With neoconservatism rearing its ugly head all over the world, now is no time to be complacent. But the majority will be and atrocities will continue. That’s what gives Arthur Miller’s play Incident at Vichy, set in a Nazi detention centre in Vichy France, relevancy today—and the reason why Theatre in the Raw stages the work at Studio 16, April 11-22. The 1960s work by the Death of A Salesman playwright explores our moral obligation to act in the face of intolerance and hate.
Theatre in the Raw has been taking risks with new and classic productions that deliver strong messages, feature casts that brim with diversity, and offer free or accessible tickets for 24 years.
A week before the opening of Incident at Vichy, the theatre’s co-founder and artistic director Jay Hamburger and one of the play’s stars, veteran company member Jacques Lalonde, welcomed a visitor into Theatre in the Raw’s Eastside studio to discuss the play’s urgent themes, as well as to bend her ear with such notions as “Renoviction: The Musical,” dinner with Muhammad Ali, and, in an all-inclusive workspace, some unusual qualities that trump talent. (Some ideas turned out quite different in print than in the video above, in which they gamely agreed to participate — and no wonder, they're naturals who broke out in song, not once but twice.)
What makes Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy so relevant today?
Jay Hamburger: The piece is a dire warning, really. We need to keep a vigilant eye on what governments and their supporters might be trying to do for selfish and warped reasons.
Jacques Lalonde: We must stop the anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim fervour before gathers steam. "President for Life" is a very frightening concept.
Biggest challenge of producing Incident at Vichy?
JH: It is a driving, sometimes relentless, truthful piece dealing with racism and trying to fool people into believing there is no danger when there is danger.
JL: Managing a dozen-plus actors with different backgrounds, schedules and skill levels.
You intend this play to be “a warning for the future.” What do Vancouver audiences need to be warned about?
JH: That racism and intolerance and being fooled can become all-powerful and prevalent if people are not vigilant.
How would you describe Vancouver’s theatre scene?
JH: Attempting to make a difference despite the hurdles.
JL: Supportive. But sometimes in need of a jolt. (This play is a jolt!)
Most important issue facing theatre companies today?
JL: So many issues. Time to write a play: Renoviction, The Musical.
Yours is a mission of inclusion. What stage qualities surpass talent?
JH: Passion for the piece and ability to work for achievement – that’s part of what makes talent in my opinion.
JL: It's all about balance. Talent is important but if you can get an inclusive cast with great talent it's so much more powerful.
Best thing about Theatre in the Raw's annual Festival of One-Acts and Radio Plays?
JL: New voices. Opportunity. Community.
Key components of an excellent one-act play?
JH: Twenty or thirty pages max. Drives home its theme and can open eyes by taking a chance on originality.
JL: Amazing characters you can care about and a unique take on something.
Jay, why are you good at your job?
JH: I continue to try and be patient and keep an ear close to the ground. There is always room to learn.
Jacques, what appeals to you most about the work you do?
JL: Touching people’s souls and waking them up to hope and possibility.
Why should more people try their hand at theatre?
JH: It helps expand the soul.
JL: It gives you a voice. We all need to play more. A safe place to be vulnerable and authentic.
How do we get more people to realize they could thrive in theatre?
JH: Bring more theatre into classrooms.
JL: More workshops. More street theatre. More festivals. More kids doing it young!
What would happen if every single theatre company was mandated to offer free access for each new production?
JH: A step in the right direction towards a more wide-ranging theatre scene.
JL: An explosion of creativity!
Or maybe it should be mandated that every person must buy a ticket to a theatre show once a year…
JH: The ticket needs to be affordable or subsidized for the disenfranchised.
You are most looking forward to…
JH: Swimming in the Georgia Straight as spring moves closer to warmer weather.
JL: Old age.
Favourite place in Vancouver?
JH: Trout Lake Park.
JL: The mountains.
Favourite thing to do for people?
JH: Exchanging a fascinating story.
JL: Make them laugh.
What are you most proud of?
JH: I’m proud of my son, and the 24 years of survival of our theatre company in Vancouver, as well as a few poems I’ve had published.
JL: Volunteer work. Kindness.
If you could meet any historical figure, who would it be?
JH: Tommy Douglas, Martin Luther King.
JL: Robin Williams or Muhammad Ali.
If you could have any superpower what would it be?
JH: The ability read books at a prodigious rate.
What are the three reasons you create theatre?
JH: 1.) Expansion of mind. 2.) Seeking beauty and motion in creating. 3.) Curiosity.
JL: Hope. Love. Truth.