Jason Collett's Basement Revue moves upstairs
Now in its sixth year, for many, Jason Collett's Basement Revue has become synonymous with the holiday season. I recently sat down with Collett at the Common, and between friendly run-ins and phone calls, he took great care to explain the nuances of the night, why it stands out from most live shows, and why moving it to a larger space for one night won't disrupt the intimacy that's been cultivated over previous years.
This year marks the first time (December 20th) that Collett and friends will rise from the basement of The Dakota in an effort to accommodate the growing demand for the Revue (yes, the three nights at ground zero have sold out, but there's still tickets left for the 20th).
"We really worked hard at making sure this [The Great Hall show] was going to be the cornerstone of the series this year," Collett explained when asked about how the new venue is going to work. "We're always going to do The Dakota but we want to see what else we can do and that will kind of be our template. The key to this show has been the intimacy that The Dakota has provided and doing it there was all about trying to recreate what happened around my kitchen table — you know, giving a domestic kind of feel to the whole thing."
He even chose to hold his record release show for Reckon at The Great Hall as a sort of trial for the Revue, which underscores just how seriously he's taking the switch of venues. Needless to say, he was convinced it was possible to maintain the same vibe.
A larger venue doesn't just mean more people but inevitably more revenue — and that's something Collett believes he could use to share some of the material that's been accumulated from the Revue over the last four years. "We're sitting on this amazing archive of some of the best contemporary Canadian literary and musical folks, and we have no money to do anything with it — we're kind of like the CBC that way."
While exact plans on how to package content from previous years are yet to be finalized, Collett's clear about a few things. "We want to get a website up where you can go and you can see a weird story from someone like Rich Terfry. It's a good document of contemporary Canadian art that I'm really excited that we have, but I feel like we have the responsibility to actually do something with it. I've been working with this film director Peter Lynch who's been sort of wrangling with the filming for four years...and hopefully with a little bit of money we can actually get a really cool document together."
As far as recreating the intimacy of a smaller space in a bigger venue, Collett isn't concerned. In fact, the way he describes the musicians and poets working together, the unique vibe of the Revue has less to do with the size of the venue and more with the spontaneous way the performances come about. "People are out of their comfort zones and I think we achieve a kind of intimacy with the audience where we can actually bring them closer to the performance as if it were taking place in a living room because of the chances that people are willing to take, to do something that they're not necessarily known for."
By way of example, Collett offers the following scenario. "The unique nature of the event usually becomes apparent later in the night. Maybe a poet who has read earlier will return to the stage to read again but now with some handpicked musicians backing him or her up, all rather spontaneously. The poet is typically terrified as he steps on the stage...but it's essentially then for the musicians to interpret the atmosphere the poet has created. So what the audience gets to witness is several dimensions at work: a nervous poet, musicians that are like 'what do we do with a poet on stage? (what has Jason wrangled us into?),' and you watch the communication between them, and there's so much beauty and magic in it that rarely gets shown on stage."
The key, he continues, is that the performances are unscripted and all about taking chances. "The beauty of it is the risk involved, and the audience is aware of that so we're all going on this journey together. That's where the intimacy really happens and that's what excites me about these shows. You can't rehearse them."
As for who to expect on the 20th, Collett wouldn't name names, but you can count on some of his favourite alumni from past years. "You don't want to find out afterwards that you missed it. We've got some of the best alumni and some new artists that we've been trying to get for awhile....There's some older people that are known internationally for their work and have been for a long time as well as some better-known musical acts who are combining to do something."
Please share any past Basement Revue memories and any guesses for who will be performing at The Great Hall in the comment section!
Photo by Matt Barnes