#312 – Lisa Alves

Lisa Alves is a queer artist, theatre producer, educator, and human resource practitioner based in Tkaron:to near the Wonscontach. They grew up in a two-parent household, both Portuguese immigrants and from working-class families. Currently, they are the Managing Producer at Cahoots Theatre with their amazing co-leader, Artistic Director, Tanisha Taitt.

Lisa is a graduate Humber’s Theatre Performance Program, Humber’s Entrepreneurial Studies Program, and is currently completing her Human Resource Management Certificate. Working as a freelance producer for over 10 years, some of Lisa’s favourite productions they’ve produced include manidoons collective’s bug by Yolanda Bonnell, Soulo Theatre Summer Festivals and Cahoots Theatre’s Supermodel.

In their spare time Lisa practices yoga, plays video games, reads way too much, and hangs out with their hamster, Eleanor Waffles.

Twitter: @lisa_a_alves
Instagram: @lisa_a_alves

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Phil Rickaby: Welcome to Stageworthy. I’m Phil Rickaby, the host of this podcast. Have you noticed that we don’t have stars in Canada? Now I don’t mean those people that we all know the names of who’ve gone to the U S or to England to become famous, but we still claim them as our own. No, I mean, we don’t have any home grown and fostered theater stars. By that. I mean, we don’t have names that are a draw. We don’t have actors whose names can go on a poster. And just by being there become a draw in other countries, like in the U S and in the UK, an actor’s name can work as a draw, but in Canada, That’s such a rare thing. And sometimes we don’t even see any actors names on a poster.

Now, a cynical person would think that maybe this is a tactical decision on the part of the producers, because weighing the value of a star. They have to think that perhaps it’s better to pay actors less than to have actors whose name have recognition because a star can make demands. A star has power.

So perhaps the wisdom is to ensure that we have no stars, no names that can be a draw so that we keep everyone just thankful to be working so that no one questions how much they’re paid. And that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. We’ve seen the death of theater, journalism, and arts journalism as a whole, as the media landscape shrinks.

And it becomes harder for theater companies to get media attention, then promoting the actors in the show and pushing them to any media that still pays attention to the theater would not only be a way to keep audiences coming, but an investment in the future because an actor with name recognition is a draw a way to sell tickets.

But of course you can’t do that if you have no recognizable actors and I’m not talking about actors whose names are recognizable within the theater community, we have lots of those. Those names might be well-respected, but they don’t necessarily sell tickets. I’m talking about names that can be recognizable to the general public.

But we can’t have that. If an actor is largely unnamed from show to show, I can’t think of a Canadian theater actor who could star in a play whose name would make the general public want to purchase tickets. Occasionally in the past, there have been productions of shows that have brought in an actor who was legitimately famous.

For example, there was the famous – or was it infamous – production of Hamlet that started Keanu Reeves. And it’s obvious that this was stunt casting and attempt to bring in a movie star to sell tickets. But why does something like that happened with a movie star who I’m sure was paid a lot of money, but there’s no chance of that with a Canadian theater actor who isn’t already a movie star.

The movie star is allowed to be an above the title draw but what other Canadian actor can boast the same? Is the problem the lack of entertainment coverage in Canada? As a member of the media, I am regularly sent press releases for shows, and those press releases always list both the cast and creative team.

Now I’m a weekly podcast with a modest reach, and I try to interview as many people as possible, but I can only get to so many, but with a daily paper, with a large reach, you would get so many more press releases than I do. And often the ones that stand out are the ones with a PR person that the reporter knows.

And in those cases, the PR or public relations person is going to try and get some kind of write-up for the production. And maybe this might’ve been easier years ago when there was more coverage, but there are so few publications doing regular theater coverage. It seems nearly impossible now. So maybe the death of arts coverage is part of the problem, but that isn’t all of it because the problem has existed for longer than the recent deterioration of the media landscape, because we haven’t ever really had theater stars in Canada.

And I know that while there might be good things about a star system, there’s also plenty of bad. Isn’t it? Nice to think that all the actors get this same, that there’s an egalitarianism to being a working actor in Canada, but that’s not quite true because if I have the lead in a show, I do get paid a little more, but I’m not a star. Not really not like in other places.

Of course, anyone who’s spent any time paying attention to the entertainment industry in Canada knows that we don’t have stars. And we don’t really consider anyone a star until they’ve had success elsewhere. And for a while, I thought that was just a part of being Canadian, but on reflection, I don’t think it is.

Maybe it’s more about the entertainment media that we do have spending more time talking about American artists than it does our own home grown talent. Maybe that combined with producers who want actors to just be thankful to be working, keeps the Canadian artists small. But I think that we deserve better.

We deserve to have homegrown talent that stays here and becomes a household name. Canadians need to see themselves on their stages. And that includes seeing Canadian names above the title and celebrated for being a Canadian artist who stayed in Canada rather than leaving for the U S.

