Groomed for it

by Kasey Dunn, http://www.brickandmortartoronto.com

I could have been one of the four women who came forward from Soulpepper to call for an end to the abuse in their workplace. I could have been one of them, being grilled about why I kept accepting jobs. Trying to explain that I had no other option, and couldn’t say anything. Those four women represent many.

I went to theatre school at George Brown, right across the hall from Soulpepper. I met many of the actors named in these articles. I met Albert Schultz. I remember him telling us that he was the most important man in Canadian theatre, and that we should take every opportunity to get to know him. I heard all the rumours; we used to whisper about them in the lobby. “What are you willing to do to get the job?”

As Kristin Booth alluded to, actors are groomed to believe abuse is normal. That grooming begins in theatre school.

How to Start a Cult
Fear and guilt are central. A fearful person is one who cannot think critically, allowing the leadership to maintain control.

We lived in a constant state of fear. You could be cut at any point if the faculty decided you were not talented enough. We were told that this would make us better. We came to accept and even celebrate it, hoping for our friends to be culled to make the herd leaner, stronger, better, leaving more roles for us.

When I was in second year, I was simultaneously a lead in two plays, and was stage manager for a third. It would all be presented as part of a 6 play performance. After the dress rehearsal, I was taping the props table as the director gave notes. He asked me if I played the ukulele.

No I didn’t.

Could I learn before tomorrow?

No. I couldn’t.

“Come on, anyone can play a ukulele. Even a monkey could do it,” came a voice from my peers.

I began to cry. I was exhausted, I was sick, I was overwhelmed. I was trying to track props and remember all my lines for the 10 hour long production, afraid that I was a bad actor, and ready to be kicked out. No, I could not learn the ukulelele over night. Sorry.

I got a poor mark on my report card. “Too thin-skinned” said my notes.

Isolation – Cults cut off members from the world. There is no free time to think or analyze. Members may be deprived of adequate sustenance and/or sleep.

We were in school from 9am-10pm, 6 days a week. At times, the days were even longer than that. We were hungry, tired, and sick. We weren’t allowed to take sick days, so we would be at school with bronchitis, touching each other and sharing small spaces. Our breaks were minimal, sometimes as short as 20 minutes for lunch. I went to the administration once, to ask if we could please have a longer lunch. I was instructed not to complain. Many before me had done it. Was I not going to be able to cut it?

You cannot legally pay people to work the hours we worked, or to be treated the way we were. Yet we paid them for the chance to be there, and feared we might be asked to leave.

When they thought we were getting too chubby they introduced mandatory 8am cardio classes.

Induced Dependency and Elitist Mentality – The group is all that is good. As part of cult tactics, members are made to feel special. Cults demand absolute, unquestioning devotion, loyalty and submission.

We were told that George Brown is the best school, with the best instructors, and the best reputation. You are lucky to be here. Be thankful. Thousands auditioned, and you were chosen – so make the most of this opportunity. Our teachers were above reproach. Their demands were to be met without question. There was no one we could go to when we felt something was wrong. The structure of the school was a hierarchy of fear.  

If you ask a question about a note you are given, you are labelled “defensive, hard to work with.” The correct response is silence, and to simply do it.

We had one teacher who would repeatedly show up unprepared for class, and we were falling behind on our dialect and accent work. Our directors were constantly telling us that our accents were an embarrassment. When we told the administration that we were falling behind, our concerns were brushed aside. Tired of this, I purchased a book with CD’s to help myself learn the accents I needed, and introduced my classmates to the book. When the administration found out, I was called to the office on lunch (which I missed) and reprimanded for reading a book that I didn’t have permission to read, for undermining the instructor by reading it, and for ring-leading this “revolution.” I was told not to read the book again.

The ends justify the means. Because the leaders are doing very important things members are led to believe that their behaviours are justified.

I remember our acting instructor appealing to us for pity once, after a particularly hard class. “Imagine what I go through,” he said. “I wade through the trenches year after year with these terrible young actors. Trying to make them better. It’s hard. Imagine watching this garbage!”

I remember feeling bad for him, for how hard his job was – this man who had just told me that he had a hard time thinking of me as a woman, or imagining men being attracted to me – because he was doing god’s work.

