#310 – Jackie Latendresse
Jackie Latendresse is an alumnus of the University of Waterloo where she obtained her H.B.A. in Dance with a minor in Fine Arts. She founded Free Flow Dance Theatre in 1995 and has been the artistic director ever since. The Company relocated to Toronto in the winter of 1996 and has since found a home base in Saskatoon. Jackie has been choreographing and producing her own shows since 1993 when she presented her first full evening of dance works at Abstract Machines that Recognise Certain Languages. She has since created a large volume of work and her repertoire includes 20 full-length works (20 min+) and numerous shorter works, Her work has been presented all over Canada at many venues ranging from traditional theatres to schools to parks and back alleys. The company has toured extensively with the Canadian Fringe Festival Circuit and is invited to present work regularly throughout Saskatchewan. She has received various awards including the Special Merit award for outreach with the LGBTQ community from Out Saskatoon 2011, been named Champion of the arts by the Star Phoenix in 2017, was awarded a Saskatoon Foundation for the Arts Artist award 2018 and most recently she received the 2021 Saskatoon YWCA Woman of Distinction award for arts and culture.
Phil Rickaby: Honest question. What is with the disposable nature of plays in the Canadian theatre? Yeah, I can only think of a couple of plays – one in recent memory – that have had a life outside of their initial performance. On average, we produce a play once on one of our major stages, say for example, in Toronto, Theatre Passe Muraille, Tarragon, The Factory.
And then for the most part that play is then disposed of and forgotten and never really heard from again. And we’ve been doing that, pretty much since the 1960s, when the Canadian theatre scene really began in earnest. Every so often a play like Kim’s Convenience comes along that is so undeniably good that it gets a life after its production.
But for the most part, it seems that in Canada, we produce a play, it runs for a few weeks, and then when it’s over, it’s gone and we never hear from it. But for American and British plays, those will often tour or get a Canadian production or be performed by community theater groups. But aside from Kim’s or the drowsy chaperone or come from away, when was the last time a Canadian play has gotten a production outside of Canada.
I remember a number of years ago, Howard Sherman, who was then the head of the American theater wing, posted that he found it curious that he knew plays from Britain and of course plays from America, but he could not name any shows from Canada. Of course, a lot of Canadians helped out and named their favorites, but at the time, even he found it odd that he couldn’t name a single Canadian play.
Why do you think this is? What is it that prevents the plays that we create here from going on to be performed in the US or Britain or elsewhere, but what’s even more concerning to me is the fact that we rarely see them produced at home. So often a play is produced, and like I said, it runs a few weeks and it closes.
And it doesn’t get to breathe to grow. And it certainly doesn’t get to become a hit the way shows from elsewhere get to. And I do understand that part of that is logistics. In Toronto, we have only so many theaters dedicated to producing new work, and there’s only so much time that could be dedicated to a given play in each season. And because of that, a production can only run a few weeks.
But that keeps us from having a show that gets to be a big hit. Because if a show does well, there’s really no mechanism in place that lets a show go on to another life. Nothing that lets a show get picked up to continue on under another theater’s umbrella and run for longer or anything like that. I guess for me, the sad thing is that Canadian theatre will never be able to get worldwide acclaim or even respect unless we find a way to give a play life after its first production.
Not that a play has to travel to Britain or the US to be successful, but at the very least, should we not have some path to further productions in Canada to give our shows the same shot at being remembered that shows in Britain in the U S. Why don’t we value the theater we make here enough to give more of our plays, a future?
Don’t our homegrown playwrights and actors and directors deserve that? Don’t they deserve better than just being disposable? Agree or disagree. I would love to hear your opinion.
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My guest this week is Saskatoon based dancer and choreographer. Jackie Latendresse. She is the founder of Free Flow Dance Theatre, which has been producing work since 1993. She is a longtime Burning Manattendee and is the regional contact for Saskatchewan. She’s received numerous awards for her work in dance, and most recently received the2021 Saskatoon. YWCA woman of distinction award for arts and culture. She also happens to be one of my oldest friends. It doesn’t take long after meeting Jackie to realize that she is someone who just gets stuff done when she sees a need, she steps up and makes it happen. Recently, she saw a need and developed a one of a kind bodyworker program to lengthen and strengthen the careers of dancers. Here’s our conversation.