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Remember that you can find Stageworthy on Twitter and Instagram at stageworthypod, and you can find the website with the archive of all the episodes at stageworthypodcast.com. If you want to find me, you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at philrickaby, and as I mentioned, my website is Philrickaby.com. My guest this week is Lisa Alves. Lisa is a theater producer, educator and human resource practitioner. Lisa has been a freelance producer for over 10 years and is the managing producer of Cahoots theater. And quite frankly, Lisa is great at what she does. Before the interview they were described to me as someone that Canadian theater world needs to know. And I have to agree. Lisa knows their stuff and is passionate about everything they do. Here’s our conversation.

So how long have you been with cahoots? I think you started just like Tanisha started as artistic director and then almost immediately had to begin the search for

Lisa Alves: Yeah. She came on board, to Cahoots in October, 2019, and she had no one. She, she had some part-time staff and then I came on in April and it w it was a wild time because she was working by herself without a co-leader for five months. And then the pandemic hits, I think that’s the correct math. And I was interviewing for this role, I think like in February, so right.

Like it was before the shutdown happened and. A lot of people were taking COVID seriously because the numbers were low and then it hit. And I was like, oh my gosh, that job is out the window. I haven’t heard anything back from anybody. And so, yeah, they, they were so like, oh no, no, we still need somebody in this role, even though live theater is going to look different.


Phil Rickaby: Have you, have you had the opportunity to work in the same physical room as other people in this role.

Lisa Alves: We I’ve worked with Tanisha a handful of days in the office and that’s about it. Like I had never, I have never met Amanda who is our current, like we’re, we’re developing her plate, but she used to be our development coordinator.

I’ve never met her in person and I’ve never met our intern producer, Tiffany. I never met our past producers Sahar, so like I’ve been working with all these people in so many artists too. Like we’ve had so many programs with so many different facilitators and participants never met them in person, but I have had such great Professional relationships with them over zoom, which is so weird and foreign to me.

But yeah, it’s weird,

Phil Rickaby: It’s a very strange situation that, that we’re, we’re able to work with artists. And in some cases, artists that do because of proximity or lack thereof, we would never be able to have worked with before. But it isn’t the same as being in the same room with somebody.

Lisa Alves: Really! Yeah. This is what I’ve noticed from the handful of times working with Tanisha is that yes, we spend hours on zoom together and talking on the phone and texting, but there’s a different part of relationship building when you were with somebody in person physically in space.

And I, I don’t know how to describe it really. But it’s, it’s the way that it’s like how you read body language is how you read visual cues that you don’t really pick up on, on zoom, because you’re literally only seeing like their shoulders up. Right? So there’s, there’s that different qualities. And I have been missing that, but it’s already been almost two years.

So I feel like I’m, I’ve adapted to this foreignness. So

Phil Rickaby: I think the thing that you’re describing, I feel like with these kinds of zoom conversations because there’s a camera involved, we are never as relaxed as we are in a room. So you could be sitting with somebody in the office where you work together and they’re just sort of working away and they’re absolutely working away.

And suddenly their body language is like their natural self in a way that when we’re on camera like that, we’re always fully aware that we are being observed.

Lisa Alves: Exactly. And it’s in our space, my home, her home, like if I’m looking into people’s homes and that’s why I’m finding not with, not from day to day work.

And you know, when I’m working with my team, but one, we have like we have a lot of meetings on zoom with people in the sector, like town halls and stuff. And a lot of the times they’ll request the, the, the organization that’s holding these town halls. They’re like, turn on your video to say hi.

And I’m always a little bit like, I don’t know. I feel like this is an invasion of privacy because I don’t want strangers looking into my home like tannish and I have developed a friendship and I have this relationship with my board. So I do feel comfy having them see what’s behind me. And it’s weird.

Like I hate zoom backgrounds as well. So it’s just, it’s, it’s this it’s exactly where you’re getting at about always feeling you’re being observed. And you’re always, you don’t know what, like they’re, they’re seeing their, you know, like they might be judging the mess in the corner or something like that.

There’s this heightened awareness and it kind of freaks me out sometimes.

Phil Rickaby: It’s a little bit of an invader. It’s a little bit of intimacy that you’re not really expecting or ready for. You have all of these eyes that are on you and unless you found the blur function or something like that in zoom they’re looking at you in your place and you’re like, did I clean?

Did I like, what are the it’s it’s very uncomfortable. I often find as an introvert, that those, that, that, that that Brady bunch grid of people it’s overwhelming because even though they may not be looking at.

Lisa Alves: You’re still there.

Phil Rickaby: It feels like they’re all looking at me and they’re all looking dead into their camera.

So it looks like a room full of people just staring straight at you expectantly and is just a little bit too much.

Lisa Alves: Also I find, and I don’t know, I’m sure people do this, but I get distracted at my zoom box because I’m either like looking if I look presentable or if my room is presentables. So I’m not always completely focused on the conversation because of that.

And it’s so fresh. So I’ve always just tried to. You know, hide my own windows so that I can focus on the conversation with the person I’m having a conversation with and not be bothered by my own zoom window. It’s a lot of these things that I had no idea I would face in February, 2019.