This same man who told my best friend that she seemed like “one of those kids who was caged in the basement for years.”

Who told me that I belonged on the 4th floor somewhere, filling out forms from 9-5.

Who I watched degrade classmate after classmate, for being too gay, too prudish, too inexperienced (are you still a virgin?) too stupid, too smart, too tall, too unattractive. There were no boundaries. After all, we were making better actors here – and actors have to be open and ready for anything.

The member may be pressured to publicly confess sins, after which he is viciously ridiculed by the group for being evil and unworthy.

The worst sessions were the acting classes when you would stand in front of the class while the instructor picked and prodded to find your psychological weaknesses. They would comment on your age, height, weight, style, musical taste, and personality trying to find the key to unlock you and break you. Did your parents beat you? Were you the “fat kid”? Were you made fun of? We would admit to our worst secrets, which would consequently be used to explain to the class why we were bad actors.

They say acting school is about breaking you down so that they can build you back up. First of all, what kind of garbage is that, and what the fuck is it even supposed to mean? But secondly, I must have missed the ‘building up’ half, because I graduated believing that I was “too tall, and awkward about it,” “Over the hill (let’s face it you’re no spring chicken),” “weak and thin-skinned,” while also “too hard to work with and defiant.”

Dread – Once complete dependence is established, the member must retain the leader’s good favor or else his life falls apart.

Dread is the definition of my life for those 3 years. I woke up in the morning dreading going to school. I would cry.  I dreaded evaluations. I dreaded one-on-one meetings where extremely personal and inappropriate things were said that you would be pushed to laugh about over beers with classmates later. I also dreaded being kicked out. End of career. Only those who were successful would ever be true artists.

I could have been one of those four brave women, but I don’t know that I ever would have found the courage to speak up. I don’t know that it would have crossed my mind as an option. I don’t know that I would have been able to realize anything was wrong with the picture, because Albert Schultz would just have been the next person in a long line of people who had held my career in their hands and told me that I should live in fear while thanking them.

Maybe I was lucky. I didn’t get a great job at Soulpepper fresh out of school. I was slogging it in audition rooms, with agents and casting directors, classes and headshots. I had a lot of time and failure that allowed me to realize that there were some pretty big sacrifices that I wasn’t willing to make. I started my own theatre spaces with a belief and a dream that there was another way to tell stories that would let you be your own boss, and not at the mercy of someone in an extreme power imbalance. I found my partner, Vikki, who was also on a hunt for a different solution – and together we built our company Brick and Mortar. Read her story here.

Together we are trying to change the conversation, and help other artists break themselves out of the cult. Brick and Mortar will not be a part of accepting what we have been taught or allowing it in our spaces. We do not want anyone experiencing that dread when coming into our studios. We have begun developing a zero tolerance policy within our spaces and a support network where female identifying people can feel safe to report abuse. If you’d like to participate or hear more, there is a form at the bottom of this article.

Thank you to Diana Bentley, Patricia Fagan, Kristin Booth, and Hannah Miller.


How to start a cult sources:
https://people.howstuffworks.com/cult4.htm
http://www.decision-making-confidence.com/cult-tactics.html

 

Stories We Tell Ourselves.

by Vikki Velenosi, http://www.brickandmortartoronto.com

Wow.
That’s all I could say after I heard of the allegations against Soulpepper’s artistic director Albert Schultz this week.
Let me be clear: My wow response didn’t come from hearing that yet another powerful man serially sexually assaults women. That has become almost a daily anecdote. My wow response came from this one hitting closer to home.

As soon as I heard the news on Wednesday, I read the CBC article outlining some of the alleged actions of Albert Shultz. As someone who works in theatre, and had heard rumours about Albert Schultz’ behaviour, I was eager to hear the details. However, as I read, I was shocked at how many of the published accusations were almost identical to some of my own past experiences. I never worked with Albert Schultz, but I definitely experienced very similar behaviour at the hands of male directors and cast mates. For example, I have had my butt smacked on numerous occasions. One cast member even showed their balls to me as I was about to go on stage. When I was 15 a cast mate who was 10 years my senior hugged me from behind and put his hand down my shirt. A director once got up on stage to show another performer how to “touch a woman romantically” as he pressed himself against me and stroked my body. Another director pretended to hump me each night before I went on stage as an act of good luck. Then of course there was the unwanted hugs, unwanted comments about my body, my breasts, my level of “hotness.”

