For the past 30 years, Pi Theatre has presented some of Vancouver’s most potent theatre, most recently including The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar, Long Division by Peter Dickinson, and Genetic Drift by Amy Lee Lavoie. The company has also worked in collaboration with others, including supporting the Vancouver Asian Theatre Company with its tour of last year’s hit, Empire of the Son by Tetsuo Shigematsu. Richard Wolfe became Pi’s artistic director in 2008, after 12 years as co-founder and co-artistic producer of Theatre Conspiracy — another company known for audacious and inventive productions. The prolific director has also taught at UBC and other institutions.
On October 17, Pi Theatre launches its new season with After Party Theatre’s fun new series, Lady Parts (first episode: Boobs). With the launch a week away, Wolfe—who is also in the midst of directing Shigematsu's well-received 1 Hour Photo—answered our questions about directing, the theatre scene in Vancouver, what inspires him, and more.
Why did you take on the role of artistic director of Pi Theatre? Pi’s mission is to do work for audiences who aren’t satisfied with soft theatre. Over its 30 year history, the company has created a space for highly theatrical and sophisticated work. Immersing myself in the act of keeping that heritage alive sounded good to me.
What’s your biggest challenge as the artistic director of Pi Theatre? The limited number of staff we have to do what we do.
What's the best asset you bring to the artistic directorship? An expansive view of the world, a diversity of personal experience, and a broad knowledge of contemporary practice.
How did Lady Parts come about? I saw Cheyenne Mabberley and Katey Hoffman do The After After Party and immediately recognized their talent for female sketch comedy with a true satirical edge. Their work is a great fit for Pi’s mission so I invited them to participate in our year.
What's the next project on your list? The next big one is Pi Theatre's The Events by David Greig, which will be on at the PuSh Festival. It’s a powerful and stylistically innovative meditation on the nature of love, hate and forgiveness.
When you're watching a show, can you let yourself be taken away or do your critical faculties take over? A good production can easily transport me, although I suppose I can’t help but see shows differently than someone who doesn’t live and breathe this stuff.
Most difficult show you’ve ever directed? The Romans in Britain was a bit of a trip.
Pi Theatre focuses on provocative and uncompromising theatre. What show are you most proud of producing and why? Blasted by Sarah Kane, which we did to mark the 20th anniversary of its first production, would be right up there. It’s only had one other professional English production in Canada because it’s very difficult to pull off. I feel we did it justice.
Ultimate dream project? Doing an original adaptation of a classic that speaks to today.
Why is theatre your chosen artistic realm? Theatre is about people and why we do what we do. But it’s also a gathering place that creates a sense of community that can be an antidote for the isolation and disconnection so many people seem to feel today.
Which theatre artist, living or dead, would you like to have for dinner and why? I’d like to meet Georg Büchner, the young genius, proto-expressionist and political activist who died at the age of 23. I’d also love to have dinner with Katie Mitchell, one of the contemporary theatre’s most exciting directors. And Ian McKellen.
If you could have any superpower what would it be? Time travel.
Tell us about a time a work of art moved, inspired or affected you. I enjoy when a painting, sculpture or installation piece brings me to tears. It can happen in the theatre quite easily, but when it happens in a gallery it always takes me by surprise.
Describe your perfect day. Breakfast in Vancouver (in August), lunch in Amsterdam and dinner in New York. I’ve done all of that at different times but doing it on the same day would be a bit of a trick.
Most important issue facing the arts and culture community today? In Vancouver, it's the lack of artist-run-centres for the performing arts.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? Don’t worry about getting older; a lot of people weren’t so lucky.
What are you most looking forward to? A writing sabbatical in the southern United States.
What do you look for in a great play? A deep sense of humanity.
Current theatrical obsession? Stylized movement.
What is your advice to young actors in the early stages of their careers? You’re not really competing with other actors per se. Use archery rather than MMA as the visual metaphor for the attainment of your goals.
Name another arts organization whose work you admire. There are many. And there are a lot of fabulous artists and organizations in Vancouver. I’m always interested in what Ravi Jain’s Why Not Theatre is doing and wish I could see more of it.
What is the most exciting current development in your sector? Justin Trudeau’s increase to the Canada Council’s operating budget.
Who are your influences? I’m deeply influenced by my partner Connie, my friends, and artists who dedicate their lives to their work.
Three words to describe yourself? Kind, thoughtful, driven.
Best time of your life? Right now is pretty good.
If you change one thing in the world, what would it be? I’d eliminate unadulterated greed and all of its ostentatious displays.
What do you think about most often? Living and dying.
Describe Vancouver’s theatre scene. Rich in talent and passion.
BC Alliance seeks to ensure that everyone is able to be creative, appreciate art and share art. One way can we accomplish this? I would say we need to bring venues into neighborhoods where they can become a part of the fabric of living.
How do you see your organization responding to the digital transformation that is taking place? We have a social media strategy and have experimented with podcasting and all that, but in the end, the great thing about live performance is that it isn’t built on digital representation.
Taking a cue from your 10 Questions blog feature: What do you most enjoy doing for others? I like to make people feel like they have a value in the world that isn't tied to money.
One journalist wrote: “Richard Wolfe is an architect of the Canadian theatre scene in the truest sense.” What makes you continue to break new ground? I’ve always felt art – which is ultimately the personal expression of a worldview – has to be part of the conversations of its time. My goal is to be responsive to the moment.