A State of Opportunity

An interview with Curtis te Brinke, a fourth-year Devised Theatre student who completed Playwriting last year. This interview was conducted by Alex Colle.

You love to write. How often do you write creatively, whether it is for something you’re working on or just a journal entry?
I would say daily. I think it’s weird for me if I go a few days without writing anything. It comes in different ways. It depends if I’m currently working on a project. What happens is that I’ll have something brewing away in my head and I’ll start writing for that. I know once I’ve done my first draft of that, I’ll leave it for some breathing room and then get back at it or write something else. So it’s a pretty constant endeavour.

Not too long ago, you and Luke Pieroni started up an independent production company, Epigraph Collective. How did that conversation go when you got the idea?
I don’t even know if you can call us a production company. I guess we are. We’re kind of turning into less of a theatre company and more of two artists doing stuff together, and whatever we do, we call it Epigraph. It basically started way back in first year. There were a few other artists I was interested in working with, and we had this talk that maybe in second year we would bring it together. Over the year I wrote this series of short plays that were around ten pages each, and we got back together with this idea of collectively creating the set of them. So we bumbled around and fussed around with that. Two of them got into Playground and we did a workshop of them. By the time Playground rolled along, we needed a performer for the piece I was performing in. I approached Luke because he was in my Devised theatre classes. I wanted a deviser and I wanted someone who was multi-faceted. Luke has proven himself to be one of the best artists in the program. I brought him on as the co-artistic director, and now we’re running this thing together. So it was a very gradual process.

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Curtis te Brinke (left) and Luke Pieroni (right).

How many of your plays have gone through Epigraph? Where have they been performed?
It’s hard to say because sometimes we do different incarnations of things. We did two Playground shows in second year, which were mine, and one of those shows turned into a play we performed this year, Strangeness and Breath. That’s a show we did three or four times in different incarnations. There was also Rope in second year and Kitchen Light last year, so that’s three. And then Tire Swing this year. So four of my shows have been through Epigraph. It’s a good way to get your own work done. That’s what I’ve done at least.

Handling school and an active production company must keep your hands full. How do you juggle the two while still keeping a balance?
The balance is a thing I’m still figuring out (literally right now as I force myself to make a meal and eat before I go to rehearsal). I don’t think I’m a great example of that. Balance has not always been my strong suit. I think a big part of it is prioritizing. Prioritizing things with a time frame in mind, knowing when you need to work a lot on one thing and let another thing simmer on its own. The nice thing right now is that our Fringe show… Luke is handling that right now. It’s knowing when you need to touch things and when you need to let them be for a while. And also knowing how to say ‘no.’ That’s been a big thing for me this year. Knowing when to say ‘no’ to people and to say ‘no’ to opportunities. There’s this big misconception in the AMPD program that getting as many things as you can is how you’re going to succeed, when actually I find it leads to not doing your best work because you’re doing so much. So prioritizing and saying ‘no’ to stuff. And also not being scared of saying ‘no’ to things, which is what a lot of us are scared of. I know I was for a long time.

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“Kitchen Light” at the 2015 Playground Festival.

First year can be an intimidating experience, especially in an arts faculty where above-and-beyond talent is surrounding you. How would you describe your first year at York?
It feels like a million years ago, now that you say that. I was very optimistic in mind. I was one of those people in the program who knew very quickly what he wanted out of it. I worked very hard. It is super, super intimidating, but what I learned from my first year is that it’s not exclusively about talent. For me, it was about the actual work itself. First year was kind of a blank slate that I tried desperately to fill, and I don’t think I needed to. I think I could have just let it be what it was before I did anything. I had time.

What advice do you have for first years in AMPD?
Don’t get stuck on anything. There’s really no point. And I don’t mean that in a guru, self-betterment way. There really is no point in getting stuck on one specific thing. Meet people. Actually meet people that are doing the thing that you want to do or are doing other things. Be open to the program, even though we’re weird. Just DO stuff. Everyone is scared of really sinking their teeth into the program and actually doing their thing. Do the thing you want to do while you’re here.

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A shot from “Strangeness and Breath.”

You’re in your final year of study. What are your plans for after university?
That’s a really big question. Basically what I’m doing now, but I’ll have a Joe job and a degree, and no classes hanging over my head. Right now the only thing I really have planned specifically is Epigraph having a year lineup. We’re doing the Toronto Fringe in a BYOV capacity (Bring Your Own Venue). And we’re teaming up with Aaron Jan for staging Tire Swing in October, along with a play by Aaron Jan and possibly another play in our own kind of November ticket idea where we have three different companies sharing the same space and producing shows together. So right now my focus once I graduate will be getting the most out of the Toronto Fringe with Joel Edmiston’s new play and getting Tire Swing on its feet for an audience for October and just keep doing the theatre artist thing, just getting contracts where I can, trying to get some shows in different places. Just keep living my life and making theatre. That’s really all I can conceive right now. I’ll be doing the thing I got my degree in.

Check out Epigraph Collective’s website at http://epigraphcollective.weebly.com, or follow them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/epigraphcollect.