I was thinking today that we met a very long time ago. I was 16, which is very long time ago. And I mean, we met at the Young People’s Theatre summer drama day camp. And you as a dancer. I mean, you knew then that you were primarily going to be a dancer, correct?
Jackie Latendresse: Yes, I did. It was an interesting time when you’re a teenager and I was growing up in a small town.
So I got a chance to go to the big city and, and be there during the summer for that program. It was. Definitely a lot of fun. I remember dying my hair pink and my parents were completely shocked when they came to pick me up in Toronto. Yeah. To be a dancer. I don’t know if you remember that. Yeah. Great. Strawberry shortcake pink. It was a lot of fun.
Phil Rickaby: Oh, I remember that. Absolutely. I do.
But as somebody who was primarily wanting to be a dancer, do you recall when dance first became a thing for you?
Jackie Latendresse: Well, I took lessons from a young age. Of course, that’s usually the way that most people get introduced, but I started taking it seriously as a teenager. My, my teacher was. She was very supportive and brought me to a lot of different types of camps.
We went to Chicago one summer to study at Gus Giordano school of dance. And I was introduced to contemporary dance there for the very first time, took my very first Graham class and my very first Limone class there and fell in love.
Phil Rickaby: And I mean, you, you went to, you studied dance at the university of Waterloo, and I remember I remember visiting you there and I remember you founded a free-flow dance theater there or at least just after you graduated and you did a bunch of shows there before you moved the company to Toronto and then eventually to Saskatoon.
Jackie Latendresse: yes. So I got my start at the university of Waterloo dance department, which is no longer a unfortunately it has since been disbanded, but it was a fantastic program. It was highly academic as well as a lot of fabulous dance training opportunities. I specialized and focused in contemporary dance with a focus on choreography and was one of the first.
Students in the dance program there to create a choreography focused stream of study a little bit, a little bit of uniqueness there. I’ve never been afraid to try to find my own pathway. And yes, I formed free-flow dance theater in 1995. I had. Dabbled in choreography prior to my graduation and had a somewhat informal group of dancers working with me and founded a small collective called the choreographers collective in Kitchener, Waterloo, we were producing a lot of really edgy, independent shows, trying to find our feet as artists and trying to.
Develop our own personal styles. It was it was a really fun time where we produced shows at night clubs. We did underground theater and we were not afraid to step in and create contemporary dance pieces for fashion shows and all kinds of interesting ways to get. Within the field. Eventually I moved from Kitchener-Waterloo to Toronto bringing most of the company members with me and of course, adding new dancers as we met them in turn.
Phil Rickaby: You had a great little, a great space there with like a full studio and, and lots of space. And you ran classes out of that great space and all that sort of stuff. We did. I also remember that you, I also remember that you had this gift for finding people who would not have described themselves as dancers convincing them that they could be a dancer and putting them in shows?
Jackie Latendresse: Yes, definitely. That was the time of the warehouse and in Toronto, and then in the mid to late nineties, it really was warehouse culture. A lot of dancers and artists were working, living and working in a warehouse spaces, including myself. I remember running into you in the bank machine on queen street.
And that’s how we reconnected after you turned around. And I started screaming and jumped on you. I think . It was like, I think
Phil Rickaby: that’s exactly how it happened.
Jackie Latendresse: And that was the neighborhood that I was living in. And you were actually just a few blocks from me. So a lot of artists obviously were living in that neighborhood.
During that time period, I was working with actors, dancers, music. Oh, it’s all kinds of people who just were interested in moving, who had the desire to move, but perhaps hadn’t had a lot of training. They were welcome as well. And we combined all of these different types of people into really interesting, innovative shows.
I found it fun to find raw talent out at a nightclub or a dance party. And. And convince people that they should, you know, give the stage a try. A lot of those folks did end up becoming, you know, very active either in the dance or theater or performance, performance art fields.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah. Now what eventually, I mean, you’ve been in, in, in, in Saskatoon for quite some time. So what took you from Toronto to Saskatoon?
Jackie Latendresse: I had been doing the cross Canada fringe festival for a number of years with the dance company and had made a lot of different friends within the theater community. And I moved to England for a short period of time where I was living and working.