Phil Rickaby: Absolutely. You know, I always find, like I find the same thing and I’ll be like, in the middle of the conversation, I’ll look at my own reflection or look at my image.

And I have a moment of, oh, is that what I’m doing with my face? And I like make adjustments because there there’s ways when you’re with somebody in a room when they see your whole body language, they understand the listening pose. But if it’s just your face, maybe your listening face is, looks harsh or something.

And I’m always like in my head, I go to it and like, I got to do something about my face right now. It’s just so distracting.

Lisa Alves: Exactly. No, I’m, I feel like I I’ve always had an awareness of how. And being perceived and maybe they’re, I’m sure there’s various reasons why that is, but on zoom it’s just amplified.

And I feel sometimes when I have back-to-back zoom meetings, it’s exhausting. I’m drained at the end of the day because I’ve been, so heightenedly aware of myself that I can’t do anything else in the evening because I’m just, I need to unplug and completely disconnect.

Phil Rickaby: This is part of the problem with trying to do theater in a, when people try to do like zoom theater.

Cause a lot of times you end up in that same Brady bunch grid. And if you’re somebody who spent a whole day in those kinds of meetings, it’s hard to separate. That now this is entertainment. I’m already exhausted from all of my meetings and having to pay attention in a way that I don’t when I’m in person.

And now I have to pay attention to this, but this is entertainment. It’s psychologically very difficult to deal with.

Lisa Alves: It’s awful. I don’t like it because what I’ve been finding in my personal space is that at the end of the day, when I do have tickets to see digital content, or even if I’m watching a movie, I’m, I’m, I’m splitting my focus because that’s, I don’t, I think that’s probably a con like a compartmentalization thing going on and my brain just can’t shut off.

I don’t know. But it, yeah. It’s difficult to take in entertainment nowadays. And although I’m very grateful for the digital content that I’ve been seeing a lot, a lot of it is spectacular, but I just so miss live theater, being in a space with people and, and even like sitting beside a person, although now I’m a little bit like sitting beside a stranger now, but.

Phil Rickaby: This is the thing is I, I find like, you know, there’s, you know, everybody’s like, we want to get back into the theater, but I, I need to ease in.

I need to not go to 100%. I need some space until I’m comfortable being in a room with a bunch of people. And after a couple of those, then let’s go to 100%. But I don’t, I feel like I’m going to need an adjustment period.

Lisa Alves: Me too. I, well, I, I have so many thoughts on this because. The theater experience that I know I’m comfortable going into in the next few months is going to be different than what I was doing in January, 2019.

But it, it there’s, there’s this, I guess it’s pretty sad thinking that it’s going to take a long time to get back to that experience sitting side-by-side with strangers again, but it’s also, you know, it it’s our survival kicking and being like, we can’t, we can’t sit beside a straighter cause we don’t know all these variables.

So there is a sadness. I, I can’t wait to overcome all of this, but I know it’s going to be met. It’s going to be many months and months.

Phil Rickaby: So what kind of freaks me out as I see these videos, occasionally from shows on Broadway opening up to their full house. And I just, I, I sort of get a little, a little weirded out by all of these people in the same room and all of that stuff and yes, their mask cause it’s New York and, and all of that stuff, but there’s still something about we’ve spent like two years now, avoiding proximity with other people and to shove us into a room together is a bit, is it it’s a little bit much to ask?

Lisa Alves: I also just think it’s dangerous for the artists already in such precarity and. They it’s their instruments. It’s not you, it’s not even just themselves, which as a person, you’re putting someone in danger, but you’re putting their, their tool, their voice, their body, their mind and soul at so much risk.

And I know, I remember seeing this article, I think it was like the music man where seven foster had to back out for a night and swing came in and everybody was so proud and appreciative of the swings of Broadway and the understudies and totally that’s amazing. And that is what a lot of actors who are in understudy roles want to do, because that is such exposure, but this time it’s putting them at risk and I get so freaked out as a producer thinking about that because it’s not only the liability, but also.

If that show were to run again and to work with those artists and to have to face them and think, oh gosh, I put you in such risk because we had to do the final product, but Hey, we’re going to work again now. So everything’s fine. Everything’s like, it doesn’t sit well with me. And it kind of freaks me out.

Phil Rickaby: You also have that thing where like, they’re bringing in like people who aren’t in that cast, like, oh, you, this we’re bringing somebody from the Chicago show or this person used to do this role. Like they’re bringing people from all over and at a certain point, it’s almost like if you have to do that, maybe it wasn’t the time to open the show.

Lisa Alves: Yeah. I there’s just so much there’s so there’s such a rush and there’s such a force and I love that motivation because our sector has so much tenacity to do such a thing of. Going head first into what has been such a long hibernation not expected hibernation. That is but the risk doesn’t, it’s not, it’s not worth it to me as an audience member, as a person who works in theater, to me, it just, it, it doesn’t make any sense.

