The State of Theatre : David Jansen

David Jansen is an award winning actor who has spent 5 seasons with the Stratford Festival . Recent Toronto credits include Tom Walmsley's Three Squares a Day at Theatre Passe Muraille, The Eco Show and Half Life (tour to Scotland) for Necessary Angel Theatre, and The Long Valley for Soulpepper. David is also the co-organizer of The Wrecking Ball, which features cabaret evenings in Toronto of new political writing.

David, what is the current state of theatre in Toronto?

"I think I am always optimistic about it. Ultimately because I see that it is a culture that now has a concentration of talent unlike any other time in its past. I've had a chance to work with many actors in the past, in both the UK and the United States, and Toronto has some of the finest actors I've ever seen anywhere and that concentration of talent is extremely impressive.

We have also started to reach a critical mass of writing talents as well. Though we still have a ways to go in regards to directors, I've worked with some who I believe are some of the best ever, like Daniel Brooks, Richard Rose, Morris Panych and Eda Holmes. So, overall, I'm pretty optimistic about the whole thing."

What needs to be improved upon?

"With all the work that occurred, especially during the late 60s and 70s and 80s, there was a whole generation that really put Toronto on the map, in terms of theatre creation. However, now we are at a point where it's time to hand on the baton. And I see that happening here now. It's actually really exciting because now there's an opportunity to re-examine old mandates and old philosophies and to fix the companies to more contemporary concerns."

"It's a very easy thing, especially when we're constantly living [theatres themselves as well as theatre workers] in a kind of hand to mouth way, to lose sight of the big picture. Because it's just an act of survival. But when you have a significant change-over like that, then you can really have a look at what the theatre can do and how it can reflect a city.

Theatre is an art form of the present tense and it offers an opportunity to really look at what is 'Toronto today'. In terms of some successes of the theatre of the 80's and 90's, which was very much focused on identity politics, we are now seeing a greater influx of the wide diverse voices in Toronto, in terms of writing, acting and directing and that has to continue in such a cosmopolitan city."

What can we, as artists, do to bolster this change-over and growth?

"I think two things come to mind. Of course, crucially, money is a major issue. So we have to become more and more inventive about how we can find resources for the kind of art we want to do and that means creating partnerships. New partnerships. We have to be as creative in that as we are at making the art.

Further lobbying for government support. Any culture that is serious about itself is publicly supportive of the arts. This is definitely the case in the UK. The Labour government brought in money to make all the museums, for example, free of charge. So you could go to a place like the Tate Modern, which is a fantastic gallery, for nothing. There is also extensive support for the theatre there from the government. So that kind of lobbying has to be done!

Second thing is that Toronto needs to become less parochial in its ideas. I think that many theatres in town always seem embattled and become little fiefdoms and there's not a lot of exchange of ideas, both amongst the theatres in Toronto and amongst theatres in Canada and theatres internationally."

Where do you see yourself in all this?

"Well, as an actor you are an interpretative artist and you are not often involved in decision making processes that are structural or institutional. I'm interested in expanding what I do, perhaps more directing. I certainly, over the years, talk and talk and talk to my friends about these very things, and more and more of my friends are moving into positions where they can effect change. So at the moment, I think, I am a Toronto theatre philosopher, as well as an actor... and I think a lot about it. And I love it. I am a Toronto Theatre-phile and I'm interested in becoming more involved in helping to shape the theatre ecology here any way I can."

David can currently be seen at the Shaw Festival in the shows Too True To Be Good and Design for Living.

The State of Theatre is a new weekly series where theatre artists and affiliates, professional and emerging, will be interviewed on their thoughts on the state of Theatre in Toronto and where they believe it is going.

Photo: David Jansen

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