There is a lot of conversation within the #2amt community about new models for making art, never being dark, and working collaboratively. Progress Lab in Vancouver is a prime example of all of these things done well.
Progress Lab 1422 is home to four of Vancouver’s most interesting companies – Electric Company, Boca Del Lupo, Neworld Theatre & Rumble Productions. It used to be a garment factory, but now it has a new life as a rehearsal and development hub.
Vancouver, like any city with a thriving cultural base, has been faced with rising real estate costs and struggles to find accessible, affordable rehearsal and office spaces. In order to combat those problems, these four companies decided to pool their resources and what they’ve created is a fantastic space and a real bright spot in the Vancouver theatre community.
About 10 years ago the companies began talking about what a shared space would look like. Five years ago they got serious about it and created a business plan that enabled them to get funding from four different granting agencies and foundations. The space has been open since October 2009.
PL1422 now houses four company offices – each office as unique as the company it houses – as well as a 3,500 square foot rehearsal studio with 20′ ceilings, a lighting grid, and a sprung floor. Companies are able to begin integrating their tech right in the rehearsal room. In addition to the studio & offices there is a large kitchen, a meeting room (which doubles as a film screening room), a fittings room, storage space and a power tools friendly area.
Each company gets an equal number of studio weeks. If they don’t need their weeks they rent the space out to other companies.
Progress Lab has become an important part of the Vancouver Theatre ecosystem. My first exposure to it was for a wake. I’ve since attended as an audience member for Rumble Productions Community Dinner which re-invented dinner theatre as newcomers to Canada were paired with theatre artists to create a show that was a mix of a cooking show, biography, & dinner party. After the performance part of the evening the audience shared a meal with the performers. I’ve also stage managed a pair of events in the venue – a staged reading of Homegrown in support of SummerWorks, and the most recent Wrecking Ball political cabaret event.
For the past two weeks I have had the privilege of rehearsing in the studio for an upcoming production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. I cannot tell you what a gift it is in this city full of bizarre rehearsal spaces to be able to work in a clean space with a sound system and where I can leave the furniture set up at the end of the day and trust it to be where it was left. I have rehearsed in spaces with no overhead lighting, so when it started to get dark we had to find a bunch of lamps to plug in. I’ve rehearsed in spaces that were way too small for the actual stage and we would have to explain to the cast that actually they had another six feet upstage, we just didn’t have room to put it. I’ve rehearsed in storage rooms with the random furniture pushed off to the side and stacked on top of itself so that we could rehearse. I’ve ended rehearsals four hours early because a rehearsal room that shares a wall with a working machine shop is not a workable space to rehearse an intimate two-hander. It is so wonderful to be in a place that feels like theatre has a home there, rather than being an intruder into another space. This is a space I can’t wait to go back to.