History and Mandate
Supporting artists of all abilities in the rigorous creation of provocative theatre.
Theatre Terrific brings together artists who would normally never work together. Our diverse ensembles include professional and emerging artists with or without developmental, physical, or mental health issues, gender or language challenges.
Theatre Terrific was founded in 1985 by Connie Hargrave to provide theatre training and performance opportunities to disabled persons in the Vancouver region. At the time, no theatres in Vancouver were accessible, and the idea of disability and theatre interacting in innovative ways had yet to gain hold. Theatre Terrific was a pioneer; it is Western Canada’s oldest theatre company that works with mixed abilities casting.
In its early days, Theatre Terrific aimed to bridge theatre training and public education concerning people with disabilities. Founding artistic director, Sue Lister, and other instructors, taught courses across the Lower Mainland to hundreds of disabled and non-disabled students, across a broad spectrum of theatre arts. Theatre Terrific also staged performances through its Direct Access performing troupe, a range of school shows which toured the province, as well as Fringe and main-stage productions
Often developed in collaboration with award-winning professional artists, many of these shows focused on disability themes and sought to engage and educate audiences. With a growing body of work, Theatre Terrific gained increasing professional recognition in the Vancouver theatre community. In 1994, for example, Theatre Terrific Society received a Jessie Richardson award from the Vancouver Theatre Alliance for “Distinctive Mandate” In the same year, a play commissioned by Theatre Terrific brought to its playwright a Jessie Award for best play. In 1996 Theatre Terrific was nominated for “outstanding ensemble cast” in relation to its production of Breeding Doubts.
Since 2005, under the artistic direction of Susanna Uchatius, Theatre Terrific strives to move ahead and away from the narrow special interest label associated with ‘disability theatre.’ To do this, Theatre Terrific works to:
#1 – Define our Audience
Theatre Terrific works to insure that our audience is not confined to the disabled, or to those who may have an identification with disability of any kind. Our productions are NOT about disability or the marginal. In saying that, since our casts consistently include a remarkable mix of physically, mentally, developmentally, gender and language challenged artists along with those defined as ‘normal.’ Many who would not attend theatre, do come to see our productions….largely because the cast may reflect a connection that they may have. That said, our audience is the theatre goer who seeks innovative theatre that deals with the resonating issues of life found in classical and contemporary theatre… with the added benefit of that story being told by an inclusive multi-faceted cast that brings remarkable unique perceptions to eternal human and world issues.
#2 - Connect with the audience
We connect with the audience as any other theatre company would. Our productions are marketed as the majority of theatre companies do in the Lower Mainland. We hold open auditions, workshop and produce a regular two week run production of professional standards in one of the professional theatres. We are listed in the local theatre directory as any other theatre company is. We do a two week, nine show run, as part of the Vancouver International Fringe Festival. We also do an outdoor site specific theatre work in one of the local parks in the spring. This has become a specialty of a number of theatre companies in the Lower Mainland. Praise our temperate climate! Theatre Terrific also has talkback sessions in a number of our presentations, as the audiences often express a great interest in asking the performers how they work due to the remarkable unique make-up of the casts.
#3 - Expand our audience numbers
We expand our audience by advertising in all theatre marketing venues used by the majority of theatre companies in the Lower Mainland. We are members in good standing of the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance and Alliance for Arts, the standard professional entities of resource for theatre companies in Vancouver and surrounding area. We use all the marketing tools provided by these entities, along with a professional marketer and graphic artist for our posters for each production, local newspaper ads and also all the social network tools such as Facebook, Twitter, E-blasts, etc to spread the word over the broadest possible area. Our list of possible audience members includes an extensive database of social, business and cultural contacts.
#4 - Strategically grow our audience through:
Our productions, written by Artistic Director Susanna Uchatius, address classical and contemporary issues that resonate with society as a whole. The narrow perspective of special interest considerations is not part of the work; therefore our productions are relative to the full spectrum of theatre audiences. Susanna Uchatius specializes in developing scripts that make full use of the unique gifts of each actor, giving them all a clear, valued role within the democratic ensemble process. The respect of challenge that is inherent in any creative development, is equally expected and supported for all cast members.