It’s so scary. Especially since I, at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of articles coming out about artists who caught COVID and died. So, and that that’s terrifying because you don’t want to lose people that that’s not, that’s not what we’re doing. That’s not the goal here. So, yeah.

Phil Rickaby: Speaking as a producer, I’m curious about your.

You you’re a producer, but you’re also an artist. So tell me about the intersection of artist and producer. Cause that’s something that I think in some people’s minds, the artist is separate from the producer. So I know that that that’s not the case for you. So I’d love to hear about being an artist producer.

Lisa Alves: Yeah. Being an artist producer is complicated. I mean, being a producer is complicated on its own and being an artist is complicated on its own. But yeah, I I’ve been working as a producer as long as I’ve been an artist. And I started doing theater and music performance and I’ve continued that in, in my writing craft and visual arts.

So. It’s it’s a lot, but it’s I think what I love so much being an artist producer is the fact that I can chameleon eyes like shapeshift out of these roles. I don’t know. That’s, I’ve just made up that word, but yeah, it’s, it’s great. Being able to work with, you know, playwrights as a producer and understand what they’re doing and then vice versa when I’m a playwright and working with a producer, it’s the short hand that makes the process more efficient and more fun because there’s this just this understanding.

So yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s complicated. I was actually thinking. Earlier today because I find it hard to step out of my producer brain and get into my artist’s brain. But I, and it’s not the same going the other way.

Phil Rickaby: No, that’s true. And I think anybody who’s ever produced something after that, you, you always, you do have that, that producer brain that pops in.

I know for me having self produced, sometimes I’ll be creating something and I’ll be like, but how much is it going to cost to do that? And the artist needs to sometimes know that that’s not your problem.

Lisa Alves: Yeah. Well, it’s like, I I’ve been I’ve been writing a musical with my writing partner and when we were writing the first draft, we.

She she’s a writer that like that she’s not a producer. So she was writing a variety of characters and that’s what the script needed. That’s what the story called for. But in my producer brain, we’re going to have 15 characters for this indie production musical that’s makes no. So how are we going to pay them?

And then I, and then instead of focusing on writing the draft, I’m looking for granting application so that we can support our our musicals. So it’s definitely a challenge. And I think there needs, I at least I need to have more just yeah, like more focused when I, when I am inhabiting the artist role.

But that’s the thing like producing. Produce producers to me are the people who make things happen and fill the gaps where you know, productions have. And that’s inevitable. So

Phil Rickaby: I think you’re talking about, about, about sort of like censoring the idea in a way, and like, starting to think about like, oh, we can’t have that many characters.

I think that’s something that some writers who haven’t produced yet get into their heads. Cause they get told, oh, if you have a play that has more than five characters, nobody’s going to produce it. And so they, they, they make their place smaller in a way. When maybe it does need to be bigger, maybe for example, maybe that play does need to have 15 characters.

And it’s hard to hard to reconcile the fact that what we see on our, on many of our stages is a very small cast, but sometimes some stories are bigger

Lisa Alves: and I think. When I read scripts that have more than five characters as a producer, as a person in a company like in a leadership role at a company that makes me rethink my advocacy when it comes to funding, you know, like why not fund a larger scaled production?

Why, why not fund a play that has 20 characters and that has 20 actors to paint. And how can we, how can we as leaders in a company like advocate for, for those things to happen, because those are rich experiences and it’s sad, but I think the only time I’ve ever seen a big cast is on a Mirvish stage and not on a what, of like one of the other local stages, like Factory or Tarragon.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah, I think you do have to go either to a Mirvish stage or to a, one of the festivals, Stratford to see a bigger, a big cast, which is, I mean, it sort of essentially ends up meaning that many, like a lot of our plays end up looking the same because we get stuck in, oh, we can only have this many people on stage rather than, than something that’s a little bit bigger.

Lisa Alves: Yeah. And I think, I mean, we’re so resourceful as artists. So, you know, you get the plays that have only three actors, but they’re playing multiple characters, which is cool. And that shows a lot of skill. And I think it can still be a rich experience, but yeah, it’s it, it, it will physically in, in the amount of people and bodies on stage.

It looks the same. And that’s why, that’s why digital work is to me when I’m able to focus on it. Exciting because you do have different possibilities. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby: I’d like to talk to you and find out a little bit more about, about your, your road to becoming a producer and to getting involved with leadership in, in theater.

A lot of times I’m talking to people who are playwrights or actors, and I, we don’t, I don’t think we talk enough in the industry to people who make things happen. So what was your road to getting into producing?

Lisa Alves: So it is such a tapestry. That’s a smorgasbord. Yeah, so I, after high school, I went into theater performance at Humber college, which was a time it was fun.

I made a lot of friends and industry connections through a lot of part-time faculty members. And that program was. It wasn’t a classical training program. I mean, we had our Shakespeare and our text-based classes, but it was more about a devised creation and physical theater. So I was really into creating my own work when I graduated.