As I read these women’s stories, and the memories of my own past experiences came back to me, the thought actually crossed my mind: but it’s theatre, those things aren’t the same when it’s theatre. And I had to stop myself.

After joining and sending my support to women who came forward in the #metoo movement this past year, I was actually still holding onto the belief that theatre was somehow exempt from all the same rules. In reading this article about Albert Shultz I realized that I still considered that some forms of sexual power plays are to be expected and are normal and are okay.

When I was in theatre school, the cardinal rule was that you had to be “easy to work with.” If you wanted to get the job or the role, talent wasn’t enough. If you were “difficult” you were un-hirable, kicked-out, possibly blacklisted. It was a lesson ingrained in us over and over. As such, any abuse we endured in theatre school seemed totally justified. It was just to prepare us for the real world. It was as if the more you could flourish amidst abuse, the more successful you would be one day.

I had the privilege this summer of getting a spot in the Toronto Fringe Festival. I am lucky enough that my business partner and bestie Kasey is also a kick-ass creator/producer. We wrote and performed a show based on the real-life story of trying to “make it” as actors and discovering that we had the power to make it all along. (Yes, we did compare it to Wizard of Oz and no, we didn’t have ruby slippers). We started the creation process by writing down every story we could think of on our journeys of becoming actors and starting up our own studios and theatre company, Brick and Mortar. We wrote them all down on little cards and eventually spread them out on the floor. I remember us having the realization, wow, a large portion of these stories are about us being sexually harassed or assaulted.

One of the biggest driving factors behind opening our own spaces and starting Brick and Mortar was that we were tired of playing into the culture of abuse and misconduct in theatre. Both of us felt that quitting theatre was not an option so we were determined to find another way.

So why did I read these stories of women accusing a powerful man in theatre and automatically want to justify a working environment where anyone can treat me or touch me in a way I don’t want? Because somebody made me believe when I was very young that being agreeable to anyone in power was my job and that abuse is to be expected in this industry and that only the strong and quiet survive. They taught me that because someone taught THEM that. And even though I have now found ways to avoid most situations in theatre where I may become vulnerable, I have still kept the belief, all this time, some abuse was ok. My hope was that, through Brick and Mortar, more artists would be inspired to produce their own work in order to rise above the pain and the mental anguish that comes through the traditional channels of “making it.” I realize now that this is not good enough.

Today, I make a commitment based on the four brave women who came forward to take a stand against Albert Schultz that I will no longer accept what I have been taught nor will I condone it or allow it in any of our spaces.

We have begun developing a zero tolerance policy within our spaces and a support network where female identifying people can feel safe to report abuse. I will be approaching other spaces to join us. If you’d like to participate or hear more, there is a form at the bottom of this article.

Thank you to Diana Bentley, Patricia Fagan, Kristin Booth, and Hannah Miller. You have inspired me to change the story.


Vikki Velenosi is an actor, creator and producer. She is the co-founder of Brick and Mortar Theatre and Studios, a company dedicated to providing clean, affordable space to independent artists and producers.

GREY tells us we need to start looking at every angle of a story.

Richard Buttle has spent twelve years in prison for murder. Today is the day of his first parole hearing. While he desperately wants to be free he needs to convince the board in front of Charlie Alexander, the father of the boy he killed.
We are excited to keep the conversations going about the important topics in Grey at The One More Night Festival.

We asked playwright Chantal Forde a few questions about the production, which has been described as packing an “emotional wallop.” She told us to come for the drama – stay for the conversation.

Why do you think audiences want to see Grey?
We push boundaries. We say things that make people uncomfortable. So why would anyone want to see this? Because it addresses the complexity of human behaviour. Because we forget that people have a layered history and wealth of experiences that lead us to our decisions – the good and the bad. Because we, as generally good citizens, don’t like to admit that we too have prejudices and biases.

What will we see in your show that we haven’t seen before?
It’s not that you haven’t seen it, it’s that you’ve never seen it from so many angles. This is about perception, information and bias. How do you see the story?

