Michael Green, co-founder and co-artistic director of One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
“I had my usual, which was fruit and yogurt.”
Where was your first date?
“It was the Old Spaghetti Factory when it used to be on Ninth Ave.”
If you were resurrected as an animal, what animal would you like to be?
“You know what, I’m in love with the gigantic jackrabbits that are all over south Calgary right now.”
I didn’t get involved with the arts until I got to Calgary. I decided in Grade 11 that I would take some drama classes, which I hadn’t ever done.
When we formed Ikarus Theatre, we were the first experimental theatre troupe in Calgary. I don’t think we were the first experimental theatre artists in the city, because I seem to recall seeing some pretty crazy things, but they weren’t a troupe, they would come and go. I was just lucky enough to catch some of it. We got serious, as serious as 18- or 19-year-olds can be, and we thought: “We’re going to change this city or get arrested trying.”
There was one other player on the scene in those days and that was Loose Moose in its early days. So, Ikarus Theatre was sort of the contemporary of the very early Loose Moose company. They were doing very sophisticated improv that made an impact around the globe.
The scene was bleak, it was very bleak, but it was also quaint. I can remember a shift happening about the same time that certain hormones were kicking in and I was basically becoming the guy I grew into. I remember thinking that Calgary was not so big that I couldn’t have some impact here, that maybe it was possible to see the result of a concerted effort in a place like Calgary — if we worked hard enough and had a vision and were determined, then maybe we would be allowed to have a positive impact on Calgary’s evolution as a city. There was about 600,000 people here then. I just felt embraced by this place when I moved here.
The city used to own a lot of old wooden houses down around where the science centre is now and they used to rent them out. They started closing all those houses and forcing people to move out, but for a while there, in like 1979 to 1983, there were dozens of houses that, even in the winter, had heat, electricity and plumbing. We found one of these and we snuck in — we still had the key that worked from the last tenant — and we just gutted the place and turned it into a secret squat theatre. That’s what we were doing about the time that Blake Brooker and I founded One Yellow Rabbit.
I really like the feel that the city is maturing. It would be nice to say ‘Well, I wish we were more enlightened in terms of transit and urban sprawl, but as a Calgarian, I don’t really lack for things to do or places to shop or interesting restaurants or anything like that. It’s certainly full of interesting people. I live downtown and I just walk everywhere. Calgary’s a really walkable city.
Funding is certainly a concern for the theatre community. It’s a real concern that we might lose some of the really good progress we’ve made recently. The Klein years were a terrible time. Everything got slashed. It was just vandalism, really. We keep waiting for the arts funding to come back and I don’t know if it ever will to the degree that we saw with former premier Peter Lougheed, but there’s always hope.
I think that a lot of what provincial Culture Minister Lindsey Blackett is doing is right. I’m sorry that he and the television industry are at such loggerheads. I wish that wasn’t the case. However, I do know that he’s very supportive of a lot of different things that happen in the theatre community. After not having anybody who seemed the least bit interested in the arts for decades, to have somebody who really sees himself, and quite rightly I believe, to be part of the scene, as opposed to above it, or on the other side of a desk from it, is quite refreshing.
At last year’s High Performance Rodeo, it was great working with the city, I hope we do more of it in the future. We’re hoping to be able to do Snowblower (a large dance party in Olympic Plaza) again, but it really does depend on the community coming together and helping us resource an event. We don’t have the money to do that kind of thing. We have the vision, we have the connections and we have the know-how, but we don’t have the money.
The city arts department does appear to be invigorated. I can’t remember a time when the city has ever been this interested in facilitating and encouraging arts and entertainment. It’s great.
I think one of the things that’s happening is that, as we mature as a city, we learn that we’re not satisfied with only a balanced bottom line. Let’s face it, we could have a very austere lifestyle as a city and still not be able to balance our bottom line. We know that’s a fact, so why don’t we do something about quality of life and, in the meantime, we can still worry about the bottom line and make sure that we end up in the black.
I know we can do that and the city seems to have a clearer understanding of that too. Everything from Snowblower to beautiful bridges that are going to grace our river valley for the foreseeable future — something that we can enjoy generation after generation — that’s what makes a city. Nobody wants to live in a city where there’s only a guarantee that city council will look good at the end of a fiscal year because they didn’t go over budget.
I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen with the East Village development and St. Patrick’s Island. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen with the West Village now that that’s on the radar. And I think, notwithstanding the troubled economic times, that the young people of Calgary are in for a real treat in the next 10 years.
I’m not sure about cheap creative spaces in these areas, but I hope so. That’s always been a problem; it’s a problem everywhere. I don’t know of any city that is a vital, growing city that doesn’t have that shortage of affordable space. Toronto’s even worse.
I was just in Toronto and there was the Luminato Festival, there was the jazz festival; there was NXNE; Iggy Pop was playing live, for free, on Dundas Square; there was the Much Music awards; and they had Queen Street blocked off and innumerable little community fairs and festivals. Torontonians really enjoy Toronto. Even though I hope Calgary never turns into Toronto because we’ve got our own vibe and it’s beautiful, I hope that we, as a city, can look forward to enjoying our city even more as we settle into it.
As told to Drew Anderson