But I found that I didn’t have like the business knowledge of it. I didn’t know how to balance a budget. I didn’t, I knew how to apply for grants, but I didn’t necessarily know what to do. The money once I got it after paying myself and the people involved in a project. So I then after, you know, just observing the sector a little bit, I then enrolled into hamburgers, business management for entrepreneurial studies, which was weird.

It was a weird time because it was all about for-profit businesses. And I was coming from a place of a non-for-profit backgrounds and. All my structures were like, yes, but how are you going to make money? Gosh, I haven’t done the wrong program.

Phil Rickaby: How do you explain to people like that? I, I’m not worried about that. I’m in theater.

Lisa Alves: Like theater has intrinsic value and the government’s going to fund my projects. Like it’s not, it’s not in the same world. No, it’s not. They were always looking at me like a, like a strange anomaly. But in that program, I learned a lot about balancing a budget and how to market things and you know, just business strategies on how to, how to get a service or a product to market.

And all of, all of those businessy things. In the corporate world talk about and through that, I got an internship, a generator which is this theater incubator that used to be called staff, I believe. And in that internship, I, I worked as a coordinator for various programs and I met a lot of different artists who were also training to be producers.

And that’s when I was, I, I got that light bulb moment of, ah, this was what I was looking for. So yeah, generator, I, I really flex my skills in the ability of, yes, I know how to make stories and I have this business knowledge to get it up on its feet, but now I can actually. Produce and fill in those gaps for a production that I have.

And then, and so, yeah, I was working as a producer with managing June’s collective red dress theater, direct solo theater. And I think like a short time after that, I, I had, I was feeling a little low, like my contract had generator ended and I was producing things that I wasn’t like super proud of and working with, not my people, like I hadn’t found my people yet.

And I decided to leave the sector after like this apifany that I had. I was like, I decided to leave because there was something that was not fulfilling to. And I want to say HR, I want to human resources. So for a year I was working in the corporate world doing human resources for the automotive sector, which was so, so absurd thinking about it now, but I really fell in love with like, what does that human resource function look like?

And so, and a lot of people are like, oh, so you were recruiting, you were writing contracts. But I think what I gravitated towards was the conflict transformation process and work and getting, getting people to work together efficiently and effectively. And then the pandemic hit the corporate world and I loved, I still loved theater, but I just need to work with the people that were my people.

And that’s when I. Got the job at cahoots. And I found Tanisha and I found the, all the artists that like got it, like that, got the values and understood that just shared the same shared the same outlook on what theater is and what, what also this artistic work looks like and how to, and how we’re going to evolve and grow and innovate within the sector.

So, yeah, that’s my, that’s my trajectory, which is so, so weird. And I talked to so many arts administrators who went into an arts admin program at Centennial college or Humber, which are great programs, but that was not my trajectory. I started in theater creation and took many detours.

Phil Rickaby: Is there something that.

The working in HR taught you that you bring back to the producer hat.

Lisa Alves: Yes. And it’s probably not what the HR function companies actually are supposed to do, but working in HR and now I’m currently working towards my HR certificate, which is basically a fancy proclamation that I can be an HR professional is that people are not disposable.

And the HR function in a lot of companies is there to protect the company’s interests. And it’s so funny, I’m currently studying these things and I’m like, yes, HR is a company function, but what I, what I’ve been using it at my role I could send for all of my producing projects is that. We have to take care of the people first, where else nothing can happen.

And that goes, that that hits so many areas of not only the compensation and making sure people are paid properly, but also making sure that the people that we’re working with are able to balance their work life situation, that they are there’s less chance for harm intentional, more or not. And that there’s safe or safer spaces for them to work in.

And maybe that’s why I did not do not. It’s not that I didn’t do well in, in the corporate world, but I, there was a disconnect because there there’s that. That mentality, that people are disposable, that we’re all replaceable. If somebody is not performing well, we’ll then get someone else in. And that’s not, that’s not how we can operate in the sector because people bring different things to different rules.

And it’s not going to be the same if we just take someone out to put someone in so that they perform better, it doesn’t work that way. So, yeah.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. It’s, I’ve worked in the corporate world and I’ve had both kinds of, of HR people sometimes at the same company. One that, that actually like seemed to really care about the people and would help people out and give people advice and that sort of thing.

And like really like nurturing the, the, that human resource and others on the flip side, who, everything they did was like, how does this protect the company that added on? So with those, with that person, you just feel like you’re like, oh, I don’t matter here. They will take somebody else and slot them in.

As long as the company is.

Lisa Alves: Oh, yeah, it’s, it’s a little insidious though, even though the HR people that I’ve experienced too are very people-centric and they, they care there’s their function is still to protect the company, right? So it’s not, there’s a lack of transparency to be completely honest. And it happens in the arts sector too.

Don’t get me wrong because there’s a lot of companies with the mentality of, we need to protect our resources. We need to protect our, this institutional thing, but it’s, it’s not serving the sector as it should, because that’s at least for my brief time when I said I’m done with theater, why I left?

