By Caleb Marshall
When I became artistic executive director of Sudbury Theatre Centre, one of the first things I did was introduce the slogan “This is YOUR theatre” because I believe the theatre belongs to the community, and I want the community to feel ownership of it.
Because I believe this is your theatre, we offer numerous outlets for patron feedback, both public and private. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, post on our social media, leave a suggestion in the box in our lobby or post a card on the comment board. This past weekend this comment was left on our Lobby Board:
“Get Better plays or lose members. More Comedy & Mysteries. Never mind Canadian Crap. Try USA plays… Never mind ethnic ones neither.”
Since the comment was made anonymously, my only way to respond is publicly. First, your desire for more comedy will be well met in our final two theatre offerings this season. I also trust you enjoyed our last major production of It’s A wonderful Life, which is quintessential Americana. There will be more major American works next season.
I do believe that some plays should be about escape, about transporting us far away from the rigour of our lives. Theatre, however, also gives us the opportunity, in addition to entertaining, to reflect the make up of OUR community, celebrate OUR stories and talent, and explore current issues facing OUR society. It is a great gift for us all when we are able to do all of those things at the same time.
Our next Main Stage theatre offering is Moose on the Loose, a play loosely based on the true life events of Thunder Bay’s Dina Maronne. It follows three generations of an Italian Immigrant family, The Tappinos, who live in the fictional Northern Ontario town of Way Up Bay. When a moose wanders into town, the ensuing chaos has the family discover that he’s not the only one displaced and confused.
It is a very funny comedy with some very tender and heartfelt moments, But it is one of OUR comedies, a Northern Ontario comedy. When I have been asked by other patrons this season, “Why stories about Northern Ontario?” I`ve always responded like this:
I feel that too often we, as Canadians in more remote areas, start to wonder if elsewhere is better, we question if there is value in telling our own stories? Like the Tapinno family, we are here because our ancestors struggled to build a better life for us out of an inhospitable place. We have survived for generations in a harsh and beautiful land because of the freedom and promise our country provides. This is something to not only be tremendously proud of, but to be shared.
We must tell our stories. We must see ourselves reflected among the other stories from around the world. Not only to build pride, but also to celebrate our unique shared experience, to underscore our common humanity with the rest of the world and to remind us of how fortunate we are.
It was of particular importance to me that we celebrate our region during STC’s 45th anniversary year. The theatre is made by us. But it can at times, also be about us.
When we tell our stories, we must strive to tell all of our stories. Sudbury is proud of its Bridge of Nations. I hope over time to find a way to see our whole community represented on our stage.
Sudbury is 40-per-cent Francophone and this year we partnered for the first time with Theatre Du Nouvel Ontario. Sudbury is 10-per-cent Indigenous and this season saw two Indigenous characters in our theatre series. We offered Roseneath Theatre’s Spirit Horse for young audiences and upcoming we will showcase Kahawi Dance Theatre’s The Honouring. We were also very pleased to host Sampradaya Dance creations, Canada’s leading Indian dance company.
I expanded the programming at STC for two reasons. One, because I felt we could serve the much discussed need for a performing arts centre and offer this community a variety of programming, so there was indeed something for everyone.
The other reason was so there was in fact something for everyone, that we were better able to reflect and celebrate the diversity of our community, that all members of our community were able to start to see themselves and share their stories with everyone.
Exposure to the arts has been proven to make for more engaged citizens. I believe that exposure to more diverse arts will make us more compassionate ones. We are producing Moose on the Loose not only because Sudbury is eight-per-cent Italian, but because now more than ever in the world it is important that we reflect on the immigrant experience, that we remember that each great wave of immigration was often looked on with suspicion and met with great challenges in their new home.
Arts organizations must lead the way in equity, diversity and inclusivity. STC has also made a commitment to gender equity by having 50-per-cent female playwrights and actors last season and next.
STC has made a commitment to offering relaxed performances to ensure theatre is accessible to those on the autism spectrum or suffering from anxiety disorders, or those who might benefit from a more relaxed performance environment.
As the sole professional English-language theatre company between Barrie and Thunder Bay, we have a duty to not only entertain our audience, but also to promote the development of our stories, support our artists, reflect back the whole of the community we live in and provoke dialogue around the issues we face.
I believe STC must be an inclusive and accessible place where all members of our community feel welcome. I hope you’ll come to understand why we share great stories from here and abroad, about all the people in our community. ‘This is your theatre’ means ‘this is everyone’s theatre.’
Caleb Marshall is the artistic executive director of Sudbury Theatre Centre.