Want to read plays together? Start a book club!
A Q&A with The ArtFolk Collective on what it’s like to run PlayTalks
Since theatre is typically meant to be enjoyed collectively, it’s understandable that for some, reading a play might feel too solitary of an activity. So why not read plays with friends? Especially since the pandemic began and theatres shuttered, theatre-lovers have found creative ways to enjoy their favourite art together. One way to do so is to start or join a play-reading book club, such as The ArtFolk Collective’s PlayTalks series, which meets monthly on Instagram Live.
We spoke to The ArtFolk Collective’s Alicia Barban and Aisha Jarvis about what it’s been like to run their play-reading book club—for which they’ve read This Is How We Got Here by Keith Barker, Halfway There by Norm Foster, and BANG BANG by Kat Sandler to name a few—and why it’s been so special to read plays!
What made you want to start a play reading book club?
Alicia Barban: Since live theatre was at a standstill at the beginning of 2021, we both wanted to continue to engage with theatre creators and support Canadian theatre artists. This was a perfect way to consume plays, while remaining safe and isolated.
Aisha Jarvis: Alicia approached me with the idea, and it was serendipitous because I had been thinking about wanting to read more to expand my knowledge of plays and playwrights as it is helpful in the industry and can teach you so much about this life and world. Also, wanting to support Canadian theatre and creators and engage, especially in this time! Alicia and I always have great discussions and I jumped at the opportunity to pick her brain and learn together!
How did you decide on the format of doing it over Instagram Live?
AB: In looking for a way to engage our community safely, Instagram Live has been an accessible way for us to chat, have guests, and allow people to watch both live and after the fact, whenever they are able to read our play picks.
AJ: Speaking from the experience of it so far, I can say it’s been an awesome way to connect with a wider range of people and a place to keep the talks for future viewing as well. The live aspect is also great because we can have authentic, natural, easy discussion that feels like what we may do after going to see a play together and it’s so exciting and fun for us to explore what happens in the moment and hear what each other has to share!
How do you decide what books you want to read?
AB: We have been able to choose pieces that align with social issues, like reading Gas Girls during Black History Month, or Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom for Pride, but we have really been using the helpful tags on the Playwrights Canada website, discovering diverse playwrights, award-winning pieces, or new releases.
AJ: We try to focus on important discussions we want to have about the current world and use that to inspire what direction we want to go with our plays. We want to learn and grow and help others do the same through these discussions while also making sure we choose a wide range of different styles, playwrights, content, themes, etc.
What is the importance of reading plays? What do you get out of it?
AB: Truly, this is the perfect way to support theatre makers in this time, when production is very difficult and limited. Reading these plays, and chatting about them each month, we can examine the ways that culture and arts are influenced by our times, and it allows us to reflect on what specifically defines Canadian theatre.
AJ: I think it gives you a glimpse into the variations in human existence and what makes us different can also bring us together. We get to learn about so many different parts of humanity and there is so much beauty in that and I believe reminds us that we are not alone. There’s much more to connect us through our emotions and heart than we realize and reading these plays gives us a chance to really explore and appreciate that while learning so many wonderful things about what shapes our existence and can better our world.
Why should people join you for PlayTalks?
AB: Reading can sometimes be hard to keep up with, so I know for me, having this book club has held me accountable and exposed me to a ton of exciting new playwrights. This is a great way for other arts workers to keep training, learning, thinking. But PlayTalks isn’t just for theatre makers—it’s for arts appreciators of all kinds, and hopefully encourages you to read more plays!
AJ: It’s such a fun, no-stress space to explore some pieces of art, share thoughts, learn from the work and from each other. It also feels awesome to see how much reading and learning you can achieve each month with a new play! I hope more people want to get reading with us! We would love to have you and interact with you in our live chats!
What has been your favourite read so far, and why?
AB: I personally loved Botticelli in the Fire & Sunday in Sodom by Jordan Tannahill, it was both a hilarious and moving piece. Though I’m really loving our August pick, WROL (Without Rule of Law).
AJ: So far, my favourite might be Bears by Matthew MacKenzie. It really moved me to appreciate everything around us and created such beautiful imagery.
Want to join The ArtFolk Collective’s PlayTalks? Follow them on Instagram for updates and exclusive discount codes!
Their September read, with a meeting to take place at the end of the month, is Theory by Norman Yeung.
Do you have your own play-reading book club? Share your reads with us at @playcanpress!