From coffee shops to parks to the back of a pickup truck, there’s no place too small for Theatre SKAM to put on a show.
Theatre SKAM was born 20 years ago when founding artistic director Amiel Gladstone contacted Sarah Donald, Karen Turner and Matthew Payne and asked them to appear in a short show to be performed in a Victoria coffee shop.
“I was in Cranbrook finishing out a summer of performances of characters from Fort Steele in the 1890s,” recalls Payne.
The play was performed in the corner of Grace Bistro, now Bean Around the World. “The show was lit with a couple of 150 watt floodlights in ketchup cans Ami got from his day job at Pags,” says Payne.
They crammed 50 people into the space and sold tickets for $5. “It was in the days before social media and I’m really not even sure we used email. … People just telephoned and left their name and number of tickets they wanted … we sold out.”
They did so well, the team decided to do it again the following month. Though Donald and Turner were unavailable due to “real theatre work,” says Payne, new actors were found and the troupe began to evolve.
Now, they have three paid staff and since Payne took over as artistic director in 2007, Theatre SKAM operates year-round. The team makes artistic decisions collaboratively and brings in companies for each production.
“Max (Johnson, SKAM’s administrative and communications assistant) swept in in a tumultuous summer and single handedly saved the fall season,” says Payne.
The company had committed to a tour of the Cariboo with its show Cariboo Buckeroo, but had neglected to properly plan the 2011 tour.
“I had never before in my life done something like that,” says Johnson. “I had to find community halls and ranches … just got out the map and started calling.”
These days Theatre SKAM plans at least 18 months in advance. They purchased a truck, which was used as a mobile theatre for Smalltown: A Pickup Musical in 2013 and built a 7×10-foot theatre which holds an audience of 10, leaving a 7×3 space for the actors to work in.
“We’ve submitted for a transportation grant from the CRD and we hope to be able to park for short shows and introduce pop up theatre,” says Payne.
The team has fun figuring out ways to bring theatre to the people. Ideas like Bike Ride, where the audience rides their bikes along the Galloping Goose to spots where short plays are presented, is set to evolve again this year. “People can walk now, we want to be open to seniors on electric scooters. We’re working with Victoria Disability Resource Centre on how to address people with special needs.” These changes require a new name, says Payne, who plans to ask SKAM fans to rename the popular summer event.
Kicking off their 20th year, the SKAM family is holding its Birthday Bash on Jan. 17 at the Atrium (tickets available on ticketrocket.org soon). The annual fundraiser will help support SKAM’s impressive schedule of eight shows in 2015, many of which are reinventions of former shows, including the first coffee shop play. The season begins with Ballet Victoria’s presentation of Aerwacol Jan. 31-Feb. 1 during Dance Days.
SKAM’s birthday bash features music by Mike Demers. Keep up with the SKAM schedule here.