Behind the curtains
by Jane Ledwell
From a seat in the audience, the summer performance season seems to wind down in September, as curtains close on theatre productions and concerts. But behind the curtains, for programmers in venues across the Island, the season is just heating up. This year, Charlottetown and PEI are the venue for Contact East, the Atlantic Presenters Association’s annual event to showcase “the very best of North American talent, in music, theatre, and dance” for local, regional, national and international presenters.
“Contact East is an opportunity to have conversations with colleagues from all over the world, and that’s the value of the event for me,” says Darcy Campbell, the President of the Atlantic Presenters Association and programmer for the Confederation Centre of the Arts, one of the largest venues in the region.
“Contact East offers professional development, a chance to learn about trends and problem-solving, and what issues are popping up across the country. And the event is showcasing 35+ artists.” As a programmer for a multi-disciplinary venue, Darcy says, “We’re looking a lot for up-and-coming artists, and for dance shows and theatre pieces you really need to see live to see what they’re trying to do.”
As useful as the packed formal program is, Darcy says, “The best conversations are at the bar after the event. It’s the situational stuff: you’ve had this situation, and how did you handle it?” For example, “Hospitality riders for artists: A lot contain alcohol. What do other venues do? Do they supply it or not? … What about babes in arms in the audience? What are other venues doing? Whatever the problem is, other people have probably dealt with it. You need to avoid the shocks and surprises, even to plan for scenarios that may never happen.”
Darcy smiles, “You’re seeing behind the curtain a bit, here.”
He says that Contact East brings home that “We’re blessed to have so many artists around us here … My job,” Darcy says, “is to make sure the best gets in the door.”
Darcy notes, “The Confederation Centre has a national mandate. We have to present more than just what sells or what is popular, but what we should be presenting,” Darcy says, “This is my 18th summer with Confederation Centre. I started as an usher, and I’ve worked or touched on I think every department in the building.”
His current job was one he could imagine as an ideal career, and his excitement when he first gained the job got him quickly, deeply involved with Atlantic Presenters. “I don’t know if it was my naïve innocence or lack of understanding,” he smiles, “but the APA thought, ‘We need to capture some of that enthusiasm he has,’ and I quickly got engulfed onto the board.”
Now, as president of the APA, he’s not complaining. “I don’t know if there’s another organization in the country I have more respect for. Atlantic Presenters Association is a trend leader across the country.”
Bringing Contact East home to Confederation Centre, to Charlottetown, and to PEI brings it all together for Darcy. “My personal opinion is we live in the most beautiful Atlantic Canadian province.” What makes Charlottetown different as a host is that “We really try to touch as much of PEI as possible. There are seven different locations in the Charlottetown area and across PEI. We’re proud of every one of them and sharing what’s going on pan-PEI.”
Darcy says, “We get to show that the money might not be the best in PEI, but there’s a lot we can offer as well, whether you get a day at the beach, or you get to go for a really great hike, or you get to have a lobster dinner.”
Darcy says, “We really invite everyone from far and wide from PEI to welcome people wearing [Contact East] badges.” He also says general public attendance at showcases is crucial: “The general public is there for enjoyment. Presenters are there working.” Audience engagement with a performance matters, and the general public can give presenters feedback on what they want to see.Darcy says, “I’m looking forward to Contact East starting, and the start of the contact season.” As one curtain closes, another opens.