Rigorous Theatre Craft
All casts are expected to fully take part in the rigorous professional development and rehearsal work that is required to develop a high standard of performance in theatre. Some of the respected international theatre development methods used are:
#1 - Anne Bogart’s method of Viewpoints
Viewpoints is an improvisation-based technique that provides actors with a tool box and vocabulary for exploring a play through movement and gesture. Originally developed in the 1970’s by choreographer Mary Overlie, the Viewpoints method was adapted for actors by director Anne Bogart and playwright-director Tina Landau. Most theater schools use some form of Viewpoints training - or at least some of its elements - in their pedagogy. The Viewpoints approach – is often referred to as “deconstructive theater” - is not meant to turn an actor into a machine performing a series of pre-programmed exercises. Rather, the principle is to give the actor a fuller understanding of his place in the world (and, by extension, in the world of the play). This method is internationally recognized and taught by the SITI Company ensemble of New York. Artistic Director, Susanna Uchatius has studied with Anne Bogart and SITI Company to perfect and adapt this method to her work with Theatre Terrific.
#2 - Tadashi Suzuki’s Rigorous Physical Practice of Suzuki Movement
The Suzuki Method of Actor Training was developed by the Suzuki Company of Toga (SCOT) under the direction of Tadashi Suzuki. This training has been designed to regain the perceptive abilities of the actor's body on stage in order to powerfully enter any theatrical situation. In practical terms, the Suzuki Method is comprised of a variety of exercises that challenge the body's centre of gravity by presenting a series of physical obstacles. This allows the actor to invoke their full creative potential within a given structure. By heightening the actor's awareness of their own physical habits, limitations and energies, the body becomes open to exploring emotion and truth. Theatre Terrific Artistic Director Susanna Uchatius has studied this method in New York and adapted it to use with the casts of Theatre Terrific productions.
#3 - Kirsten Linklater’s Voice Process
The Linklater’s Method is a voice training method that attempts to free the natural voice of actors and even non-actors. It is an invention by theater artist and vocal coach Kristin Linklater, who is a professor in the Theater Department of Columbia University’s School of the Arts in New York City. The first part of the method is designed to re-teach natural breathing, doing away with voice-inhibiting habitual tension, while the second part concentrates on the development of resonators and breathing capacity. Susanna Uchatius studied this method at the Canadian National Voice Intensive under David Smukler, a direct student of Kirstin Linklater.
#4 – Ensemble Development Process
Theatre Terrific Artistic Director Susanna Uchatius has created a series of ensemble building exercises that assist and support the cohesive union of a diversely abled ensemble who may have varying degrees of experience. These exercises are ritualistic in approach. Every development and rehearsal session starts with an Entrance ritual that immediately democratizes the entire cast. This can be as simple as standing in a circle of silence, passing a stone with breath and eye contact. The Enactment of the work includes all of the above methods and others created to mold the ensemble into a fully functioning compositional whole. The entire process ends with an Exit that acknowledges all contributions of the ensemble.
Due to the vigorous methods utilized in the Theatre Terrific ensemble, the theatre community and it’s general audiences have come to realize that Theatre Terrific cast productions are about telling a good story to the highest possible standards; with the added innovative highly unique ingredients that ‘difference in cast’ adds to the story.
We seek practicing professional artists and companies to work as cast, as technical, dramaturgical and directing support; thereby partnering with other professional theatre companies, artists and their following to broaden our own audience and artist scope. We have sponsored workshops through the Push Festival (a highly esteemed Lower Mainland theatre festival, held directed readings as part of the Magnetic North Festival (a national theatre festival), and led workshops with the Greater Vancouver Theatre Alliance Conference. We also partner with a wide range of social agencies such as Strathcona Mental Health, The Down Syndrome Society, Elizabeth Frye to name a few, that support a wide range of artists seeking access to viable, challenging theatre work. These diverse partnerships bring artists of a wide diversity into a common collaborative ground. The result is that the Theatre Terrific productions are attended by an equal amount of cultural and social communities.
#5 Research and Address the pedagogical theatre process
Theatre Terrific was one of the two companies awarded a Pure Research grant through nightswimming of Toronto in 2011, in partnership with Simon Fraser School of Contemporary Arts. This was a great asset to Theatre Terrific, in exploring our unique method of development wherein expression of all kinds are given value. In the research that was undertaken, Artistic Director Susanna Uchatius along with Composer James Coomber questioned the pedagogical study of the space between the speaking and the singing voice. Working with a professional opera singer and a performer with severe speech impairment, a form of sing/speaking, (Gesangsprech) was utilized. This lead us to question what is of value in theatre? How is it taught? What are the methods used? In this work, Theatre Terrific has discovered that because of the make-up of our diverse casts, all prerequisites for what is correct are questioned, placing us in the highly creative state of continual discovery.
Theatre Terrific realizes that it’s methods, cast construction and final product are not the ‘normal’ traditional presentation of theatre in Canada. This should not purvey the idea that it is therefore less, but rather… that it is different, and it is precisely that human difference that makes it rich. The belief is that the day will dawn in Canadian theatre, when human difference, supported, challenged and nurtured is a creative asset in theatre development rather than a creative detriment.