Why Toronto, why this show, and why now?
This is a show that resonates on many levels and is particularly, and sadly, relevant with the current North American racial tension. While the show doesn’t deal with racial conflict head-on, it is often lingering in the background. This story asks the audience to examine their biases and how they came to be.

What would my 90 year old Grandma love about your show?
That it plays with your perceptions.

What would my 90 year old Grandma hate about your show?
That it plays with your perceptions.

What are critics saying about Grey?
“There’s not a weak link to be found among the superb five-actor cast though, with each actor creating a fully realized character that I could connect with.” – My Entertainment World
“True crime hits the stage in this provocative exploration of the space between right and wrong.” – Now Magazine

Twitter: @perceptionsplay
Facebook: @perceptionplay
Instagram: threefiveproductions

Grey plays Saturday October 21, at 7PM
The Commons Theatre
587a College St

Get your tickets HERE

Grey

“It absolutely blew me away… A [rating]” – My Entertainment World
“Top 5 Fringe Picks” – Bygone Theatre

After 12 years, Charlie must once again face the man who murdered his son at a parole hearing. Someone’s a bully. Someone’s a murderer. Someone’s a hero. Someone’s to blame.
Murder is black and white. Until it isn’t.

😮😓😍😳 #ARated #Drama #MoralAmbiguity #TopFringePick

Written by: Chantal Forde
Featuring: Andrea Carter, Asante Tracey, Kion Flatts, Mandy Roveda, Kenton Blythe.

Previously Performed: Toronto Fringe 2017
Get your tickets HERE

Fractals will leave you (and your grandma!) wishing you’d brought a friend.

Fractals follows a writer named Geraldine and her muse Phyllis, a cab driver. The show was well received in Toronto and Fundy Fringe Festivals, and we are excited to give audiences the opportunity to catch this critically acclaimed show once more in The One More Night Festival.

We had a few questions for Fractals’ creator Krista White (including: When does the album come out!!).

If your show was on Netflix, which category would it be in?
Gay & Lesbian / Independant/ Musical/ Drama/ Comedy/

That is a lot of categories! What will we see in your show that we haven’t seen before?
A dog who blows away in a hurricane who is NOT Toto!

What would my 90 year old Grandma love about your show?
Everything.

What would my 90 year old Grandma hate about your show?
That she didn’t bring her friends.

What would Donald Trump tweet about your show?
“She’s no miss universe but she’s bigly cute, and hugely funny, and I am so proud of how well I wrote that show. It was big of me, wasn’t it?”

Tell me three things I should know about the playwright. (Bonus points if it rhymes)
She sings like a bird,
She loves the written word,
Loves hockey, so I heard.

The main character of your play appears on Judge Judy. Who is suing who, and why?Geraldine sues Phyllis, a cabbie who shows up even when a taxi has not been requested. She drops the case though, because Phyllis offers free fares.

Come for the storytelling but stay for the music AND storytelling.

Instagram: _kristawhite
Twitter:@_kristawhite
Facebook: Facebook.com/Fractals.kristawhite

Fractals plays Saturday October 21 at 4pm
The Commons Theatre

587a College St
Get your tickets HERE

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⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Grid City Magazine
“Fan Favourite” – Fundy Fringe Festival
“Fringe 2016 Highlight” – Mooney on Theatre
“DO. NOT. MISS. THIS. SHOW… The woman beside me said, “she’s amazing!” about 12 times.” – Fundy Fringe Patron

Do you or I or anyone know what makes us who we are? In this captivating and hilarious one woman show, writer and nature enthusiast, Geraldine just might find the answers with the help of a cab driver named Phyllis.

🤣😲😊😍 #Comedy #HilariousStory #Music #Existential #CabDrivers #Storytelling

Written and Performed by: Krista White
Previously Performed: Toronto Fringe Festival, 2016; Fundy Fringe Festival, 2017

Get your tickets HERE

Two Time Just For Laughs Award Winner Al Lafrance brings us “I Think I’m Dead”

I Think I’m Dead is the story of one man’s struggles with insomnia and depression, and the odd life choices that can be caused by sleep deprivation and anxiety. The show hasn’t been seen in Toronto – yet – so we are very excited to showcase it at The One More Night Festival ! Creator Al Lafrance says that what tends to stands out the most for him is the audience response. We tethered him down for a brief moment to get a fast idea about what to expect at the show, besides the many laughs.

