A few days into the run of Catalyst Theatre’s The Soul Collector, I moderated an informal panel discussion in the lobby of the Arts Barns. Jonathan Christenson, the writer, director and musical composer of the show, and Beth Graham, writer and performer, were on the panel.
The topic was making art in Edmonton. What Jonathan and Beth discussed could have applied to almost any endeavour. If you’re making something in Edmonton, you’ll recognize it.
Jonathan said audiences in Edmonton are most moved by work that springs from this place. Catalyst uses the phrase 100% Edmonton-made rather often. But only a fraction of their audience is here. Catalyst productions, collaborations between Jonathan and designer Bretta Gerecke, have travelled the world: they’re just as famous in the U.K., Australia, and the United States as they are here. Their lush, dreamy, and unforgettable productions have filled 1,800-seat theatres far from Edmonton.
Beth doesn’t write or perform with Edmontonians in mind, but she did say audiences here are different. It’s a great place to build and launch a show.
You can make it here, and you can find a willing audience in those early days. This is Edmonton’s strength: make it here and gather the help, your collaborators and an audience. And then, of course, whether you’re making theatre or novels or software or steel, you have to move on to bigger markets. There are only a million people around here.
Here’s the problem: Jonathan said, when he travels across Canada with his shows, people ask two questions.
- You live in Edmonton? Why?
- You made this in Edmonton? Really?
This is why we’re working on the city’s image and reputation. We’re answering number one with work like The Soul Collector. If you have the courage to make something, like Jonathan and Beth, this is your city. Edmontonians have to understand this, first, so they improve at answering the first question.
Number two is trickier. We want these people to come here, to visit, and we want them to take a chance on a Made in Edmonton show, or book, or valve. We want them to think something else when they close their eyes and hear the name of the city.
The Soul Collector is set in a dreamy place called Cold Comfort, an ur-Edmonton of myths and longing. They make beautiful things in Cold Comfort, and hope.