Unscripted. Unstaged. Sean Devine.

Unscripted. Unstaged. is an interview series from Laura Murray Public Relations that speaks with fascinating artists, advocates, administrators, and other individuals who keep the Canadian artistic community visible, viable, and vibrant.
This week we spoke with Sean Devine, playwright, actor, producer, and co-artistic director of Horseshoes & Hand Grenades Theatre. His play ‘Re:Union’ was produced in partnership with Pacific Theatre last Fall (reviewed by LMPR here), and will be published in the Spring of 2013. Sean wears a number of impressive hats, including Playwright-in-Residence with Pi Theatre, Festival Producer of Vancouver Celebrates Diwali, and Festival Manager of the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration.

Q: If we were introduced at a party – what are the three things you would be excited to share about yourself?


1)  That if you give me three years to pull it off, I believe I can do anything. I really believe that. It doesn’t always come true, but the belief allows me to think big, proceed optimistically, and excite others. Without getting into it too much (although there are hints below), I’m lining up the pieces to get a play of mine done in New York City. Will it happen? Who knows. But I’m going to try. I’m a total fanatic when it comes to long-term planning. I might not be able to keep the floor of my car clean, but man, can I plan.


2)  That I think being a theatre producer is the coolest job in the world, especially when I’m also involved creatively. I love developing collaborative partnerships; I love getting the grant letter that says “yes”; I love figuring out a solution to when the grant letter says “no”;  I love the threshold from onstage to backstage; I love the sense of togetherness; I love that no matter what, we always make it to Opening Night (knock on wood); I love pretending that I’m Leo Bloom and singing “I want to be a producerrrr!”


3) That my play Re:Union is set to be published (in Spring 2013) by Scirocco Drama. I’ve never been published. My parents will flip. And also that Re:Union is set to be produced in Seattle by New Century Theatre Company in Spring 2014. I know that’s a total self-plug, but I’m proud to have got there.



Q: If we checked your nightstand, what books would we find you reading right now?


Almost all of my reading is non-fiction, and the vast majority of that is directly  or indirectly related to projects I’m developing. Right now I’ve got three issues of Foreign Affairs, which is a great monthly journal for poli-sci / foreign policy / economics junkies. They did a feature issue several months back that was titled “Is America Over?”, charting the end of the American Empire. Another book on my nightstand is “Who Owns the Arctic?” by UBC Research Chair Michael Byers. It’s a detailed study on the political and environmental ramifications of the opening up of the Arctic Ocean (which means the opening up of shipping lanes and unprecedented access to resources). I’m reading this as background research for my new play Except in the Unlikely Event of War. And finally there’s “Nobody’s Perfect: Bill Bernbach and the Golden Age of Advertising”, which is a history of the Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency (now known as DDB), as background reading for another play called Daisy, which DDB itself might be interested in sponsoring.


Q: If we checked your computer, what favourite sites would be bookmarked?


There’s really too many. I tend to do a lot of internet research for my various writing projects. So you’d find quite the diverse array of sites. But when I’m not researching, the sites I go to most often are the sports sections of The Province and The Vancouver Sun to read up about the Canucks. Also, I’m a junkie for Google Street View. I’m still amazed at that application.


Q: How did you come to do what you do – was there a defining moment you can tell us about?


Well, it all started…It’s funny, I’d bet that for so many of us one of the reasons we’re in this business is because we spent so much time doing it in our career-formative years (i.e. our 20s) that by the time we realized it may not have been the smartest idea long-term, we’d made ourselves unemployable in almost any other field that doesn’t involve handing out appetizers or wielding a paint brush. But thank God it’s a profession that provides so much joy, community and soulful satisfaction, cause the pension plan sure ain’t great!


I remember an acting teacher in first year theatre school (1989) saying that if we were still involved in theatre ten years after graduating (which for me was 2002) then we’d be in it for life. Well, in 2002 I was living in New York with my wife Alexa, and we hatched up a plan to move to Vancouver and start over. We came here in 2003, and in every way imaginable it’s been the most creative and satisfying years of my life.


Q: When it comes to marketing, is there a particular campaign or a poster, advertisement, or promotion that made a significant impact or that stands out in your mind?


I remember an actor / director (Henry Woolf) telling me that “the show begins the moment the audience enters the theatre”. And I got to thinking that perhaps it should start as soon as the audience exits their car at the theatre, or as soon as they purchase a ticket! Social media makes it so easy for us to “start the show” earlier than is the tradition. Theatre Melee did a cool thing with their show Cozy Catastrophe where they filmed horror-style zombie scenes and uploaded them on YouTube months before the show. That got me to see their production. I remember a TV advertising campaign many, many years back for a new series (it may have been the original “V” show), which featured numerous cryptic short ads of various people just saying “It’s coming.” and then showing the release-date. No other context whatsoever! Those held my attention.


When it comes to marketing materials (i.e. posters), it’s more of a struggle. It’s hard to be innovative with just a two-dimensional image, especially when it’s competing with so many others. Horseshoes & Hand Grenades often struggles with what’s the most effective type of image: do you go for the beautiful, the shocking, or the simple. After six productions, our most effective poster may have been the one we did for 4.48 Psychosis. That poster was simply a little bit of black text on a white background. No image whatsoever. The posters stood out.



Q: Lastly, what inspires you?


Lately, it’s been community-based social activism, of the mass-movement anti-government kind. Should I say anti-regime? Are we up against a regime? It feels like a regime. We all know that we’ve reached a point of critical mass, and that a people’s revolution is the only way to fight it. For a while I worried that our Western ways had us too comfortable in our relative luxuries to rise up, or that the regime had too many oppressive tools at its disposal, or both. But change does seem to be growing. It’s not anything that I think will see an ideological / societal reversal in my lifetime. In fact, I think it’s going to get considerably worse before it’s going to get better. But as a father of two kids, it’s comforting to see that our descendants aren’t likely to be the greedy, self-serving consumer-capitalists that our own parents spawned.


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