And when I returned. I was floating around in Toronto, trying to figure out where I want to live, what I wanted to do. I’m staying at various warehouse spaces and producing little small theatrical events. When I was offered some space to create the works in progress dance series in Saskatoon. And I had previously been there.
On the fringe festival and had taught some workshops for some of their community programming there. So I was thrilled when they suggested that I start this works in progress series, featuring a new contemporary work by independent artists there and decided to take the chats, take a leap of faith and just move to Saskatoon.
And I have not regretted the decision.
Phil Rickaby: Hm. What is it about Saskatoon that has, that has really sort of, sort of fed you and fed your work?
Jackie Latendresse: Yeah, well, I had a lot of support when I first arrived. People were helping me find interesting jobs and making connections with different artists. I landed a teaching. Job at the university of Saskatchewan for quite some time until the program was cut.
Unfortunately, it was a great program actually, but it’s no longer in existence. And while I was there, I started establishing myself as an artist recognized by Saskatchewan arts board funding. And really just, I felt very grassroots when. There when I first landed people extended hands and, and, and the use of their spaces for me to experiment in and work on new pieces of choreography and the scene was very small.
So it was. Really like invent, reinventing the dance company. When, when I first started there, years later, I considered leaving the province because it is a small dance community there. And I was finding myself frustrated with the lack of opportunities for dance and the difficulty to secure funding.
But. Luckily, I was approached by the Saskatchewan arts board and they talked to me and gave me a whole bunch of options and opportunities and things and ideas that I could potentially utilize for funding in the future. And that was very convincing and I decided to stay since then. I have purchased an old church.
And I have converted it into a dance space for adults and our free flow company is based out of that space, along with all kinds of other fun adults movement-based classes and ranging from everything from clown to mime, to ballet, to burlesque, to belly dance, to ballroom and beyond. So I’ve really.
Enjoyed making my mark there and getting my toe in the door and growing, helping be part of the growing scene in dance and performing arts in Saskia.
Phil Rickaby: Do you feel like when you took over that church and started building that space and, and made it into, into what it is now that that was sort of when your, your roots for SIS in Saskatchewan really sort of like sunk
Jackie Latendresse: in?
Definitely, definitely. Expensive to PR to purchase and run a large building in most places in Canada. So fortunately I was able to afford to do that in Saskatoon and to really feel like I had a home, a home base for myself as an independent artist, but also for. My company and my company dancers. And since then the company has grown exponentially and we have dancers coming from across Canada to perform with us and to join the company.
And people are very excited about the work that we’re doing in the Prairie provinces. I’ve, I’ve just had. Unlimited success so far. Despite the pandemic we were supposed to celebrate our 25th anniversary in 2020. So the majority of that got canceled. We feel like this year things are actually going to start happening again.
Fortunately for us, we’re very flexible in small company and I love performance art and the theatrical end of dance. So we moved outside and we created a lot of participatory and immersive experiences for people that were unusual. I would say my, my background as a burning man, regional contact probably helped a little bit where we’re just used to working with what you have and making your own fun and coming up with creative problem solving, we were able to come up with some really fun activities during the pandemic so far.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah, there’s definitely going to ask about how about the Bernie man connection and how it affected because the things that you were just sort of lightly describing there, I was like, well, that definitely sounds like like, like burning man influenced there with burning man as somebody who’s, you’ve been going to burning man for a long time.
What was your first, what first drew you to burning man? And what’s kept you going back.
Jackie Latendresse: Well, it took me a number of years to actually get there. I had lots to go for a while and a friend of mine kept poking me and saying, Hey, you really need to do this. So I would look it up and research it and think, yes, that’s exactly where I need to be.
And then I would be busy doing the fringe festivals circuit during the summer. Unavailable one year, I decided I was not going to do the fringe festival circuit. And I called my friend. I said, yep, I’m going to come to burning man this year. This is great. But then they cut the program that I was teaching at the university of Saskatchewan.
So I thought, well, Maybe I, maybe I can’t afford to do this this year. Perhaps I should go another year and I sent, re sent my regrets. So I don’t think I can make it. Here’s what happened. And then my birthday arrived and a card came in the mail. It said, happy birthday. See you there. And inside the card, there was a ticket to burning.
