New podcast series chronicles 50-year history of Vancouver's Arts Club Theatre

·2 min read
An archival photo shows a lineup of patrons outside the Vancouver Arts Club's Seymour Street theatre in 1978. (Submitted by Vancouver Arts Club - image credit)
An archival photo shows a lineup of patrons outside the Vancouver Arts Club's Seymour Street theatre in 1978. (Submitted by Vancouver Arts Club - image credit)

A new podcast tells the history of one of the largest urban theatre companies in Canada from its humble beginnings in a Vancouver attic over half a century ago to present day.

The five-part series This Is Something Else was commissioned by the Arts Club Theatre to explore the cultural events that had a hand in shaping Vancouver's professional theatre world.

"It started in an attic. It was really grassroots," podcast producer and host Andrew Kushnir told CBC's The Early Edition. "And now just before this pandemic started, it was, you know, a $16-million operation. So it's like an incredible arc of change and growing pains along the way."

Kushnir, a playwright, produced the series from over 72 hours of interviews with 43 artists, historians, administrators and patrons.

Playwright Andrew Kushnir conducted 72 hours of interviews to chronicle the 50-year history of the Vancouver Arts Club.
Playwright Andrew Kushnir conducted 72 hours of interviews to chronicle the 50-year history of the Vancouver Arts Club.(Hamish Birt)

The first episode begins in the late 1960s when what Kushnir describes as a "cultural faceoff" was taking place inside the brand new Queen Elizabeth Theatre complex in downtown Vancouver.

Patrons often wore their Sunday best to attend productions at the multimillion-dollar civic auditorium. The podcast explores how anti-establishment artists "shifted the space" until "patrons stormed out and hippies filled their seats with their kids."

"I think culturally we think of theater as, it's a bit of an underdog," Kushnir explained. "And yet in the 60s, theater artists are these massive cultural forces. They're shifting attitudes. They're shifting tastes. They're creating spaces where there were none."

According to its description, the podcast takes a different approach to history, focusing less on dates and events and more on the relationships between people, places and ideas.

"I think the listener, when they engage with this podcast, it's quirky," said Kushnir. "The way I'm proceeding is really through my heart as an artist, trying to make sense of the past and figure out how it speaks with the present."

Making sense of the present by learning lessons from history is all the more important to him given the dire situation the theatre industry finds itself in. Over a year into the pandemic, venues are shuttered and performances cancelled.

Kushnir hopes the tales of the counterculture theatre movement will inspire present-day theatre artists to revive the industry when the time comes.

"I really hope that this podcast and comparable work instills a sense of optimism for us, that even when things are really rough and there isn't a lot of hope maybe that we are capable as artists of transforming the moment we will have a recovery."

The second episode in the series is available Wednesday on multiple podcast-streaming platforms.