Because there was, there was these op these situations where I did feel expendable, that I was being taken advantage of that I was not being seen. As a human, I was being seen as a part of a machine. Yeah.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. The theater world does have a tendency to exploit its most precious resource, which are the people.

Right? And like you said, the institutions are often the ones that the company protects a lot of times, there’s no HR person by the way, which is what sometimes ends up with there being problems of dealing with, with toxicity in the rehearsal hall, in another places and abuse and things like that. But also you know, like you mentioned, people are underpaid, they’re not cared for.

They’re expected to give up too many aspects of their life to while they do this show. And they’re not full people within that company. How do you see caring for the people and how can we in the industry and how can leadership and artistic leaders help to, to, to care for. All of us in the theater.

Lisa Alves: The business strategy needs to be completely re looked at across all institutions in the sector. And that I think a really good place to start is at the money. Like once, once you realize, okay, I want to take care of people and we need to take care of her audit our artists, what, what do they need?

And, and most of the times the resources, so their compensation and benefits, but outside of that, there’s also other additional resources that we can be providing artists. And so something that at Coosa we’ve done is create a compassionate care fund and we allocate different like certain percentages of that throughout our programs, so that anybody that we’re contracting, because contract.

Can’t get into our benefits plan. If they do need childcare or access to different technologies, like a higher speed internet, but they, they can’t just can’t afford it. We can provide those stipends for them. And it was this was Tasha and I started this when we were, after we spoke or listened to a balancing act, which is a theater direct initiative.

And they were talking about, you know, what does this look like for, you know, parents and people who are taking care of their elderly parents? Like how can we support them? Because a lot of the time that’s why people leave the sector. So that compassionate care fund has been working successfully.

And I, I mean, maybe I’m optimistic because Cahoots is a small company and. Yeah, it’s it’s manageable, but I do, I truly believe that larger companies can do the same thing. And and I think arts administrators and people in my role, which sometimes looks like a GM or an executive director or managing director, they just have to change their perspective on the resources on their budget sheets.

Like I, you, we need to be planning for contingencies now, obviously for, as of COVID. But we also need to be planning for being able to take care of our artists. We, we can’t, it would be such a disservice to, you know, okay. You’re just getting your compensation and that’s it. Cause that’s what you’re showing up to do.

You have a life, you are bringing your experience to the table to influence the work that you are doing. So we need to not only pay you for that, but we also need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. And so what are those ways that we can, and that’s, that’s one of the ways that we’ve been doing at the echo hoots and especially before.


Phil Rickaby: I think that’s really great. I think one of the problems that we have, especially in some of the, the larger theaters and you just generally is, is that people should just be happy to have the job, like, you know, yeah, we’re going to pay you what you pay. You, you should just be happy that you’ve got a job.

We could have gone with any number of other actors. And so you’re just going to be happy with what we pay you. And that just leads to, I mean, so many actors are, even when they’re working steadily they’re, they’re working poverty wages, and there’s, that’s another reason why people leave.

Lisa Alves: It’s it’s awful. It’s so awful. I mean, we had to postpone our production of our place with a theater pass Mariah. It was a co-pro. So we’re postponing that until the fall, but it was weird going through different guidelines for how to pay people because of this postponement and the legal thing to do within a lot of the associations that we were dealing with was like, oh, just pay one week’s worth of pay.

Cause that’s the COVID guidelines we were supposed to contract. This is just, I’m just talking about the actors. I’m not even talking about, you know, our director and our playwright and all the designers and our production manager. I’m just talking about the actors. They were contracted and they were expecting to get paid seven for seven weeks and now we’re.

So, I mean, we’re supposed to only pay them a week and then, but then we want, then we’re still wanting to contract them back in the fall. How can we look at them and be like, thanks for coming to rehearsal. Like that doesn’t make any sense. I it’s awful. So we Tasha and I decided that we were going to pay everyone a compensation loss like a constellation amounts for the unexpected wage loss of 25% of everyone’s final pay.

And that included everybody on the team. So it’s that just like that that’s gonna reflect into our compensation fund account. And I know that so many of the people on, on the. On the team or like you, I was not expecting this. A lot of the people that we signed as independent contractors, like the production manager and some of the designers, cause they’re not part of the association ADC.

They, they also, like there was nothing to say to protect them because there was nothing in like the ESA to go to go forward towards independent contracts. So it, it was just, it it’s, to me, it’s not a radical idea to take care of your team. That’s that should just be the baseline and a week’s worth of pay for a seven week contract and even more for designers and for the director.

Like that’s not enough.

Phil Rickaby: And this is the kind of thing that, that, that, that is, is like sort of people resent that it’s like, yes, I should be thankful. I got paid something, but God, I was expecting this work and now how do I pay my rent? How do I pay my bills, all this sort of stuff. It’s you’re right. That we have to treat our people like people.

Lisa Alves: Yeah. And it’s actually less administrative work on our part when we do that, because if we were to. Just do what was right in quotations then maybe perhaps people would be like, okay, can I get a letter of employment or can I get some proof that I was going to be working on this so that I can apply for EDI or whatever subsidy the government’s providing right now.

