochsy character. She was kind of what I had in my head when I said that I wanted to be doing solo work.

Is there a piece of advice you wish you had had going into the Miss Katelyn process or tour?

Never assume anyone is on the same page about anything. Take time off the top of all new processes to make sure everyone is crystal clear about roles and responsibilities. In my experience, once you get these sometimes tedious — but oh so necessary — conversations out of the way, the real work can begin.

If you’re not taking giant risks, it’s not worth doing.

What’s your relationship with the idea of the involvement of luck in having a successfully touring show?

I feel like attributing the show’s triumphs to luck would be undermining the countless hours of work our team has put in so far. I believe Miss Katelyn’s positive reception has been the result of everyone’s enthusiasm, curiosity, and generosity, which is (hopefully) evident in the final product.

What are your next steps as an artist?

Learning how to be a person outside of school. Encouraging myself to write like crazy and not worry about what other people are thinking/doing/wanting. Developing a creation practice where I’m not boring myself.

Advice you were really glad you had going into it?

If you’re not taking giant risks, it’s not worth doing.

Elena just closed Miss Katelyn in Edmonton, where she also lead a free workshop at the University of Alberta on indie/self-producing. If you happen to get a chance to see Miss Katelyn I highly encourage you to take it. Even though I only saw the show in its first incarnation at the Montreal Fringe, I thought it was an incredibly smart and relevant piece of theatre that needs to be shared to broad audiences. At the time I remember expressing my wish that it gets to tour Fringes in the US as I made the much too common mistake of playing the ”Thank God we aren’t like that here” card. I thought a lot about this and the show a few weeks ago when I heard about the school shooting in La Loche, Saskatchewan — which did not get the media coverage one would expect. Miss Katelyn remains a very important piece of theatre that unfortunately is steadily becoming more rather than less relevant over time. It is wonderful to see a young woman create a show as a response to the world around her, and have it receive the attention it so rightfully deserves.


Originally published at artinest.com on February 22, 2016.

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