You’ve travelled all across the country with this show. What are reviews saying about you and I Think I’m Dead?
“Lafrance is sharp as a tack, funny as hell, and endearing as they come.” – The Vue
“so off-the-cuff and casual, you can’t help but be inspired” – Edmonton Journal
“well-told, relatable” – The Winnipeg Free Press

If your show was on Netflix, which category would it be in?
Dramedy

What would my 90 year old Grandma love about your show?
Its honesty and openness, my love of Billy Joel.

What would my 90 year old Grandma hate about your show?
The swearing.

If your show had a Tinder profile, what would you put on there to make me Swipe Right
A picture of me in a wrestling ring, I think.

What does your show give me that cat videos on Youtube can’t?
Existential dread?

What is the one thing you want audiences to be talking about as they leave the theatre?
Their own mental health.

How can we follow you on social media?
Facebook: “Thunder Blunder Theatre”
Twitter: @notsweirdal
Insta: @notsweirdal

We at Brick and Mortar cannot verify that you are not, not Weird Al. If you had to 
Come for the fight club references, stay for the horrifyingly poor life choices!

I Think I’m Dead plays Sunday, October 22, 9PM
The Commons Theatre
587a College St
Get tickets HERE

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ – CBC Manitoba
⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Vue Weekly
⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Winnipeg Free Press
“His sense of humour is probably unbeatable” – CBC Manitoba
“Sharp as a tack, funny as hell, endearing as they come” – Vue Weekly

What do you get when you cross a Just for Laughs Award Winner with sleep deprivation, insomnia and anxiety? One heck of a hilarious, caffein-obsessed, existential show.

🤣😝😍😎 #JustForLaughs #Comedy #TrueStory #Autobiographical #CaffeineObsession

Written and Performed by: Al Lafrance
Previously Performed: Montreal Improv, Edmonton Fringe 2017, Halifax Fringe 2017, Guelph Fringe 2017

Get tickets HERE

Circles “could be one of the best pieces of theatre to come out of Toronto this year…”

Circles might be based on The Inferno of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, but Dead and Lovely Collective promises us we will leave the theatre thinking: “I never thought a 14th century religious text could rock so hard!” We asked them a few questions about their upcoming production in the 5th Annual One More Night Festival.

Describe how audiences react to Circles, using Emojis only.
🍆 😱🙈🤢😎👺

If your show was on Netflix, which category would it be in?
Critically acclaimed independent features, Cult sci-fi & fantasy, Showbiz Dramas, Faith & Spirituality Movies

Who is this show for?
Anyone who loves music! It is a totally unique approach to music in theatre. It’s a mix between a rock concert and a play, with a bit of magic.
Ok… maybe not your 90 year old grandma. Its loud, and it’s dirty.

If I followed the main character of your show on Instagram, what would my feed be full of pictures of?
Broken glass, dive bar bathroom pics, out of focus concert pics (from fake concerts staged in their garage)

What are critics saying about Circles?
“To be clear here, Circles isn’t a jukebox musical; every one of the 22 live songs are original pieces by Lucas Penner, and musically they’re fantastic. The songs are catchy and unique, blending spoken word, jazz, punk and dark pop together to create a mosaic of styles that works really well with the anarchic feeling of an open mic evening.” – Vance Brews, Mooney on Theatre

This is a story of a band called Dante playing at what they think is a regular open mic, but turns out to be an infernal trap and night of horrors.
Come for the tunes, stay for the rest of eternity!

Circles plays Thursday, Oct 19 at 9pm
at The Commons Theatre
587a College St

Get your tickets HERE

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In this adaptation of Dante’s Inferno, a band called Dante plays what they think is an open mic. As this innocent performance turns into an infernal trap and a night of horrors, their friendships and musical careers are put to the test.
Post-punk, jazz, dark-pop, theatre. This production is redifining how music works in theatre with 20 original songs by coposer Luke Penner woven into a compelling and complex narrative.