And that’s more administrative work on the institution. Right? So it actually makes more sense to take care of everyone in this one, foul swoop, then just doing what is being said of us, and then ending up with a backlog of work. It just, it’s more efficient this way as well.

Phil Rickaby: So. Now I would be remiss if I had you on this show and we didn’t talk about cahoots and a little bit more about cahoots.

Because I mean, you’ve been at cahoots now for almost two years and it’s probably not the production schedule that you thought you were going to have, or look anything like you thought it was going to, but cahoots is still and a very, really vibrant and important part of the, the Toronto theater fabric.

So could you start by describing if what’s your, what’s your co hoots theater elevator pitch?

Lisa Alves: Well, our elevator pitch or mandate is a home for artists from the edge and that, that encompasses so many folks. Yeah. I mean, that’s the elevator pitch and end of thought, but yeah, we’re going through a strap plan, so it might look a little different come six months, but yeah, I mean, we have we have a long history.

Cahoots has been around for 35 years, so yeah, a lot of people don’t know that. And, and cahoots has relatively been small, but they’ve always the, the company has always centered work new, new Canadian work from diverse diverse artists. And that’s grown into looking like new works from queer artists, artists with disabilities, deaf artists.

And it’s. It’s been great, but it’s also been it’s, it’s, it’s always been difficult because we serve so many people. But something that Tasha and I have definitely made a focus on is since we began together, is that this role of what, how, what mentorship plays in the sector and making sure that we’re creating connections for people.

So maybe it’s not where we’re just one connection to an artist, but we actually help artists connect to their like different communities and different people to help with their work. So, yeah, that’s a little bit about cahoots. I think we have another 35 years, but yeah, we have, we have a lot of big dreams.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah, well, you guys, during the pandemic, you’ve actually produced quite a bit of content. There’s a lot of stuff on YouTube. You guys have some, some stuff about, about grant writing and more you’ve got workshops and talks and talk backs and things like that. I know that you’re really excited about what’s on the YouTube channel.

So tell me what, what are a couple of your favorite things that, that people could find on the codes? YouTube? My,

Lisa Alves: one of my favorite things is our project project. This, I don’t even really know how to call it this digital offering called supermodel. And it is this choose your own adventure of video video content with 19 east Asian artists talking about what it, what it is.

What the model minority means, and it’s, there’s 19 videos. So there’s 45 minutes worth of content. And you can go through the entire program like so many times and gets different things out of it because it’s a choose your own adventure. So that’s something that I’m so proud of. We did that in August, 2019, and we worked with Wallace Cordoza as the dramaturg and facilitator, and just 19, 19 artists contributed to that.

And we were able to pay everybody and we were able to hire on a producer and a video editor to make it happen. And, and there’s also an hour and a half long talkback that we held on zoom after it once when we first premiered it. So I highly recommend everyone check that out. It’s so. It’s such a raw and delicious piece of arts.

And it’s something that we probably would not have done if it wasn’t for COVID like Masha came to me with this idea. And then I said something about how we can connect it all into a type of choose your own adventure thing. And then Wallace came on board and just made it fly. So I highly recommend checking that out if people haven’t already, but yeah.

Then we have a whole bunch of other content on there such as like our convo cahoots, which was a conversation series that we did pretty much monthly in 2020 and 2021 where people, folks of cahoots who were either contracted or staffed at cahoots or talking with people in the industry. So I, my convo cahoots was with board members, Allie and Dale, which was fun.

And then Amanda Lynn got to speak to Giovanni and we had Colleen and so hell speak together. It’s a beautiful, it’s a beautiful playlist. That’s up there now, but yeah. And we also have a few workshops about how to approach grant writing specifically for the RGT C’s, which are the recommender grants for Ontario artists, as well as just a general workshop on grants writing, because that’s a whole behemoth.

So yeah, we, we have some good, we have some good content on, on YouTube and it’s pretty spectacular. That we have that. Now it’s some, it’s an archive. It’s a, it’s a little treasure trove.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah. Is this stuff that you’ve got there is this stuff that would have existed if there hadn’t been a pandemic?

Lisa Alves: Perhaps not.

You know, there, another thing that I’m really proud of was our black stage pass, which was an interview series on SoundCloud with quake who and the combi, and they interviewed a bunch of black Canadian theater artists of various different disciplines. So we have dancers, musicians stage managers, producers.

It’s, it’s beautiful. And that’s something I don’t think would have happened without COVID because I knew I want both Tenesha and I were very adamant on working with quake who and Makamba. And if, if the, if COVID wasn’t a thing we probably would have, you know, done something in person with them, but it wouldn’t have been black stage paths.

And I guess that’s the silver lining that we’ve been able to create things like black stage past supermodel are online programs like the NBA ensemble and crossing Gibraltar for, for life to happen within this digital realm. But I, I would love to see, I would love to take all of this experience post COVID and see if we could still incorporate all of this beautiful digital content in, in our, in person daily activity.