So I thought, I guess I’m going to burning man this year. And that was how I got there. The first year. It was a transformative experience as it is for many people. I felt like I’d finally found the place where I fit in and. I found my family outside of my family and it was artistically renewing. And I feel like every single time that I have gone, I come back with my artistic and creative batteries, fully charged, ready to go for another year.
There are so many talented and inspiring human beings that seem to find their way to that. Wonderful thing in the desert. And every time I come home feeling invigorated and refreshed and exhausted, but also refreshed. So yeah, it’s definitely a creative Haven for me. It’s a safe space for me to experiment my.
Style, I’ve done several performances there and created personas and characters that have I’ve brought back. I’ve tested around a few technological elements, glow in the dark things, et cetera. And it’s been a ton of fun. And that’s really what we need as artists is to be able to have some fun with our peers and come away from those experiences, just wanting to do more.
And to do it better. I also love the participatory.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah. You know, I was thinking one of the things that often I think we, as artists forget when we’re caught up in doing our work is that we can do a work in play. You know, if you go to something like burning man, you can, it sounds like you’re playing a lot more and experimenting without the weight of having to produce and having to have it be something you can take a few more risks cause you’re just playing and then you could take that, that sense of play and come home and do something kind of exciting.
Jackie Latendresse: That’s very true. It’s such a playground. It’s an adult playground. It is really a place for freedom and experimentation in terms of creativity and out of the box thinking there’s not a lot of rules and people are living in that sort of immediate now. So there’s no expectation. I love the participatory nature of burning man and the people who attend people are willing to get up there and improvise with you.
Take a workshop in something they’ve never tried before. And generally just a, that sense of comradery that you have when you camp. People under trying circumstances. Sometimes it’s really hot or dusty. Sometimes you’ve stayed up way too late. And, and it’s just a, it’s an extreme experience. It’s not for everybody.
And it’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but I do think it’s for creative souls.
Phil Rickaby: Now you’ve – you mentioned the, the, the church that you sort of, you took over and turned into the home base for. For, for a free flow of dance and for all of your work that’s when you got it, it was a church.
It wasn’t a theater. You had to renovate that, right?
Jackie Latendresse: Correct. It was a. Church. When I went to see it, when I purchased it, it came with all of the pews and an altar, and we definitely had to do a lot of renovations within that building. And we’re still working on it. It’s a, it’s a work in progress every year.
It gets better. Just before the pandemic we put on new windows and siding and a brand new roof. Beautiful. Metal roof. So we are easy to spot everywhere from everywhere in the neighborhood with our beautiful roof and our matching red door. So yeah, it’s, it’s been a joy also. I’ve learned how to do things like plumbing and drywalling and various other things around.
That I never imagined I would be doing, but
Phil Rickaby: you’re that, that work is, I mean, obviously like, you know, you, you take it where you, how, how, how soon after you purchased it, where you was free-flow performing in it.
Jackie Latendresse: Oh yes. We turned it over quite quickly. We had a number of people help from the community.
Lots of friends and neighbors came over to lend a hand. We had to remove. Old flooring to reveal all of the original hardwood which was underneath. And so I would say probably within two months of the purchase, we had, well, a soft opening and we per free flow performed at it, along with some of our friends, singers and dancers.
We had a. An amazing gorilla arts performance by a, a group that was they were from south America and they were visiting Saskatoon and we had met them down at the farmer’s market and invited them to. To our opening and they all showed up in costume and did a, like just came in the door, playing instruments and did a whole performance.
It was amazing way to celebrate this new dance space and inject energy into the space. That was so positive, right from day one. I’ve I’ve, it’s been a joy working in that building.
Phil Rickaby: Hmm. I mean, it’s great for an artist to have a home base, right? It’s great for an artist to have a place that’s theirs. It’s such a rarity for somebody to be able to have that space.
That’s theirs to work in. In, in a lot of ways that’s gotta be really artistically floor of freeing because you don’t have to worry about renting a space. So where am I going to perform? That’s a question that doesn’t necessarily. Isn’t something that you have to consider. So now you can just concentrate on the creation rather than just the, the where and the how, right?
Jackie Latendresse: Yes, for sure. And I’ve built a suite in the basement, so I can wake up at three in the morning. Inspired. Get out of bed and go into the studio and work if I desire, which is kind of awesome. And I feel like the security of having owning real estate, especially during the pandemic, but the security of owning real estate as an artist really gives me a bit of future security for myself, a bit of a retirement plan.
