10 Questions for Arkady Spivak

Arkady Spivak is a classic Canadian success story.  Founder and Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre (TIFT), Spivak earned a BA in Theatre and Business from York University in 2000, immediately joining Barrie’s Gryphon Theatre as a summer student.  While working at the Gryphon full time, Arkady started TIFT, an artist-driven, award winning theatre company based in Barrie that has produced fifty productions concentrating largely on new and neglected work.

Some of TIFT’s productions include The Inspector General (at Barrie City Hall), The Marriage, The Tale of Ivan vs. Ivan all by Nikolai Gogol; Accidental Death of An Anarchist by Dario Fo, Canadian musicals Harvest Moon Rising, Colette: The Colours of Love, Emily (two productions), Variations on a Nervous Breakdown (World Premiere), Playground (World Premiere), Napoleon (In Concert) among others; productions of Canadian plays This Is a Play, Tales of an Urban Indian (held on a moving city bus for a total of 70 performances).  Other notable productions include the highly acclaimed Canadian premiere of Anyone Can Whistle (In Concert) by Arthur Laurents & Stephen Sondheim; the North American Premiere of Trees Die Standing Tall written by Argentinian playwright Alejandro Casona in 1949; first Canadian regional production of the musical Kiss of the Spider Woman; and productions by local writers of world premieres – Chaplin: About Face, Laughton Common and Redemption.

Among the artists who have worked with TIFT are Graham Abbey, Maja Ardal, Leslie Arden, Jim Betts, Adam Brazier, Evan Buliung, Juan Chioran, Darrell Dennis, Wayne Gwillim, Kate Hennig, Jeffrey Huard, Aleksandar Lukac, Joey Miller, Jonathan Monro, Mike Nadajewski, Richard Ouzounian, Jennifer Phipps, Glynis Ranney, Jennifer Stewart, Sam Strasfeld, Blythe Wilson and many others.

Assassins banner

Last year: Assassins

In 2010, TIFT and Birdland Theatre co-produced Assassins in Toronto. This critically acclaimed production sold out its entire run and won the Dora Award for Best Musical. It was remounted this past January with five new cast members and once again, it sold out for 6 weeks, including two extensions.

TIFT also toured its productions to Serbia, England and Russia with recent production of The Tale of Ivan vs. Ivan, and in 2008 the annual International Bulgakov Festival of Creativity in Kiev, Ukraine with excerpts from the 2005 production of Moliere or League of Hypocrites. The Canadian musical Emily, twice produced by TIFT, was a selection finalist at the prestigious Festival of New Musicals of the National Alliance of Musical Theater (NAMT) in New York in 2010. Previous to that Emily was showcased as part of the Songwriters Showcase at the same festival in 2007.

Talk Is Free Theatre recently produced a fundraising benefit of The Producers (In Concert) in support of the Actors Fund of Canada. The performance starred major theatre critics, personalities and members of various arts service and funding organizations, raising $36,000.

While managing a very dynamic and rapidly growing arts organization, Spivak continues to be active in the community as a Member of the Kiwanis Club of Barrie, as a Juror for the Theatre Projects Program of the Ontario Arts Council, as an adjudicator for Sears Drama Festival as well as contributing monthly columns on arts topics in The Barrie Examiner.  Spivak is the recipient of an inaugural Barrie Arts Award for Excellence in the Arts.

This past week Arkady Spivak announced TIFT’s 2012-2013 season.  I ask Spivak ten questions: five about himself and five about Talk Is Free Theatre.

1) Which of your parents do you resemble (what’s your nationality / ethnic background)?

Arkady Spivak

Arkady Spivak, Founder and Artistic Producer of Talk is Free Theatre (TIFT).

I believe I resemble my father who passed away when I was almost 6 years old. I don’t remember him very well, but people tell me I do. Other than that, I am a Russian Jew, though in a way that term is an oxymoron.

2) what is the BEST thing / worst thing about being artistic director of a theatre company?

In order to do the job properly, it has to be more than a job. It’s a lifestyle, it’s a set of philosophical believes, it’s a cult. I think the trickiest thing is to achieve a balance in your life. I mean you don’t want to be in a position that when you retire, you have nothing.

3) who do you listen to or watch?

Never turn on my television other than an occasional newscast. Love listening to obscure Broadway musicals. I am really, really boring in this regard.

4) what ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?

Admire ballet dancers a lot. Being able to express one’s self non-verbally is the greatest gift, I think. There’s also something tragic having such a brief career after such demanding training.

5) When you’re just relaxing (and not working) what is your favorite thing to do?

Travelling. Love flying around.

Five more about being Artistic Director of TIFT.

1) How does leading TIFT & programming plays challenge you?

I think that the programming of plays is not all that challenging for me personally. I have the luxury of “going on the gut”, rather than satisfying a set of purely commercial obligations, such as the necessity of selling a certain number of tickets to meet the budget, etc. Our revenue generation is highly diversified, which means that I am lucky to be able to take risk, a feeling so important in order to remain visionary and entrepreneurial. The challenge for me is not so much being creative as it is to make things happen practically. I have been very lucky to attract artists who are deeply invested and interested in the work they’re doing, again because of the prevalent ability of the company to take risks. They make me look like a hero, although it’s ultimately not me going to the battle, it’s the artists. And there’s so much talent.

2) what do you love about TIFT, and the plays you’re presenting next season?

Because of our track record, we have the expectation upon us to come up with fresh ideas and visions. To be honest, to achieve anything new in theatre is impossible. Since Aristotle we have seen everything at least once before. I think that success is a certain collective ability to cheat an audience that they’re watching something new. They’re not.

I am looking forward to our cross gendered version of Guys and Dolls – this tactic is known to theatre, but not to musical theatre; simply because the form has a certain degree of mechanical requirements, which are hard to avoid.  I am also very interested in experimenting with creating a new musical using largely improvisational techniques. It’s not enough to look for new works, but it’s equally important to look for new processes, new creation models at the same time.

3) Do you have something you’re especially looking forward to, or a favorite play in the upcoming season?

I think pretty much everything in the new season is something I have been after for quite a while. Nothing is incidental. Everything has been brewing in my brain for years. But in the end the availability of artists for whom these works are the right challenge is what is most important.

4) How do you relate to the Ontario Theatrical Community as a modern man?

I am for total lack of restraint, I guess. Ontarian theatre audiences are not stupid, they will tell you if you’re holding anything back.

5) Is there anyone out there who you particularly admire, and who has influenced you?

Tom Rooney

Tom Rooney

Everyone I collaborate with. I have no business associating with artists whom I don’t at least admire if not love. But if I am threatened with execution, I’d have to say that I am totally fascinated with Tom Rooney these days. A textbook example of a true artist and a brilliant man. He’s totally immediate, yet completely unattainable. In other words, a genius and a huge element of national pride. A unit of measure for what’s good in theatre.

Next up? Spivak &  TIFT close out their current season with Parkdale Peter Pan:  an adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s seminal work, which begins in modern day Canada, journeys to the timelessness of the Never Land and back again.….May 31-June 16.

And next season?

  • A cross gendered version of Guys and Dolls
  • Axis Theatre Company’s The Number 14.
  • Possible Worlds by John Mighton
  • A world premiere musical Dead Souls, adapted from the epic satirical novel by Nikolai Gogol

For more information, go to Talk is Free Theatre’s website.

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