😱😳😂😈 #Musical #LiveMusic #Thriller #AdultsOnly
Created and Performed by: The Dead and Lovely Collective

Previously Performed: The Cameron House, 2017

Get your tickets HERE

The 5th Annual One More Night Festival

The 5th The One More Night Festival​ presents one-night-only remounts of award-winning, live theatre productions.
With 10 in-demand shows over 5 days, this festival boasts: “Theatre you won’t even hate!”

Dates: October 18th – 22nd, 2017
Tickets: $20.00

Read our interviews with the shows chosen for the 5th annual One More Night Festival:
Two Time Just For Laughs Award Winner Al Lafrance brings us “I Think I’m Dead”
Circles “could be one of the best pieces of theatre to come out of Toronto this year…”
Mockingbird Close will leave you asking: “What Really Happened??”
Szeretlek is About Making Love, Not War!

Full line-up of shows and tickets: www.brickandmortartoronto.com/onemore.html
Email: OMNF@brickandmortartoronto.com

Keeping A Roof Over Our Heads

It’s 6:58 a.m. I wrench myself away from sleep to answer my phone.

“I need you here,” says Vikki, my best friend and business partner. “I can’t handle it alone.”

As seen in Intermission Magazine.

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Illustration by Emile Compion

 

I speed to our newest arts space and am greeted by a piercing fire alarm. Water is dripping from the ceiling into the board that controls the alarm, and it won’t shut off. The system is fried. In this moment, I learn that the word horror can be defined as learning that all three toilets in the bathroom above are clogged and overflowing.

Abandoning the alarm, I make my way to the stairs, and an unexpected smell hits me. Something more than just dirty bathrooms must lie ahead. Pot? Yep, that’s pot. Despite my growing trepidation, I realize the pounding sensation in my chest isn’t just coming from my racing heart. Drums are also thundering around me.

Wait…. why are there drums?

I reach the top of the stairs and in one sweep take in the full crisis. A commercial production company has rented our theatre today to film a project involving a fifteen-piece kettledrum band, and they arrived at 7:00 a.m. Surrounding the drummers are empty mickeys of vodka, rum, and gin, left behind from last night’s event. I have never seen bottles that big. The floor is covered in cigarette butts and loose tobacco that the production team has hastily swept to the edges of the room in their best effort to make the space usable for their shoot. Everything is sticky. Scattered drug baggies embellish the disarray. We worked hard to book this production company, and now we’re going to have to refund them a large rental fee.

In a fog, I make my way to the office where Vikki is holding our hostage: the young man who rented the theatre last night to host an “emerging artist showcase” event. A showcase for teen and preteen musicians, with no alcohol allowed, the contract had specified. In a final act of poor judgement, he had returned this morning to retrieve a sweater he’d left behind. Vikki dials the number for his parents as I hold up the condom I peeled off the bottom of my shoe.

I look him in the eyes.

“I’m just… disappointed,” I say.

I am a theatre artist. I started out trying to “make it” as an actor in the traditional sense. I would go to auditions, book commercials I was embarrassed to be seen in (a vegetarian selling KFC? come on…), and face the normal rejection over and over. Sick of constantly feeling unfulfilled, I decided to try to “make it” in a literal sense. As in, make my own art.

The first time I decided to self-produce, in all my naive glory, I called up Factory Theatre. “Hi, I’m a recent theatre school grad putting up a show. Do you offer discounts for young and emerging theatre companies?” The answer was no. I was outraged. Did they not know that I was an artist and I didn’t have money and my story was important?

After a hunt on SpaceFinder, I found a small indie theatre space called the Grocery, and I opened my production there. For the first time since graduating from theatre school, I felt really happy. I was creating something that I believed in, that I was proud of. Best of all, I had made it. Only a year after opening, however, the Grocery was forced to close, and I was faced with a stark reality: there was no where else for me to go. But I also saw this as an opportunity. If I was struggling to find space, there had to be other artists in the same situation. Instead of going back to auditioning, or searching for other theatres to rent, I began hunting for a commercial unit of my own that would allow me to continue making work while providing space for others. I found a beautiful little spot, just a block from the Grocery, and opened the Attic in October 2015.

Little did I know, Vikki had gone through an almost identical journey of her own and was already running a studio and theatre space: the Box.