When I am ready to retire as an artist, I have this beautiful space. I can use as, as a foundation for my retirement. So, because as self-employed people, we often don’t have a lot of things planned for our futures. This is me sort of putting that out there for the young aspiring people start your TFS now.
And, but it as independently independent people, we need to think about our futures and we need to be planning. Something for ourselves when we retire.
Phil Rickaby: Speaking of planning for retirement and getting older I want to know more, I want to know something about the, the, the body worker program that you’ve developed that’s to lengthen the careers of dancers.
So obviously I think, I think everybody understands that that traditionally a dancers dance life is relatively slow short But you you’ve developed this, this program. Tell me about, about the creation of that and more,
Jackie Latendresse: yes, the body worker program is a very unique program.
We’re one of the few places in Canada that offer it to our contracted artists. It is designed to prolong the dancers, careers, and to mitigate. Injuries, risk of injuries and to keep the dancers bodies healthy and in shape. So we have several different types of bodyworker therapists that work with our company and provide services.
Free of charge on a monthly basis to our artists, including things like physiotherapy, massage therapy fascial work and more. And we have found that by being able to provide monthly preventative and maintenance services like this to our dancers, that we. Almost completely. I don’t think we’ve had one major new injury since we started the program and we have not had to cancel or cancel performances or hire understudies due to injuries since we began the program.
So it really works. And our dancers, I wish I had this when I was younger. Our dancers are so appreciative of these services.
Phil Rickaby: I mean, obviously the desire of any artist is to keep being able to perform What was the process of coming up with this programmer and developing it? Did you, did you consult with people?
Like what, how, how did you develop the program?
Jackie Latendresse: I was attending the healthy dancer Canada conference when they, when it took place in Saskatoon, listening to all these fantastic discussions on dancers and healthcare. And as I sat in the audience, I began. Formulating this program thinking why doesn’t anyone do this?
This is, this would be a great thing. Everyone should do, do the offer, this type of thing. And then by the end of the conference weekend, I thought, why don’t I do this? And so instead of asking why someone else doesn’t do it, and I’ve always been a bit of a self-starter in terms of. Programming. So I thought, huh I’ll maybe just talk to some of my current dancers and find out if they would like this type of thing to be offered and consulting with our dancers.
They jumped on board. They were immediately on board with this and they helped get the program started included, including suggestions from the dancers and the board members. We were able to Form the outline of what the services would be. And we were able to find therapists from a variety of different backgrounds to participate in the pilot project the first year, which was highly successful.
And it’s kind of just grown from there.
Phil Rickaby: That’s, that’s incredible. You know, one of the things that I think I’ve always, I’ve always thought is, is amazing about you as a, as a, as a creator is you’re a doer. And so you, whenever you see something that needs to be done. I think you’re more, more often than not likely to think, oh, well, why don’t I just do that?
I mean, you created your own dance company and you, then, you know, you, you, you, you you’ve done what you need to do to, to keep the company going and all of that sort of stuff. So I think the. A lot of times, sometimes artists will wait for the gatekeeper to hand the thing over, but sometimes it’s, it’s really helpful and important to say, why don’t I just do this?
Right. You can figure it out. You start, you figure out what the next steps are. You ask around. And that’s, that’s just you know, why wait for somebody else to do it? If, if you might be able to figure it out on your own.
Jackie Latendresse: Agreed. And I feel like that is the start of all great. Collaboration’s. Someone needs to get it started and someone needs to inspire others to get on board and someone needs to bring in.
The skillsets that are needed in order for it to succeed. That way everyone who’s a participant feels invested in the programming. They feel that they are part of the development part of it, and it’s meaningful to them. If we are handed things, it often doesn’t seem quite as meaningful. I think there’s a sense of pride that people feel.
Be involved in a project and a program and helping that develop. And in turn, it brings a sense of loyalty to the programs. And also it enhances people’s willingness to work hard because they feel like they have contributed directly to the success. I used to, as a younger artist, think that they used to get a little angry about how I was, oh, I’m always a catalyst.
I’m never a star, but then, you know, as an older artist now I, I actually love to be a catalyst. I think it’s partly my job here on this planet is to be a catalyst and to be able to start things and enable people to. Get involved in them and continue them and grow them and to grow themselves as artists.
