Thursday, 20 December 2012

Amazing Abundance

By Brandon Moore, Communications Coordinator

This was a good year for online conversation-starters.  When Ken Gass was dismissed as Artistic Director of Factory Theatre in June, a debate unfolded on Praxis Theatre provoked by “open letters” from David Ferry and Aislinn Rose; Jacob Zimmer of Small Wooden Shoe made a public application for the vacancy; and Brendan Healy of Buddies In Bad Times Theatre wrote a much-shared and moving and motivating Facebook note.

Best of all, they accomplished the most important thing in online conversations—they moved the conversations into the community: in rehearsal halls, at lunch room tables, in bars over drinks, at opening night parties.  Calls to action were proposed, debated, adopted and rejected.  If you had a passion for theatre and a pulse, something came of it—perhaps even just a change of belief or behaviour.

But one of my favourite calls-to-action from the past year—which could function as a “new year’s resolution” that’s as good as any—came from Travis Bedard, my favourite agitator in the community.  In a post at the end of November and an ensuing conversation on Twitter, he challenged us to end the “black magical thinking” in theatre that both frames the environment negatively in order to fit challenging circumstances, and assumes “stupidity or evil” on the part of the public, audiences, governments, funders, and—especially—other theatre-makers.

I agree with his assertion that “this is a time of amazing abundance in theatre.”  As he says, that doesn’t mean easy.  He uses the metaphor of “gridlock” to describe the state of our current resources.  But the opportunities to overcome the gridlock are plentiful and abundant—in new leadership, new spaces, new conversations.

2012 saw a number of significant changes at the highest levels of Ontario’s professional venued theatres.  There is new artistic leadership at Great Canadian Theatre Company, the National Arts Centre—English Theatre, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Thousand Islands Playhouse, and interim leaders at Blyth Festival and Factory Theatre.  There are also new general managers at many long-established Ontario theatres—Canadian Stage, the Shaw Festival, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Tarragon Theatre, and Young People’s Theatre.  New leaders step forward, new visionaries take over the positions they leave—change creates an abundance of opportunities.

TheatreBooks moved.  Playwrights Canada Press moved.  And we’ll be starting 2013 in our new office at 401 Richmond Street West, with our suite-mates from Playwrights Guild of Canada and the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts.  Domino Theatre opened a new venue in Kingston that we’ll all get to visit at our Festival in May.  Milton celebrated the opening of a new Centre for the Arts.  Artscape opened the Daniels Spectrum in Toronto (previously known as the Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre), and welcomed tenants, including Native Earth Performing Arts.  The Theatre Centre “broke ground” for a new home.  Next year will mark the grand opening of Drayton Entertainment’s Dunfield Theatre Cambridge.  Theatre needs space to bring artists and audiences together; well-managed venues add to that abundance of opportunity.

On our community theatre stages, more groups are exploring new play development as a way to deepen their community connections, better engage their membership, and explore their creative potential as a company.  The inaugural Tom Hendry Award for New Comedy from Playwrights Guild of Canada was awarded to Michael Grant for Shorthanded, which premieres at Elmira Theatre Company in February 2013; and the Outstanding Production at our 2012 Festival was The Mouse House by Robert Ainsworth, a work that was developed at Peterborough Theatre Guild.

Apocalypse watchers might point to the closures of the Vancouver Playhouse and Showboat Festival Theatre as signs of inevitable catastrophe.  Indeed, these announcements were certainly among the “low points” of the past year—friends lost jobs, producing partners lost money, audiences lost theatre.  But in response to the Playhouse closure, PACT—the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres—is now leading Dialogue On Theatre: “a national conversation about a vision for Canadian theatre in 2017 that the theatre community can support and work together to create.”  The idea that everyone in Canadian theatre can start rowing together may provoke snark and cynicism; I remain hopeful that this Dialogue will give voices that are quieter, and often drowned out, to be heard at our major theatre institutions.  That’s one of the ways we sustain abundance in a community.

But the most amazing abundance—the most important abundance—can be seen on our theatre stages.  As a juror for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards during the first half of this year, I had the opportunity to see first-hand the breadth of quality at many Toronto professional theatres.  In January, Toronto theatre critics were trying to remember a time when so many “four-star shows” were running at the same time.  I heard similar stories at our summer theatres, our regional community theatre festivals, our fringe festivals, and from colleagues and friends across the province.  When I update our ONstage listings every week, I’m struck by the breadth of shows you can see across our province—something for every taste.  It’s good to hear that the quality of the theatre matches the choices available.

At Theatre Ontario, we’re looking forward to our plans for the new year.  In the fall, we expanded our repertoire of workshops, and in the new year, we’ll be exploring ways to expand our workshops beyond our office in Toronto, while still making them cost-effective for our participants.  On a personal note, I am looking forward to finding ways to expand our communications so that we can share more of the incredible stories of theatre in Ontario.

Thank you to our members and supporters.  As the service organization for theatre artists in our province, we have accomplished an abundance of amazing things on your behalf—for forty years, you have been nurturing theatre artists at every stage of their careers and supporting and advocating for theatre across the province, through Theatre Ontario.

Let’s continue to seek out that abundance in the year ahead.

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