Our meeting was serendipitous. Vikki rented the Attic from me to rehearse one of her productions because the Box was fully booked. She called me during her rehearsal, in the dead of winter, because the furnace had suddenly stopped working. I sprang into action, rushing over to play HVAC technician and customer service rep, apologizing profusely while replacing the parts I had Googled. She didn’t yell at me for ruining her rehearsal, and I didn’t leave her stranded in the cold, so it was basically love at first sight. We knew that as a pair we would be stronger, so we married our spaces to build Brick and Mortar, and opened a third space together.

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You’ll be surprised to know that as little girls, we didn’t dream of growing up to be furnace fixers, toilet uncloggers, locksmiths, and general contractors. Running an arts space is not glamorous. Some days, it feels like all we do is mop floors. What we love to do is tell stories, to be involved in bringing people together. Our spaces provide a place for people to deliberately exist in a moment that will never happen again. The Attic offered a way for me to produce my own work, but it quickly grew into something bigger: a vehicle to help artists share their stories with the world. When we achieve that, it makes it all worthwhile.

Toronto has watched many small spaces close over the past year. We said goodbye to the Grocery, Unit 102, the Fort, Videofag, Storefront Theatre, Fraser Studios, and the Fringe Studios, and we are now losing Storefront Studios.

One of our own spaces was forced to close last year, too. We had finally reached a point where we could hire some help for cleaning and maintenance, so were conducting interviews. The first candidate beat us to the theatre and was waiting in the lobby with the envelope they had found taped to the front door. I made small talk as I led them inside and opened the letter.

Evicted.

My heart hit my intestines and my face burned. Evicted. I tried to mask my inner panic.

Vikki arrived and called for help from the front door. I excused myself and peered out the window to my lovely partner who was single-handedly hauling up the couch she had found for free on the side of the street. “You may want to leave it outside,” I called down. She saw my face and just knew.

They evicted us to renovate. We were invited to return after the work was complete at triple the cost. Knowing we couldn’t ask our artists to absorb such an increase, we began hunting for a new space. Navigating commercial tenancy in this city is a story all to its own—rent is exorbitant, and it seems there is no shortage of creepy real estate agents who joke about slipping us roofies or ask to film us doing renovations in bikinis. Don’t get me started on the landlords.

After our eviction, we felt like we had failed. Failed our business, failed the community, failed each other. Through that failure, however, we learned how to write better contracts and how to protect ourselves, and we gained clearer insight into what artists really need. This knowledge fuelled our search for the perfect new location. We were incredibly fortunate to find an established arts space that was closing its doors: Opia Studios. We took over the location and reopened as the Commons Space in January 2017. It was bittersweet to add a space while losing another.

Our main competition is backyards, living rooms, parks, and condo lobbies. If artists are going to spend their money on an arts space, then it had better meet their every need. The list of expectations is great: a clean, private, beautiful space stocked with furniture and tech equipment, managed from a distance with respect for their artistic process. And we have to consider the demands of neighbours and landlords, along with managing the bills. The expectations are great, even though the budgets never are.

Our greatest strength? The artists. There is no shortage of creators who want to create. Every year, more and more artists take up the torch and start searching for a space where they too can “make it.”

I often think back to the time I tried to rent Factory Theatre. They did know I was an artist, and that I didn’t have any money, and that my story was important to me. Yes, they knew. But they also knew that their work is too important to put themselves at risk of closure. It wasn’t until I began running Brick and Mortar that I could see the bigger picture: artists need affordable arts spaces, but in order for those spaces to stay open and flourish, they have to earn enough to be sustainable.

The people who run arts spaces are fighting for you. We are you. So be kind. Be patient. Do not ask for free space. If you have no budget, offer something else: your time, your work, profit shares. Please be understanding when discounts aren’t possible. If you arrive to find the garbage overflowing, forgive whatever slob left it that way. If you want to go the extra mile you can even take it out! We apologize for the hot dog that someone left between the couch cushions, and for the bagel that was dropped in the greenroom. Know that we are on your side and we are just as disappointed as you are.

We are in this together.

And, please, don’t host secret illegal raves and call them all-ages emerging artists’ events.

We really don’t like that.