And I celebrate that now as a, as a special skill that I feel fortunate to have.
Phil Rickaby: We certainly need our catalysts in the performing arts and the arts in general. We’re like nothing would happen without the catalyst. So that’s, that’s really important. And, you know, I’ve found as far as like the difference between. You know, it’s great when somebody wants you to do their work. It’s great.
When somebody says, we have this part for you, we’d like you to do it or this role for you. We’d like you to do it. And that’s great. And who doesn’t want that? But there’s something about that thing that you’ve had a hand in creating. It means more to you. When you’ve done that is that part of your courier choreographic, a way of working?
Do you, do you work with the dancers? Do they input, like how does that, how does choreography work when Jackie Letendre is, is choreography choreograph.
Jackie Latendresse: Yeah, I am a very interactive choreographer. I like to ask for my dancers feedback. I like to develop the movement vocabulary in collaboration with the dancers.
Depending upon which type of piece I’m working on when I’m doing site-specific work, it’s always a collaborative effort because I think it’s very important for the artists to feel comfortable in the environment that they’re in. And it’s very different working in a back alley than it is working on a very perfect immaculate stage.
So I always work. With the artists and ask for their input and, and their help with the development of the work. Oftentimes I’m a concept generator and I like to have a whole bunch of different folks brainstorming alongside of me to see, you know, how can we get at the goods? And again, it’s a little bit of a sense of play because you do have to kind of go through a lot of this generating of whatever stuff as I’m the good, the bad and the ugly to get at the good stuff.
And that goes for theater that goes for dance. That goes for most performance performing arts. And it’s the fun part. It’s the part where you get. To feel like a, like a kid, again, you get to feel excited as, as the ideas come in, you get to work with other people and their ideas as well as your own.
So I always feel like I’m always learning. I’m always learning something from these newer, younger dancers that are coming into the company. A completely different sensibility with them than I had when I was training at university and it’s refreshing and it’s interesting and it’s always motivating. So I like to keep that open.
We do the back alley project, which is always collaborative. We do we offer mentor mentoring to all of our younger, emerging performers as well throughout the year, which is inspiring to me as an artist and helps with my continued development as an artist. And we have been working outside so much during the pandemic that.
It it’s become just part of the process to be in a constant state of listening to each other and asking each other. And discussing with each other in order to get to a spot where the work is going to be at its best. And then you throw in things like snow and wind and rain and it gets interesting.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah.
The, that sense of play that you describe is, is like, I think, like I was saying earlier, Is sometimes we can get so caught up in the idea of, of the importance of what we’re doing or, you know, who’s watching and that sort of thing that we forget to play and to be able to, to play with other people.
I mean, why, why else do we do this? If not for the, the playing with other people.
Jackie Latendresse: It’s definitely joyful. And we need to find moments of joy for ourselves as artists, and also be able to bring that energy to our audience and our participants, because we we’ve had a couple of really rough years and people really need art now more than ever, and they need the magic and the joy that we can bring as artists who are enamored with our craft and who are.
You know, willing to dive in and, and fully offer authentic experiences to people.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah, I think there’s, there’s, there’s a little bit of a, I know that what I’m sort of sensing around in, in the world that I’m in is a lot of that uncertainty that leads to fear. You know, there’ve been so many times when artists have been about to present.
Production or about to, to, to do a show and then they have to cancel it or they have to postpone it and then do we have to cancel it? Will we ever get to do this again? And it’s very stressful and it’s very difficult. It sounds like you’ve found a great way to keep things going and still have your audience there instead of just relying on the digital production.
Was it just a no brainer for you to do. Go outside and dance outside. Was that just naturally, there was no thought that you didn’t, you didn’t consider anything else. You just immediately thought we can do this outside
Jackie Latendresse: pretty much because we had been doing our back alley antics program for, you know, 15 years already, which is outside.
It’s one of our most successful programs. We’ve done a few different versions of it. We’ve worked in sculpture gardens and. That was the first instinct that we had. We also didn’t have a lot of the technical equipment needed to do online services, a rate at the beginning of the pandemic. So fortunately we were able to secure some funding and special, special grants to.
