In high school, I interned at Canadian Stage Company, and then worked at Dream in High Park for two summers. Through it all, I loved the company and was constantly excited by the work, the artists coming through the door, and the connection to the city…..and now, so many years later, I’m hard pressed to think of the last show I saw there (much less the last show I liked there).
The search is officially on for a new Artistic Director, as Matthew Jocelyn steps down after 9 years; this means that everyone (including me! hi and thanks for visiting!) has something to say about his tenure and the future of the company. I don’t know Mr. Jocelyn, but his much-written-about tendency to exclude theatre creators of color and reluctance to discuss issues around the multiformity of voices that comprise both the Canadian and International artistic community was the first thing that came to mind when I heard. The second was a question: Who should lead Canadian Stage Company?
I’d love to see a woman run the theatre (specifically, Sarah Garton Stanley, Jillian Keiley, Nina Lee Aquino, Marjorie Chan, Evalyn Parry, Weyni Mengesha, Yvette Nolan, or Djanet Sears come to mind). I’d love to see an artist of color like Ravi Jain or someone who will go to bat for queer artists and experiences such as Brendan Healy run the theatre. I’d love to see one of the younger bright lights of Canadian Theatre be given the chance to run it. However, more than anything else, I want to see someone who is going to revitalize that institution and make it somewhere that people are excited to visit and work again. That should be the guiding priority.
This year, I spent a month and half in Thunder Bay, performing in a musical at Magnus Theatre. Every day of the run from the first performance to the last performance, I was impressed at how the local community supported the theatre. People would slow down their cars to yell how much they loved the show. The cashier at the Grocery store was thinking of getting a season subscription for the first time. The kids at the local high school asked us smart questions about what it was like. Some people attended 3, 4, 5, or even 6 times. We sold out, we extended. People truly seemed to feel a sense of ownership with the theatre, like it was vitally important on a personal level to them that theatre was in good shape. Why has Canadian Stage Company struggled so hard to do the same? Yes, Toronto has more theatres fighting for oxygen, but Buddies in Bad Times and Factory and Soulpepper and The Musical Stage Company and Obsidian are all “buzzier” companies with less resources and supposed cachet. Canadian Stage Company has the size advantage, but what good is a big theatre on prime downtown real estate that’s only half full?
Much of Magnus Theatre’s success right now is due to the “revolution” started by their new Artistic Director, Thom Currie. He exploded the old way of doing things, and firmly positioned the theatre as equitable and contemporary: the production team was 60% female, he cast the show with individuals not types, included Metis and black performers, had a company that ranged from Stratford vets to new theatre grads working on their first show, and most importantly worked hard to integrate the theatre into its surrounding community. Yes, there is a difference between regional theatre and the ones in Toronto, but to suggest the search be based entirely on a standarized idea of diversity is to play into an oppresive hand. I don’t want a woman or a black person or a queer person to run the theatre because they are a woman or black or queer, I want them to run the theatre because women/poc/lgbtqs are among the best of the theatrical talent this country has: artists and administrators who are visionary and can lead it to success and can revolutionize it. All of the names I’ve mentioned in this post (and some I haven’t) can do that.
Canadian Stage Company has a great opportunity here to step up to their own name: producing and presenting Canadian stages. There’s lots of different kinds of artists in this country; let’s give this position to the person who is most willing to lead a revolution.