When Matthew Jocelyn and I sat down recently to talk about the new Canadian Stage season and how to make the Canadian theatre scene better, I never could have foreseen the amazing insights that would emerge from that short conversation.
I already covered the company's 2010-2011 announcement several month ago, and was properly impressed, but I was eager to know the whys and wherefores, and just how Jocelyn, who is the company's Artistic and General Director, planned to make this season appealing to a city where the great majority of theatre-goers (the ones not in the luvvie camp) far prefer the safe and familiar (and frequently cutesy) instead of the new and strange (and frequently ugly -if fascinating). How to integrate the instinct of elevation with the necessity of sales? It's a tough riddle to work out, especially within the harsh conditions many Canadian artists live and work (or try to work) under.
There are many untrue cultural stereotypes of Canadians: that we all like hockey, that we love winter, that we say "eh" after everything, and we worship Tim Horton's coffee. (Cue my extreme eyerolling.) The one stereotype I'd argue holds a kernel of truth is that, by and large, we don't like experimentation when it comes to the arts, and we're leery about artists who push the envelope. (As an aside, dear Lady Gaga fans: a Canadian did it first.) Jocelyn, by virtue of living abroad for so long, wants to change the Canadian tendency toward caution in the arts -gently, yes, and with much patience too, but with an equally clear vision of his company's 21st century mandate and its relationship with Toronto. A theatre company should do more than put on safe, middle-of-the-road stuff, but at the same time, shouldn't isolate either its core supporters or potential newcomers with art-with-a-capital-A material.
What's notable (and heartening) is our too-brief discussion of how the internet has really rendered thee companies more able to communicate between and amongst one another -so whether you're in Dublin or London or New York (or even Toronto!), sharing and exchange ideas has never been more prevalent -or more important. No company is an island, or in this age, can afford to be. It's a lesson well worth heeding.
A note to my international readers: please don't think you have to be in Toronto to enjoy this chat. The things Mr. Jocelyn discusses -marketing, outreach, planning a season, trying to balance populist choices with an embrace of new, multi-cultural programming -are issues every arts company faces, everywhere. Let me now what you think; if you're an Artistic or General Director, I want to know how you're tackling the challenges of attracting and cultivating audiences with making interesting, inspired programming choices. As my chat with Mr. Jocelyn taught me, cultural exchange is more than a few complimentary words left on a Facebook wall.