Ground Zero Theatre ain’t selling out

By Sarelle Azuelos

Ground Zero Theatre is hoping to teach their audience something with their latest production: success and selling out are not necessarily the same thing.

Speed the Plow, written by David Mamet, is the story of Bobby Gould (Trevor Leigh), a Hollywood producer conflicted between a money-making, action-packed, soul-destroying film and an artsy picture. Ryan Luhning plays Charlie Fox, the man with everything to lose. Charlie approaches Bobby with the latest, hottest actor who is an extremely successful action hero.

Plow pits the conflicted Bobby against Charlie, who only wants fame, and his secretary Karen. Karen, played by Julie Orton, backs futile fights for artistic integrity in an industry known for its lack thereof. Mamet enjoys pitting those with heart against those with power and the desire for financial gain, usually with a cynical outcome. Hollywood is all about success and selling out, but that doesn’t mean that Calgary’s theatre scene has to be the same.

“It’s funny with Charlie always wanting more — more money, more fame, more glory, the bigger house, the bigger this, the bigger that — where I’ve just always been very content in my life to have happiness,” says Luhning. “The first and foremost thing for me has always been happiness and just making sure I’m happy with the person I am and the people who I’m working with and things like that.”

Luhning, Ground Zero’s Artistic Director, chose to end the season off with Plow due to criticism the theatre received after mounting Evil Dead: The Musical, their last production.

“I think it’s relevant in our community and in the face of the public right now. There’s a lot of controversy between what is art and what people consider selling out,” says Luhning. “We knew there was going to be a lot of backlash from people thinking we’ve sold out in a way, that we weren’t sticking true to some of our harder edge roots in the past.”

Ground Zero opened in 1997 as a stepping stone for new actors hoping to fill the niche for more controversial, alternative theatre in Calgary. Evil Dead, which became infamous in Calgary for covering the first three rows in sticky, red blood, was such a success that its run was extended and it is now playing in Vancouver.

“We have a stigma in Canada that once you become successful, people think you’re selling out,” says Luhning.

Luhning argues that every theatre in Calgary seemingly sells out in its own way, whether it’s Calgary Theatre putting on A Christmas Carol or Alberta Theatre Projects presenting Ronnie Burkett’s Theatre of Marionettes. Theatres need to attract audiences to stay alive, and sometimes commercial art is the only way.

“I mean we can do this play for my parents, Trevor’s parents and three of our Boho friends every night, but still at the end of the day, you’ve got to put butts in seats,” he says. “It’s never selling out, it’s just success.”

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