It was probably only a matter of time before Flick Harrison programmed an installment of Brief Encounters. The prolific actor, writer, and filmmaker (read his hilarious and thorough bio here) has filmed nearly every edition of Brief Encounters to date, and even participated as a collaborating artist way back when Brief Encounters was still a toddler series and not the 20-series-old juggernaut it is today. And now, this Brief Encounters veteran is venturing further into the whirlwind BE world as the guest programmer for Brief Encounters 20.
Below, Flick reflects on the Brief Encounters phenomenon, and dishes on what audiences can expect from this milestone edition.
Q: You’ve been involved with Brief Encounters for a long time as a videographer—and now you’re programming the whole show! How did this come about? What was your initial response when you were asked?
FLICK: I’ve seen just about every Brief Encounters, and since I make DVD’s and clips for the artists, I’ve seen some of them several times. I never get tired of seeing the new forms that emerge from the combos. I’ve also been a Brief Encounters artist: I made an animated film using live stencils with Take5, a graffiti artist, back at BE 5, I think.
When Kristina told me she was bringing in guest programmers, I immediately said “Pick Me! Pick Me!” which is actually how I got in as an artist as well. She was already thinking the same thing. I knew right away that there were tons of artists, artistic styles and collaborations out there that I hadn’t seen in Brief Encounters yet. The trouble was narrowing it down.
Once I was on board, I immediately started worrying about how I’d team people up; the flavour of the relationship between the artists—creatively and professionally—is probably my most important job in making Brief Encounters happen.
Q: What has surprised you most about life in the programmer’s chair?
FLICK: I’m not normally a programmer, except on a computer, so I would say everything is surprising! I’m impressed by the willingness of the artists to dive in, but also by the slight hesitation as they accept: “Ummmmm, sure, I’ll do it.” This is a real artistic risk they’re taking, teaming up with a complete stranger and an unknown art form.
Artists know that they gain more from taking a risk than they do from playing it safe. And I’m proud to be part of offering them an awesome venue for that. They also have to trust me, Kristina, and Brief Encounters… that we will support them, that we will not set them up to fail. The piece they make will stand or fall on its own merits.
The less amazing BE’s I’ve seen in the past have been just as fascinating as the greats: blind dates are risky endeavours. We want them to succeed but if it looks like they’re giving it their all, the audience is on their side all the way to the end.
But I won’t see the really interesting surprises until the artists meet.
Q: One of the special things about Brief Encounters 20 is the fact that half of the participants are out-of-towners who will be in town to participate in the Fringe Festival. How do you think their involvement will change the established dynamic of the Brief Encounters experience, if at all?
FLICK: The out-of-towners have less at stake in some ways; who cares if Vancouver loves them? Which means they can take more risks! All the better! Some of them are at the end of multi-city performance tours, repeating the same show, so they will be raring to go on new collaborations. That adds some pizzazz for sure.
That said, the outsiders are stepping into a well-known Vancouver ballgame, so they’ll need their best game. They’re like the visiting team.
Meanwhile, the Vancouverites are all pretty excited to get exposed to new blood. That caused the most raising of eyebrows in the programming process. “Foreigners, you say? Hmmmmmm…. yes. I am intrigued.”
Q: What’s it been like working with the Fringe Festival?
FLICK: David Jordan has an amazing artist database, and he wasn’t afraid to use it. He fired off a bunch of good picks from the first moment, and helped us close the deals.
It’s cool to have Brief Encounters in a totally different setting – with shorter set-up times, faster switches between artists, etc, it’s a whole new way of thinking about the performances. That will force them to pare down ideas to their pure essence, and that is what will make this show awesome.
Q: What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced programming Brief Encounters 20, and how have you overcome these challenges?
FLICK: Hmmm…. pairing up the artists was the hardest part so far. I’ll have more challenges as the show approaches, I’m sure.
We were having a hard time visualizing the relationships between the artists… of course, it’s all hypothetical at this point so we just needed to make our best calls and pull the trigger. Fire in the hole!!!
Q: Without giving too much away, what can audiences expect from Brief Encounters 20?
FLICK: I have no idea. And neither do you. Weee!!! The artists are going to be just as surprised as the audience.
Q: Brief Encounters is celebrating a very important milestone this time around: the Big 2-0. Why do you think Brief Encounters has made it to 20? What do you think is the secret to its enduring success?
FLICK: It’s a strong organization with deep roots in the city. Every time an artist has a good Brief Encounter, they become part of the team in some small way. I’ve been eager enough to come back again and again in various roles, and I think others have done the same. So it gets easier every time we put the show on.
I think each artist brings an audience as well, which means it keeps building and building. People like to see new stuff. How often would a hip-hop dance audience go to see a metal sculptor at work, and vice versa, without Brief Encounters? That cross-pollination is what makes the show interesting, and also what makes it get bigger and better over time.
At the same time, the longer we go on, the harder it is to get collaborators together who don’t know each other. I mean, how big is this town exactly?! That challenge keeps the programming team on their toes, and that stops it from getting stale.
Just bringing in guest programmers like myself has been a great way to keep things fresh. And the next programmer will have a totally different attitude.