Interview : Shay Kuebler on the Importance of Touring outside of Vancouver & of Connecting with Communities
Recently, we got to chat with Shay Kuebler about touring, community engagement and the projects that he’s working on with his Vancouver-based contemporary dance company, Radical System Art. Shay and his company were a part of our Made in BC Mainstage Showcase program in which we connect dance artists with our presenter network across British Columbia and help coordinate and fund the tours that ensue. Shay recently presented his work Telemetry in Nelson & in Nanaimo through two of the MiBC network presenters (Capitol Theatre in Nelson and Crimson Coast Dance Society in Nanaimo). We always check in with our presenter network, but we don’t always get to connect with the artists after these presentations, so it was great to talk to Shay and see how he experienced this past tour.
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Photo by David Cooper, Shay Kuebler & Lexi Vajda
Made in BC: You recently had two tour stops, in Nelson & Nanaimo. How do you feel about how those shows went?
Shay Kuebler: I think we all felt really happy about how the shows turned out, they were really successful. We had to modify the show slightly for each venue, so there are always certain challenges, but this brings up certain strengths as well. This is kind of the beauty of touring; the work changes depending on every venue.
[Telemetry] is also a difficult show because it integrates a lot of live technology — live sound, live lighting and live video lighting — so it’s a fairly technical show but also physically very demanding. It’s a challenging show and every opportunity we get to perform it, it seems to get better and the concepts inside of the work get better and deeper, so the opportunities we had to present in Nelson and Nanaimo were critical for us to get our work stronger each time.
We felt that the audience response and the questions that were put forward were really helpful and it felt like it was really nice to keep returning to these communities and to help continue building the audiences so I think there was a mutual benefit to being there.
MiBC : You went to the Capitol Theatre in Nelson last year and went back again this year. Did you feel like there was a sense of continuation there and that there was an audience that had been developed?
SK: I definitely feel that building these relationships leads to a deeper and a stronger connection to the community and I think one of the first things that we saw was that we had workshop classes that were filled to capacity. The goal for us as a company, especially around our home province and our home city, is to keep expanding audiences and a public appreciation for, not only the arts, but also the art form of dance and so I think we saw growth and a deeper connection to the community and those are really important things for us.
Photo by Cara Tench
MiBC : Do you feel like community-building workshops and events that accompany the performances help bring people to the show and give them a better understanding of what they’re about to see?
SK : Yeah! I think that opportunities to engage the community and artists in a more informal way are kind of essential. Talk-backs, dialogues, conversations and workshops make things more accessible and remove the formality of the theatre experience a little bit. I think that those are important to kind of humanize the artists and, in some ways, help you connect to the art a bit better as well. I think humanity is apparent in the arts and I think if you can connect to the human involved behind the art form than you can connect and engage someone.
MiBC: Do you approach community engagement any differently for shows outside of Vancouver? Do you have to connect with the audience in a different way?
SK: Yeah, it’s interesting. I find touring is so, so important for me as a creator because I think that when you develop work in the city for a number of years and you perform for a number of years, people have certain expectations. Also, in a city that has a lot of art being created and produced, there are also biases or certain perspectives. So to be able to step away from that and get kind of a fresh view on your work from an audience that maybe doesn’t know your work as well, doesn’t know dance as well, or doesn’t have certain biases — I think those are critical, they’re kind of unfiltered responses. So I find touring outside of Vancouver is essential. And it’s great to be able to offer work that we feel is important to us as artists to communities that maybe don’t have as much dance and theatre in their communities because it feels like maybe we’re making a strong statement for them to bring in more shows, or bring in more live performance art. So for us it’s a really critical factor and a strong point in the mandate of the company. So touring and new audiences are always a must for us.
MiBC : So you were talking about being in Vancouver for a long time and then you started to go on tour a little more. Do you think that has affected your creation process in any way? Do you consider who your audience might be (dancers/non-dancers), who you want to reach, what message you want to communicate, etc.?
SK : Yeah, well it’s tough. As an artist, I want to make work that is exciting and I don’t ever want to make work that is too insular. Even just for myself, I want to find ways to make work that I’m interested in but that is also universal in a way. It’s hard to do, it’s almost impossible to do, but I want to be able to engage a wider group of people, a wider demographic. And to me that’s exposing the art form to potentially new people that could support it, be interested in it, and I think that is critical.
Touring is interesting because you get these different perspectives and opinions. You get people who have never seen dance before and people that have seen dance a lot and I think it’s like a filter – you bring these thoughts and ideas and notes in from other people, and as a director I try to filter through them. And of course it has an effect. But I try to stay true to what I’d like to do and I feel like I’m at a place now where I’m trying to find that balance where I’m true to myself and also trying to find a way to communicate that to a wider audience — or at least that’s the attempt anyways. To engage a wider audience.
Photo by David Cooper, Lexi Vajda & Tyler Layton Olson
MiBC : Now that you’ve done the MiBC mainstage program (online showcase, pitch session, BC performances), as well as other tours, do you feel like managing a tour is getting a little easier?
SK : Yeah, I think that now that the company has been around for a few years — it’s only our fourth year — there’s an ability for us to have a little bit more capacity and infrastructure. I can delegate responsibilities a little bit. But I gained a lot of tools and skills from having to do a lot of it myself and that has enabled me to communicate better with collaborators and help organize tours a little better. With that experience, you gain certain tools that help you to understand that things will happen on tour, issues are going to arise and nothing is ever exactly the way you plan it.
And then with talking about the work and pitching the work, I think that you get a comfortability. There’s a confidence or assuredness that comes with it. I believe in my work and I’m going to put it out there with a certain sense of confidence or assuredness that, if you like it you will like it and if you don’t you don’t. But I can vocalise and articulate these things that I’m interested in in such a way that I can engage people in what I’m doing. And again, the only way you can do that is to do it. So my recommendation for everybody is if you’re interested in making work, just start making work. If you want to try getting your work out there, try getting your work out there. Start talking to people about it or start doing pitch sessions. Because the more you do it, the more you recognize what it is that you’re interested in and you can pass that along a little more clearly.
MiBC : What are you working on at the moment & do you have any shows coming up?
SK : Telemetry is going to be touring to Germany in February and then we’re doing our last performance of the season at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, so we have two pretty big tours coming up. So again, Made in BC is such a great platform for us to keep making the work stronger and so that’s helped us keep moving forward with the project through 2018.
I have a new full length solo project that we’re going to start to showcase and pitch. It will be happening in the next couple of months. Along with that, we have a new ensemble project that we will be starting research on in the next weeks, so we’ve got a few things on the go.
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Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, Shay. Good luck with your upcoming projects & performances!
For more info about Shay Kuebler / Radical System Art, visit: https://shaykuebler.com/
For more info on the Made in BC mainstage touring program visit : http://www.madeinbc.org/on-tour/