“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower”, Albert Camus
Spring is viewed as the season of renewal, but in the world of theatre, terrific new seasons of exciting shows are beginning around the province! The variety of theatrical productions that we can enjoy and participate in continues to amaze me. The wonderful world of theatre pushes artistic and social boundaries, entertaining us, reflecting our collective psyche, preserving our history, supporting both the cultural and economic sustainability of our communities, and creating unique and magical moments in time that and are both memorable and inspiring to our audiences and talented artists alike.
I am thrilled to join Theatre Ontario as its new Executive Director, and as I write today, I am acutely aware of the stewardship I have undertaken to continue a 40-year tradition of supporting theatre excellence in Ontario. I am excited about the possibilities and opportunities that exist for theatre, but as the landscape changes with the seasons, so does the landscape of the performing arts community. A recent study conducted by Wolf Brown on behalf of the Ontario Arts Council indicates that our audiences want to engage with us in a way that is more meaningful to them. The study showed that the majority of Ontarians participate in entertainment-based activities in their homes, so our challenge becomes one of building bridges of meaningful engagement with our audiences, making theatrical experiences ones that becomes meaningful and accessible to them. Throughout our 40-year history, Theatre Ontario has been at the forefront of supporting the development of dynamic artists and theatrical thought leaders who continue to share their tremendous creativity and passion with theatre companies throughout the country.
Recently I had the privilege of attending the 2011 Neil Munro Intern Directors Project at Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is the result of a partnership between The Slaight Family Academy of the Shaw Festival and Theatre Ontario, and is sponsored by Sun Life Financial. This vigorously sought-after internship is a phenomenal opportunity for two emerging directors (selected from applicants across Canada) to hone their skills, by working intimately with the company at the Shaw Festival for a full season. The intern directors work on two-to-three full-fledged productions throughout the season, where they are mentored by the artistic team at The Shaw, and learn many stimulating and valuable techniques that they can incorporate into their future directing careers. The culmination of the internship is the opportunity for each of the intern directors to present a one-act play of their choice, utilizing the full resources of the Shaw Festival, including the acting company who donate their time and talents through many hours of rehearsal to fulfill the vision of the directors.
This year’s interns, Johnna Wright and Craig Hall, brought us two delightfully different plays that communicated beautifully crafted stories with wit and empathy. Johnna Wright directed A Phoenix Too Frequent by Christopher Fry, a comedy set in Greek times about finding love in our moments of greatest despair. The three wonderful young actors (Ijeoma Emesowum, Martin Happer and Robin Evan Willis) brought this charming play to life under Johnna’s creative direction. The fast pace of the line delivery moved the plot forward with sensitivity and joy. Craig Hall selected The Twelve-Pound Look by J.M. Barrie, a short fast-paced comedy that is as ironic as it is witty. The set design and costumes beautifully underscored the era of the self-made and self-important men of the industrial revolution. Craig’s deft hand with comedy gave the actors (particularly Neil Barclay, Anthony Bekenn, Catherine McGregor and Jacqueline Thair) a wonderful platform from which to provoke and tease with their characters.
It was a wonderful day of theatre, but more importantly a terrific celebration of the success that is found when deep and meaningful partnerships are forged between vibrant theatre companies, arts service organizations, corporate sponsors and visionary young artists. I am extremely proud to be a part of the theatre community, and particularly proud to have the opportunity to become an integral part of the Theatre Ontario team as we work toward building new partnerships—with our members, our theatre community, our funders at the Ontario Arts Council, The Toronto Arts Council and the Trillium Foundation—as well as forging new links with the corporate sector and Arts Service Organizations, as we capture the vibrancy of theatre, and leverage social and online media to create a strong future for tomorrow.