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The Arts

Local theatre creator thrives on collaboration, balancing ambition and art

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/4/2015 (721 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Andraea Sartison's career is taking off in all directions -- up, down and around.

The Winnipeg independent theatre creator was an assistant director of a recent Calgary production called The Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst, about a man who was leading a solo around-the world-sailing competition in 1969 when he disappeared.

Claire Thérèse Friesen and Andraea Sartison

HUGH CONACHER PHOTO

Claire Thérèse Friesen and Andraea Sartison

Andraea Sartison (from left) the director and co-writer of I Dream of Diesel, with Claire Therese Friesen and Gwendolyn Collins, who are in the play.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Andraea Sartison (from left) the director and co-writer of I Dream of Diesel, with Claire Therese Friesen and Gwendolyn Collins, who are in the play. Purchase Photo Print

The 27-year-old is also helping Rick Miller (of MacHomer fame) helm a re-imagining of the Jules Verne classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea for the Pan Am Games this summer in Toronto.

Her company, One Trunk Theatre, is partnering with Shakespeare in the Ruins on a graphic novel/theatre piece about the colonization of Mars.

But first, Sartison is putting the pedal to the metal to ready the première of I Dream of Diesel, which follows a diner waitress who marries a long-distance trucker and finds herself stuck on her in-laws' run-down farm.

Its characters and themes are based on Winnipeg singer-songwriter Scott Nolan's lyrics, which were the inspiration for a multimedia story penned by Sartison and co-writers Gwendolyn Collins and Claire Thérèse.

The production, which begins Wednesday, closes Theatre Projects Manitoba's 25th season.

In 2013, Sartison had been searching for a folk musician to partner with, and so she phoned up Nolan out of the blue.

She was barely into her pitch when Nolan said he wanted in. The fact that he didn't know her and that she didn't have any money played a part in his decision.

"I love that she cold-called me," says Nolan, 40, during a recent interview. "I love there was nothing formal to the process. I'm just like her that way. I knew it would be fine."

'Never afraid to say yes'

The Calgary-born Sartison came to Winnipeg five years ago for love and ignited a passionate affair with theatre. Back then, she harboured a creative impulse, but didn't see herself as a career artist -- not smart enough, not cool enough -- and expected to find her first job here in a coffee shop. Instead, she landed an intern position at the West End Cultural Centre that included programing a concert series.

Sartison soon found herself attracted to facilitating the work of artists and jealous of their opportunities. She suddenly saw a future in collaborations with other artists in the development of her own theatre projects.

Forming the collective One Trunk was a natural evolution for someone who had cultivated a do-it-yourself spirit while attending the University of Alberta's Augustana campus in Camrose.

Since there were only six theatre majors in her graduating class, it was necessary for them to do it all -- write the scripts and act, hang lights and perform the music. It prepared her for the real world of Manitoba theatre, where self-production is a must.

"The way I work is that I always say yes and then figure out how to do it," says Sartison. "I'm never afraid to say yes and problem-solve."

That sounds laudable in theory, but the workload last year became overwhelming, as she juggled jobs programming at the University of Winnipeg, running Bike to Work Day, promoting the Canzona Choir and producing the Barge Festival at The Forks, along with developing One Trunk shows.

"I had to let go of these golden handcuffs," says Sartison. "I was saying yes to too much that involved making money and it became exhausting. I had, like, eight jobs at one point last year."

'Materialistic and idealistic'

While she scaled back her salaried gigs, she has no intention of scraping by like so many independent artists, working for poverty-line wages.

I keep making these choices that reflect the safe way, but they don't make me happy, so I keep having to go to art.

"I like hard work," says Sartison, who has lived with her husband in a St. Boniface home for two years. "I really want to have a good life. I'm not satisfied with being a starving artist, not being able to have a nice house and a nice garden. I'm very driven by materialistic and idealistic things. I want those things.

"I also want to be really good at my art."

Sartison and One Trunk have been co-existing on the periphery of mainstream theatre -- literally underground, when you consider that the Vault was the venue for their cutting-edge, set-to-rap version of Hamlet as Told on the Streets at the 2013 Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival. I Dream of Diesel, owing to its association with Theatre Projects, will present One Trunk with its largest audience yet.

To help finance the $60,000 production, which stars Thérèse as Sylvia, along with Collins, Arne MacPherson, Justin Otto and Karl Thordarson, One Trunk launched a crowdsourcing campaign to raise $6,000 and so far has been promised half.

It's the theatre jobs that are piling up on Sartison's plate. Besides collaborations with SIR and the Manitoba Theatre for Young People, she has agreed to become artistic associate on a project basis with Calgary's Ghost River Theatre. And then there is Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, set to make a splash at the Pan Am Games in July.

Art keeps drawing her in

That Sartison is one of the A-list collaborators Miller has assembled is a testament to her bold directness.

As she did with Nolan, she cold-called Miller and told him she wanted to work on his production. He replied that he had neither the money nor a position for her. Undeterred, she promised to come to the next Toronto workshop and make herself useful.

"I just made myself really useful," she says. "So now we work on the project together. So many people are afraid to ask. You ask and good things come of it."

Sartison laughs at how she has been unable to suppress the need to create art even as she purposefully navigated her life in a different direction. She started in education at university, but within a year changed course into theatre.

"I came to Winnipeg to work at Starbucks and within a year quit my administration job so I could do more art. I keep making these choices that reflect the safe way, but they don't make me happy, so I keep having to go to art. It was never in the plan, but it was an impulse inside that I couldn't turn off."

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 at 9:11 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline

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