Invest in some of those items now. So we are much more technically savvy than we were, but really we worked with people we worked with with, you know, real life humans, and we wanted to see how we could continue to do that in a safe. Way that was still artistically viable and relevant to what was happening with, with ourselves and our, and also of course, you know, following the guidelines for health and safety with the pandemic.
So. It provided it provided a lot of challenges and I love stepping up to a challenge. I found it interesting to see how many new tricks I could learn in, you know, two years. It’s a challenge. Caring about those things and learning about how to become new versions of ourselves as artists, then we’re, we’re losing something really important.
So yeah, I mean, we had, we’ve had so much fun. We we’ve created all kinds of crazy events, including lots of outdoor winter things in Saskatchewan, dealing with snow and everybody’s wearing snow boots and snow suits and, you know, we’ve done glow in the dark stuff. The forest and we’ve done. We did a program called the Explorer, which was part photo safari, part walking tour, and part traveling dance show where the audience was invited to try to bring their cameras and try to get a picture of this elusive.
Mysterious creature in the Bush. And they come across various people along the way and various dance scenarios. And, you know, we just, we have to keep working in a way that then makes our lives. Feel fulfilled in order to be able to bring fulfilling work to the viewers. I often use the word participant rather than, than viewer, because we really think of a lot of our.
Audiences as people who are part of the show, especially the outdoor shows, they’re walking with us, they’re talking, they’re bringing their cameras. They’re deciding where to stand and sit. There, you know we did in our glow, in the dark show, some people, you know, where their headlamps and their glow sticks and it was great fun.
And people really felt like they were part of a event. And we’re still provided with like a really fantastic artistic and creative performance.
Phil Rickaby: As far as, you know, you mentioned that it took a little while to start doing stuff online and digital stuff. What was that cause you, one of the things that, you know, everybody, a lot of people that I’ve spoken to they’ve had to learn a lot in the last two years if they’re going to do things online.
As far as. The learning curve for you, what, what kind of stuff did you pick up that you, that you never thought you would have to touch before?
Jackie Latendresse: Oh, my, the learning curve was quite steep. I was not. Very technically able to, prior to the pandemic, I would say I’m, I’m a lot better now than I was, but that, you know, it was necessary to learn the skills.
I, I was familiar with zoom because we actually did use zoom for our monthly meetings and whatnot for burning man. So I was already kind of familiar with that platform. I had never run it before. But I, you know, I actually, the Saskatoon library, we’re doing a COVID-19 archive and I thought it would be really interesting for them to, to just see what the stage management notes would be to run a zoom performance.
So I. I decided I was going to document one of our performances and wrote down all of the technical fit notes and how basically the tech sheets on how to run a zoom dance show and submitted it to them for their archive. I think there’s just even the behind the scenes stuff is really cool and really interesting.
And. I had no idea how many people wanted to see what we were doing until we brought our work online. We had our audience expanded exponentially and we had people tuning in from all around, all across Canada and around the world for our international dance week online program you know, people from Spain and Africa and all over the U S Mexico says America.
Folks tuning in from Brazil, from France. And it was really cool to know that people wanted to see what we were doing and that they were able to, and part of that experience also led to us doing our, our first international gig. And it was online and it was for, we were invited to perform for as the featured.
Finale event for a week long contemporary theater residency that was being produced in Mexico. So as they graduated, they had a little event and a little, a little graduation party and event, and then they were treated to a live stream performance of my work pods. How cool is that? I never would have been able to do that prior to the pandemic.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah. Yeah. And I think there’s, there’s something about that, that idea of expanding the audience is, is something that I think is, is worth pursuing some form of digital connection or digital performance in the post pandemic times once we’re out of this thing, because there’s so many times when there are things that happen.
In other parts of even just Canada that we can’t see, but if there was a digital ticket and a live stream performance, we, there are shows that I would have loved to see that are happening in different places around Canada. And imagine being able to open up our, our performances to other places in the world and share that and see what they’re doing.
I think that is, is something that in our rush to get back into physical spaces, we shouldn’t forget about. The benefits of the live stream.
Jackie Latendresse: Oh yes. And the live stream also, it, it is amazing for accessibility. So the barriers for, for attendance and participation. Immediately when you have a digital content.
So folks who can’t perhaps make have physical disability and, and the theater is not accessible, they can attend the performance. You can integrate ASL, you can integrate written and visual interpretation of the work. There’s so many different ways to make work inclusive. Using digital formats and online.