Because I think there’s a way, you

Phil Rickaby: know, I agree with you. I agree. And I, I, I, I have this, I, I really think that there is a place for live stream theater outside of COVID. It helps with accessibility. It helps with with connection, with like allowing people from all across Canada to see a show in one place that they couldn’t physically get to.

It allows you to like even financial accessibility. It helps with that like live streaming of a show from the theater. Like that’s something that I. Offers so much potential and all these opportunities now that there is the knowledge on, of, of how to livestream to take that into things that we would never have thought of doing before.

Maybe not broadcasting from a rehearsal, but like, what about like a first day of rehearsal research notes or things like that? Like all kinds of little things that allow people to glimpse into this world, that to them is magic and to us is work.

Lisa Alves: But it’s still magic to us.

Phil Rickaby: It is, it is. But sometimes when you get bogged down into it, it’s like, w we don’t think about how much Matt, how magical it is to the people who don’t know what goes into it.

Lisa Alves: Yeah, I totally agree. And I think it would help. It would help. I think rebuild this intrinsic value that theater holds, because I do think, I think, I mean, now we’re getting into theater criticism territory, but a lot of people who, you know, receive the, the things that we create, they don’t know how we created it.

It is magical for them, but there is. So what you’re saying, there’s so much work that goes, and it sometimes goes on a noticed because you just see the final product. So yeah, I think there’s, there’s, there’s so many opportunities yet to be discovered because of this experience, that COVID is. Yeah, I think.

Phil Rickaby: It also lowers the commitment barrier.

There’s all those people. There’s a, you know, we always talk about where’s the audience going and things like that. And, and also that whole like theaters, the only art form where somebody will say, oh, I saw a play once. I didn’t like it.

Lisa Alves: You never hear that about movies or

Phil Rickaby: TV or, or, yeah. So like, like if the barrier was low that somebody could, could like watch theater, number one, maybe, you know, cause people think that theaters expand.

Some theater’s expensive, some of it’s quite reasonable and, you know, take away that, that barrier, but also make it easier for them to see. And you know, that’s fine. You paid a low price. If you don’t like it, you can close that browser window. And we’ll never know.

Lisa Alves: Well, we will through the analytics,

Phil Rickaby: I mean sure.

But we won’t necessarily know that they closed

Lisa Alves: the window. No. Yeah, exactly. And I also think that as a person who has, who suffers from anxiety and the stress it is to like get out of the house, especially after COVID, even before it, to have that option to be able to watch something at home. Such, there is a sigh of relief of like, okay, I don’t have to leave my house if I’m feeling uncomfortable, but also folks who can’t physically leave their house because they have access needs that prevent them.

So yeah, there there’s, there’s a whole world of possibilities now

Phil Rickaby: because there are lots of spaces, lots of performance spaces in the city that aren’t accessible and somebody was able to open a, open a theater there and they’d love to make it accessible, but that they’re like they can’t afford it. What a way to like, be able to still allow, get people who can’t physically get to the theater to see the show.

Lisa Alves: Absolutely. Yeah. And I, and I think that’s something that we’ve, we’ve noticed. Just through our programming active during this time is that we’ve been able to engage a bunch of people across the country with different access needs who may never have been able to, you know, come to our studio in, in Corktown and participate or be involved.

So having those, having, having new ways of connecting and engaging artists has been, has been a blessing for sure.

Phil Rickaby: Yeah, absolutely. Now, just before we go I, one of the other programs that you’ve been doing is 35 cups. Tell me about 35 cups.

Lisa Alves: So 35 cups was part of our raft programming in the fall of 2021.

And it was to meet 35 new individuals that Tenesha and I have never met and just have a little lunch date, a little coffee chats with folks. And we met some wonderful people. All of them were wonderful. And we’ve been able to transform that into a new program called latte. So we’re continuing 35 cups, but it’s just going to be in a different format and it’s going to run longer.

So we, our registration is open and we are accepting. Who we haven’t met and they don’t even have to be artists. They can just be community members who are interested in theater and what we’re doing, and we can chat with them. And instead of meeting five people at a time, we’ve put limited to two people and it’s good.

And that’s something that we found out in the fall. Five people can be overwhelming and sometimes not all five folks would come in and would only just be one or two. And that was a more manageable conversation because you’re able to involve everyone and people are able to ask questions and talk the same amount as everyone.

And when there’s five people, sometimes a person can feel drowned out. So, yeah, we’re continuing that it’s starting next week. Yes. February seconds until, until June at some time and it’s running biweekly. And we’re just. I just love meeting new people, even though it’s COVID and zoom drains me out, having a chance to connect with folks who are new to their career in theater or somebody I just haven’t met in the sector or people who want to support goods, but it doesn’t, they don’t really know us is, is something that fills my cup.

So, yeah.

Phil Rickaby: That’s great. Yeah. That’s great. Lisa, thank you so much for having this conversation with me today. .

Lisa Alves: Thank you.

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