BWW Interview: 22-Year-Old Artistic Director Alex Bergen Lays it BARE
In the run-up to opening night of his company's inaugural show, local artist Alex Bergen sat down with me to have a chat about The Honest Collective, Calgary's LGBTQ+ and theatre communities, and his history with Bare: A Pop Opera.
Bare is a musical about two queer teenage boys, Peter and Jason, hiding their forbidden love in a Catholic boarding school. It touches on family rejection, peer rejection, queer love, acceptance, suicide, and more.
"You don't have to be queer to understand what it was like to be a teenager. I think anyone over the age of fourteen or fifteen will find a character or a piece of themselves onstage, and I feel honored to have a hand in telling it with the diversity of my cast and team."
The cast and crew includes twenty emerging artists from around Calgary which was something that was very important to Bergen when bringing the show together. "It's a Collective for a reason," Bergen says "everyone's voices are important and being heard...people are telling honest stories that are important, people are working together, and adding to the community, and we're having a blast doing it.
"There's so many amazing emerging artists onstage and off that I want to help support them. I think when we win, we all win, so that's my goal. Being the youngest artistic director in Calgary right now is kind of insane but I feel very fulfilled."
The Honest Collective has been a company for less than a year but the goals and desires to tell stories with emerging artists have been whirling around Bergen's mind for a while. "Two years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine about Bare because we both like the show and we were talking about 'how cool would it be if this show could be done in an old church in Calgary.' ...I got an audition and instead of singing a song that I had worked for an audition, I decided to sing [Once Upon a Time] from Bare because I figured, 'you know what? Not everybody knows Bare. The worst thing that could happen is that I could totally tank the song'. So I go to the audition and [the artistic director] introduces me to the assistant director for the season. Her name was Rebecca Fauser." He introduced his song to the panel and it turns out, Bare is Fauser's favourite musical. Even with the pressure of those extra expectations, he booked the show.
"Then nine months ago, we started rehearsals for the show ...and [Becca and I] were talking one day after rehearsal about the process and Bare and I told her, that I had always want to do the show in Calgary. And I remember being like 'but I don't have a theatre company and I don't have anybody to direct it' and she went 'I'll direct it' and so I said 'okay, Rebecca, if you commit to this, I will make this happen.' I'm a very stubborn human. I will do it. And that night, I went home, and I applied for the rights to the show." Bergen took out a loan to pay for the rights and to get his company off the ground but he admits, he couldn't do it without the support of his family and friends. "Rebecca Fauser was there from Day One. She was the first person I talked to about it.
"That's the incredible thing about our community, is that people are there to help and lend a hand, and I'm learning every day. Trying to produce a show, being in the show, being the artistic director of a company, I make mistakes all the time which I think is kind of beautiful because how do you learn otherwise? ...It feels like I had a dream and it came true. That's the only way I can say it because if you work hard, and never give up, it's really true what they say: you can make your dreams come true. This is the first of many dreams that I have and the fact that we're here now, and the support of the community, has been incredible."
This young emerging artist expressed a lot of appreciation for the community and mentorship he received from other artists.
"I moved to Calgary seven years ago ...and since then I've done about fourteen shows with [Storybook Theatre] and I've been very lucky to work with lots of companies in Calgary both in community theatre and semi-professional contracts. I think that Calgary has an incredible group of artists to help you build a career because this is something that I've always wanted to do ...I feel very fortunate to give back all of the lessons that I've learned through incredible artists across the community.
"Nine months ago, if you had [said to me]: 'you're gonna have a theatre company, and you're gonna do a show, and you're gonna be doing the work that you want to do and fulfilling this need that you have with this desire', I would have thought that you were crazy, but it's happening."
When bringing the show together, it was really important to involve the Calgary LGBTQ+ community as much as possible. He told me told me about his big brother who identified as gay and was beaten outside of a gay bar in Toronto years ago.
"I couldn't comprehend - and I still can't comprehend as a 22-year-old - how someone could do that to somebody else just because of who they love. My brother is an incredible inspiration and role model to me, I think he is one of the most successful and funniest people I know so doing this show, to me, is sort of thanking the lessons that he taught me and the lessons that my mom taught me about love.
"Working with James Demers at the Calgary Queer Arts Society has been great because he has taught me a lot about the queer community which I feel very thankful for. We're working with a lot of queer artists on our show - on our team and on our cast - and hearing their perspectives on what this show means to them, it means the world to me ...I think that it'll help enrich the community in a way that starts an important conversation. It's a hard topic. It's intense, there's a lot of things about the show that are heart breaking, there are a lot of things about the show that are heartwarming, and there's a lot of moments that are gonna make you cry and feel something, and I think that it's a beautiful story because it's so real, but it's also a really sad story because it's so real."
Bergen has also reached out and worked with Gay-Straight Alliances across the city and even with Fake Moustache, a local Drag King group, to spread the word and make sure the people who need it most, are getting tickets to see the show.
"I've been lucky enough to see myself on stage dozens of times, but there are folks out there who haven't been so lucky and it's sad to say. ...There's a beautiful line in the show that says 'hear my voice'. So I think that this is a great way to hear the voices of those marginalized communities. ...And that's important to me too - to make sure that it wasn't just me, the straight person telling that story - so I did my best to hire as many queer artists as I could and just reach out to those communities and work with them and support them."
This is The Honest Collective's first show but that doesn't mean their artistic director isn't already looking ahead.
"I think The Honest Collective has a really incredible opportunity to fill a niche in Calgary because we have so many amazing community theatre companies, and professional theatre companies, but there aren't a ton of semi-professional theatre companies and there aren't very many that deal with strictly "adult" shows - shows that aren't [Theatre for Young Audiences]....If things go well with Bare, which I'm hoping they do, I would love to do a show this summer but nothing's set in stone because I'm keeping my options open. But if anyone has anything they'd like to pitch me, let's meet for coffee."
Bare: A Pop Opera is playing at the Living Spirit United Church from February 15th-23rd 2019. Tickets can be purchased online at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4047690 or with cash at the door and features:
Simon Tottrup as Peter
Ryan Maschke as Jason
Gianna Read-Skelton as Ivy
Danielle Bernardin as Nadia
Alex Bergen as Matt
Kodie Rollan as Lucas
Katelyn Morishita as Claire
Crystal Chaitan as Sister Chantelle
Conrad Belau as Priest
Alexa Elser as Tanya
Tyra Sanderson as Kyra
Sarah Haggeman as Diane
Maggie Mackenzie as Rory
Thomas Zima as Alan
Jacob Lesiuk as Zach
Director: Rebecca Fauser
Stage Manager: Lisa Floyd
Asst. Stage Manager: Michael Luong
Music Director: Alixandra Cowman
Choreographer: Danielle Desmarais
Costume Designers: Catherine Handford & Ryan Maschke
Sound Designer: Alixandra Cowman
Rehearsal Pianist: Steven Morton
Producers: Alex Bergen & Kodie Rollan