And of course there’s always that sort of geography barrier, you know, bringing art to people who are in rural areas who don’t necessarily have time to go to an urban area or the means, or they don’t know, and they’re able to. Participate. They could take a workshop, they could take a class, they could view a performance.
They could be part of a creative process or a talking circle that the, this just wasn’t happening before. So I really feel super strongly about continuing myself continuing to offer online options, especially for our professional development programs, like the brain body connection and our community workshop programs, because.
Open, it just opens the door to many more people being able to come into the room.
Phil Rickaby: Absolutely. And in a world where sometimes in the arts, we, we have that, that hand-wringing discussion about where the audience is. Anything we can do to make the make it easier for the audience to find us is, is, is, is something that will pay off.
Right. You know, another accessibility option is the fact that in some cases, you know, there’s, there’s a financial accessibility as well. Like maybe people, sometimes tickets are, are over or out-priced, or, or even if, if somebody is working and then now they have to figure out how are they going to get downtown to see the show and afford dinner and that sort of thing.
You watch it on your computer, and now you’re still able to participate. It opens up so many things and I think. Again rushing to get back to in person is great, but we do have to keep in mind that, that there is something to be gained from sharing
Jackie Latendresse: online, for sure. And because of our online experiences, we actually implemented a brand new method of, of, of ticketing into all of our shows, including our.
I including our in-person live shows. We offer, we have a program that is the free low-income ticket program, and we have a corporate sponsor that picked that up. They loved one of the shows that we were doing so much, our enchanted night forest glow in the dark show that they’ve come on board and purchased a hundred tickets for next year season for free, for low income.
Applicants. And we’ve also added a tiered ticketing system that’s on the honor system itself identifying, and we explain that the higher priced tickets are tiered so that they will. Supplement the cost of lower price tickets. And we talk about community supporting each other through community and we allow people to select the ticket price that most is most suitable to their current income.
And it’s been great during the pandemic we’ve we haven’t had any trouble generating. The ticket sales numbers that we need in order to keep the company going. And we’ve actually been able to discover a few potential, you know, regular patrons and things like that because folks are really happy to know that their ticket price is actually helping to support someone else to come see this show who wouldn’t necessarily be able to attend.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah. You know, I, I think about, I have a coworker who lives in Berlin and when they talk about theater, cause they said they go to the theater quite a, quite a bit. And. In Germany and in much of the EU the theater in live, the performing arts, the arts in general are highly subsidized. The government sees it as a necessity and gives money.
And so there are plenty of affordable tickets to shows because the companies, the cut, the ticket prices are subsidized by government funding and, and other other aspects. And so it is, it is very uncommon. For people to think of theater as something they can’t afford because everybody can’t afford it because there’s so many of these affordable tickets.
And I think the idea of, of having somebody like a corporation step up to help do that. If, if we’re not, you know, cause we have a different funding model here, that’s an amazing thing. And to have somebody step up to do that is, is, is, is amazing. And I wish there was more of that in our, in our Canadian performing arts scene.
Jackie Latendresse: Oh, it’s such a beautiful thing. It diversifies your audience immediately. When you implement this type of ticketing ranging from free free tickets to subsidized tickets to higher price higher to your tickets. I can’t. Say enough that you know, there will be some people who will abuse the system there’s that always happens.
But I think the majority of people, if you are very transparent about what the costs of your tickets are and why they are you know, the, these prices and what that means to the organization and to the other people who are attending that people read. Appreciate hearing that and they stand behind it and they support it.
So having this having corporate sponsorship is wonderful and also just having the support of your community. We don’t live in a society where everywhere, you know, if there’s equitable pay for everyone and people who are in the situation where financially they can afford a higher price ticket.
Being able to see that that ticket provides someone else who may not be able to attend. The ability to come is quite satisfying, I think. And it’s a great model. It’s, it’s a, it’s a wonderful new addition to our ticketing plus.
Phil Rickaby: Absolutely. Absolutely. It sounds amazing, Jackie, thank you so much for talking with me today. It’s always such a joy to connect with you again. And I hope to, to, to see you guys. Performing out of the church as soon as possible.
Jackie Latendresse: Thank you. It’s great to connect with you again. Let’s make sure it doesn’t take so long next time. .