Written by Marianne Ackerman
Highway 401 has been a popular allez-retour for members of the Montreal theatre scene for some time now. Make that forever, which may explain how I found myself in Toronto last week for what was effectively the launch of Centaur Theatre’s 50th anniversary season. The Children, a play by English writer Lucy Kirkwood, directed by Centaur’s new Artistic Director Eda Holmes with a cast of Shaw Festival stalwarts, opened the Canadian Stage 2018-19 season. A co-production, it will travel to the Centaur in November.
Earlier in the day, I sat down with Canada Stage’s new AD, Brendan Healy.
Born in Montreal, educated at Concordia and the National Theatre School (directing), he’d been on the job at one of Canada’s largest non-profits for only seven weeks when we spoke.
“It’s daunting,” he says of the challenge. “Just the name of the company is already audacious. We haven’t even figured out what this country is. It makes you ask, what is Canada? That may be the best question.”
His remark invites reaching back to the grandiose plans articulated by Guy Sprung and Bill Glassco, who created the multi-stage venture in 1987 by merging Toronto Free Theatre and the much larger Centre Stage. The pair soon fell out. Sprung was ousted and moved to Montreal. Glassco resigned. The venture struggled for decades, while the halo of creative success and growth shone warmly on Soulpepper Theatre, founded in 1998 by 12 Toronto artists, including Albert Schultz who quickly emerged as top dog.
Healy follows outgoing AD Matthew Jocelyn, a controversial figure who cut production to the bone, brought in dance and multidisciplinary performance and left a debt of $1.5 million on an annual budget of $8-million.
Healy says he isn’t phased by the debt, and expects to carry on in the spirit of his predecessor. “I think the worst strategy would be to retrench, make cuts,” he says. “Industry experts say the opposite: we have to improve the art. That’s our product. Risk management is the key.”
Widely credited for making Buddies in Bad Times Theatre a major player on the Toronto scene during his seven-year tenure, Healy clearly has a passionate interest in institution building. He holds a Masters in International Arts Management, given by Montreal’s HEC and two other establishments in Italy and the US.
He will share responsibility with a yet-to-be chosen Executive Producer. When I remind him of the institution’s rocky start with four hands on the wheel, he doesn’t flinch. “Theatre as a basic proposition involves compromise and collaboration. I’ve shared responsibility before and I’ve never had a terrible experience. Generally people who make it to this level have learned how to get along.”
A new breed, a new generation, Healy exudes confidence, resolve, goodwill. He says the impetus behind CanStage’s birth was necessary and important. “Those roots live on.” He plans to bring in artists from West Africa, South Asia, China and Columbia, and by touring, open up international opportunities for Canadian artists. New work will be a strong presence – ideas he says are in the theatre’s DNA.
The current season, kicked off by The Children, was chosen by Matthew Jocelyn. We’ll have to wait a year to sample Brendan Healy’s taste.
The Children marks Eda Holmes’ official directorial debut for the Centaur since she started as AD and Executive Director in August of 2017. Last fall, she directed The 39 Steps on the larger Centaur stage, a play chosen by outgoing Artistic Director Roy Surette before she was hired. Montrealers may also have seen her work on Three-Penny Opera, which she directed this past February at the National Theatre School. Or The Grand Hotel, which opened in May at the Shaw Festival. Busy woman.
Brimming with issues and secrets, The Children is a dialogue-driven 90-minute drama-comedy, set in a dilapidated English kitchen shortly after a nuclear meltdown. Three scientists who worked there together decades ago struggle to make sense of their lives. Revelations abound, spoiler alerts spark from the get-go. Eo Sharpe designed the set. The actors are Fiona Reid, Laurie Paton, Geordie Johnson.
Toronto reviews offered a wide spectrum of opinion. The Globe and Mail panned it. Review HERE.
Now Magazine raved, giving it NNNN. Review HERE.
The Toronto Star was impressed. Review HERE.
Mooney on Theatre,
a popular on-line blog, didn’t get the point.
Tickets are $49 – $79, but $20 rush tickets are available HERE.
Previews at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal begin November 6. For tickets and info, click HERE.
A novelist and occasional playwright, Marianne Ackerman was theatre
critic for The Gazette in a past life. Her favourite positions are an aisle
seat in the dark and backstage. www.marianneackerman.com