Q&A Series: Chelsea Haberlin, Co-Founder of ITSAZOO Productions

Gabriola Theatre Festival: This is your fourth visit to the Gabriola Theatre Festival. What is it about this Festival that keeps you coming back?

Chelsea Haberlin: We love the supportive community and it’s a great opportunity to get out of the city for a few days to beautiful Gabriola in the summer. We’ve also always found the festival organizers to be incredibly accommodating, making it a joy to come back.

GTF: ITSAZOO’s productions vary in large ways from year to year.  We’ve seen Robin Hood, Shakespeare and more. How do you choose what you’ll be working on next? And how do you choose what you’ll be bringing to Gabriola?

CH: That’s sort of the way we work. We have a mandate to perform shows in site-specific/non-traditional venues or new Canadian plays that feature emerging artists. Many projects fit under this broad umbrella. For many years we were excited by modern adaptations of classic stories performed promenade style in parks – that’s where Robin Hood came from. Last year Antony Holland invited us to participate in Shylock and we couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with that legend of a man. The past two years we’ve been focusing on in-yer-face published plays staged in an immersive environment. This is where Mr. Marmalade comes from. It’s a play that asks big questions about our modern society through the eyes of a child using humour, surprise and sometimes dark, overt images. It’s a powerful piece.

GTF: Why have you decided to bring Mr. Marmalde to the Gabriola Theatre Festival? What can your fans on Gabriola expect from this show?

CH: Christine Quintana from Delinquent Theatre has wanted to do this play for years. She shared the script with me and I knew we had to do it. I’ve noticed that Gabriola audiences like plays that speak directly to the flaws in our culture, plays that are politically and culturally aware. This play addresses what it looks like to grow up on TV in the 21st century. It’s not pretty. I think that this audience will appreciate the truth and humour throughout. We’ve always tried to do shows that make an audience laugh their way to a deeper realization and this play does that.

GTF: What have you been up to since you worked with Antony Holland on Shylock for last year’s Gabriola Theatre Festival?

CH: We’ve had a really big year. In March we produced the Canadian premiere of The Flick by Annie Baker. This production was presented by Blue Bridge Theatre The Roxy in Victoria. The Flick is set in a movie theatre and The Roxy was formally an old movie theatre. We created a set that was an exact mirror image of the house so when the audience looked at the stage they saw the seat they were sitting in looking back at them.

After that we produced the Vancouver premiere of Killer Joe by Tracy letts. The play is set in a Texas trailer park so we actually built a small trailer park and put the show in a trailer. This play went onto be nominated for 8 Jessie Richardson Awards this year – more than any other production.

This past year we also developed and workshopped a new site-specific immersive Halloween horror show called Hidden that we will be producing in October 2015 at the UBC Botanical Gardens.

We are also developing a new play about the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline based on a book by the Vancouver Observer called Extract: The Pipeline Wars. This is in collaboration with Savage Society and is scheduled to be performed in June 2015 at the Musqueam Cultural Center.

Busy, busy, busy!

GTF: How much time do you spend on the road each year?

CH: Very little actually. Most of the shows we do are in Vancouver.

GTF: How was it that you ended up working in theatre? Can you tell us a little bit about your journey?

CH: I’ve always made plays. Every kid who came over when I was young was cast in a basement production. As I grew up this was just the obvious career choice for me. Bringing people together to create a play is the most natural thing to me.  At first I thought I wanted to be an actor but I was never great at it. In grade 12 I took a directing class and just loved it. I had found my role in the creative process. I went on to study directing and applied theatre at UVic and while there created ITSAZOO with friends. I graduated in 2007 and moved the company to Vancouver. In 2011 I went back to school and got my MFA in directing from UBC.

GTF: You’ve recently received a Jessie Award for your site-specific production of Killer Joe. What was that like?

CH: It was incredibly exciting. We’ve been working away at this company for almost 10 years so to be acknowledged in front of the theatre community was a big deal for us. Our hard work is starting to pay off.

GTF: This year you’re working with Delinquent Theatre’s Christine Quintana, who brought last year’s hit Stationary: A Recession-Era Musical to the Gabriola Theatre Festival. Can you tell me about this relationship?

CH: Christine is a brilliant artist and I’m really excited to be working with her on this. She’s been a good friend for several years now. Christine found the play and showed it to me – it was her idea to produce it this summer. She had an interest in playing the lead, Lucy, and wanted me to direct it. I immediately loved the script and really wanted to work with Christine so it quickly fell into place.


That is all! We are so lucky and excited that ITSAZOO is returning with Mr. Marmalade, another rock-solid show. Think we can get ’em back here with that Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline play?

Get your tickets for Mr. Marmalade here.


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