Pi Theatre: Blending local and international artists in one production

February 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Richard Wolfe, artistic director of Pi Theatre. (Photo by Tim Carlson)

In a society where everyone is consumed by some kind of electronic device, sitting down in a theatre with a group of strangers to watch a play is the ultimate communal experience.

“It’s about the people your sitting beside, breathing the same air as the people on stage, sharing the same moments at the same time and influencing each other,” said Richard Wolfe, artistic director of Pi Theatre. “You can tell when someone is feeling tense about a moment, you can kinda sense it. I think the more digitized society becomes, the more important that kind of contact will be.”

Wolfe describes a recent bus ride, where practically everyone was looking down at their phone texting or listening to their iPod, not really paying attention to all of the people that surround them. He says people become engaged in these devices but that theatre is all about human interaction and communication.

Wolfe has always had a love for theatre and an interest in human communication. “Theatre is really all about human interaction, human challenges, aspirations and family. It’s a formalized portrayal of human life.”

Pi Theatre is an independent theatre company located in Vancouver. It produces local and international contemporary plays that are dynamic, exciting and provocative. Wolfe has been the artistic director of Pi Theatre for three years. Before that, he was the co-founder, director and co-artistic producer of Theatre Conspiracy for 12 years.

Theatre Conspiracy was similar to Pi Theatre in the way that they both look at international artists, as well as local. They did Canadian premieres of many major international plays, which include Wil Eno’s Thom Pain, Penhall’s Blue/Orange and Jez Butterworth’s Mojo. He chose to leave Theatre Conspiracy and become the artistic director of Pi Theatre because funding was more stable. At Theatre Conspiracy, they were paid project-to-project whereas at Pi Theatre, his job is salary-based.

Wolfe has received 30 nominations for Outstanding Artistic Achievement for his productions in Vancouver. He won two awards, for Outstanding Ensemble Cast, and has been nominated for Outstanding Director three times.

Wolfe got his MFA at UBC. He says his inspiration comes from his teachers, well-established artists, and from the people he works with. “Everybody that you come into contact with at different points in your life will have an impact on you in one way or another.”

He describes Vancouver’s theatre scene as healthy because there are a lot of creative artists here and schools that offer theatre programs. “People are being trained, and they’re being put into the community and all of that energy produces good things,” said Wolfe.

According to Wolfe, the biggest challenge facing independent theatre companies is funding.

“The provincial government isn’t pulling their weight but the current administrative of the city is very pro-arts and culture because they understand that the creative economy is essentially important in the larger economic picture,” he said. “But with the provincial government, after arts and culture played such a huge role in the Olympics, coincidently or not, right after the Olympics were over, they cut all the funding.”

He says his long-term goal for Pi Theatre is to increase the programming and keep it in a financially stable position. He also wants to continue building its profile as a playwright-centred theatre company that deals with the best contemporary playwrights.

To Wolfe, the most important thing in theatre is to “look at the world we live, in a very strong and individual way that speaks to the audience, whether they’re from here or not,” he said. “Certainly it’s important to develop local writers and to juxtapose those writers and the plays they write with international plays so that we can have a bigger picture of the world and of the art.”

To learn more about Pi Theatre, visit the website.