It’s taken 34 years, but The Theatre Centre will finally unveil it’s new and permanent home at Toronto’s historic Carnegie Library on March 19th. To celebrate they are hosting an opening ceremony at 11am and an open house from 12-5. Guests will be invited to explore, participate and enjoy the new space that has been many years in the making.
For those who don’t know, The Theatre Centre has been a bit of an unofficial ‘hub’ for indie Toronto theatre for many years, and they are also recognized as an arts incubator, responsible for research and development as well as the mentorship of new arts leaders. They’re active in the community, on social media and in the theatre scene, always pushing boundaries and exploring new and exciting initiatives. The official mission of the Theatre Centre is to nurture artists, invest in ideas and champion new work and new ways of working. The company fosters a culture of innovation by embracing risk and questioning traditional notions of failure and success.
In its 30+ year history many theatre companies have come and gone, but the heart of the Theatre Centre has remained largely unchanged and 2014 is shaping up to be an exciting year not just because of the new space, but also because of the great programming coming to the venue.
Current Artistic Director Franco Boni has been at the helm since 2003, and was instrumental in helping to raise the 6.3 million dollars needed to build The Theatre Centre. He took a few minutes to chat with me about his vision, the idea of ‘playgrounding’ and the challenges associated with getting people to the theatre:
Congratulations on the grand opening of the Theatre Centre’s new home! Can you tell us a bit about what makes the space so unique and what you are most excited about?
We’re really excited to explore the concept of “playgrounding” with the community, the city and our artists. This is a collaborative process that gives us the flexibility to explore the use of each element of the building and ensure we’re offering what the community wants and needs. Our new home has a main performance hall, a lobby café, a rehearsal hall, gallery space, greenroom, green-roofed terrace and office space. These new spaces are still very much in transition. The Theatre Centre is a place where both artists and the community can be nurtured, learn new things, and champion new work and new ways of working. Our new home is so flexible, because the public hasn’t interacted with it yet and they will be key in defining how it will be used.
This seems like a real labour of love for you and also something which was a long time coming – did you always know that you would be able to achieve your vision? Were there moments of doubt?
When taking on a project of this size there are always challenges, but we were really lucky to have the support from all levels of government, the city, the community, and developers. There were a lot of different parties that worked really hard to make this happen, and we all wanted to create a community space and cultural hub that would keep the building’s history alive, and restore it to its original use as a public space for cultural purpose.
That was our goal, we achieved it, and I’m very thankful for everyone who has participated in making this happen in any way. It truly takes a village.
Could you tell us a bit about the programming you have scheduled for 2014? Is there anything in particular you are most looking forward to?
It’s a great privilege to open The Theatre Centre’s new performance facility with work created and conceived by some amazing artists and leaders like Alanna Mitchell, L’Orchestre d’hommes-orchestres, Mammalian Diving Reflex, The Torontonians, Nadia Ross and Marcus Youssef, among many others.
Our first production is Sea Sick by Alanna Mitchell. Alanna is a journalist, and this is her first theatrical project. The show explores one of the most important issues facing us today: climate change, and the state of the world’s oceans. It is an important story that needs to be heard, and The Theatre Centre is committed to creating spaces where important stories can be told. And not just by artists, also by the community. We create spaces that are inclusive, so what better way to open our new space than with a performance by journalist!
You’ve been a champion of indie artists and arts creation over the last number of years – what else do you think our city could be doing to encourage and foster its art scene?
I think we need to be encouraging artists to participate in activities and conversations that make a better city, a more inclusive city. I want to see us encourage and support alternative voices, ideas, and ways of thinking about shared issues.
Finally, what do you think is the biggest obstacle we have to overcome to get new people into the theatre and how can we tackle it?
I think the way we look at theatre and the performing arts and spaces for the performing arts needs to change – a theatre is not just a place that opens for a show at 8pm. We need to work on building this idea in people’s minds – theatre is not just a place for consuming art, it’s a place for gathering and sharing ideas, for being part of a larger conversation about how to make better cities and better communities.
I also think that we need to be more focused on the art we support. Artists need longer development periods so that there ideas can shift, grow, and be responsive. I think the community is better served by a depth of support over a long period, not scattering limited resources as broadly as possible.
And finally, I believe we could benefit from better cultural criticism, more conversation that engages citizens in a dialogue about art.