THEATRE NEW BRUNSWICK – The Old and the New
Thomas Morgan Jones, Artistic Director, Theatre New Brunswick
THEN AND NOW
It’s a time of change and growth at Theatre New Brunswick. As one of Canada’s oldest theatre companies, we have an incredible history, and are fortunate to have a place in the hearts, minds, and histories of audiences throughout the province of New Brunswick. Our main activities in recent years have been three mainstage productions at The Playhouse, our Theatre School, and provincial touring with our Young Company along with ancillary activities including new play development.
In meeting with the Board of Governors during the interview process for my position as artistic director, an exciting conversation began. Given that the current model for the theatre has been a strong base, the question became, “What else is possible?” Possibility. The possibilities are endless, and so the direction of the company needs to be born of answers to several other questions:
Why are we called Theatre New Brunswick?
As a regional theatre in 2015, what are our responsibilities as artists and storytellers?
How are we supporting and collaborating with the local and provincial arts communities?
How can education feature even more prominently in our activities (for grown-ups as well as young people)?
How are we seeding new plays?
How can we inspire and challenge our audiences?
What is theatre?
Why is it important in a digital age?
Our current 2015-2016 season is our answer to all of these questions. It is, itself, shaped by a question rather than a theme. The question is, “How do we care?”, and all of the programming is an offer of a long form conversation with the audience over the year, with each of the plays being a talking point.
To engage the audience, we have nine plays on offer, each featuring a different voice, perspective, or style/genre. This is made possible because of the construction of our brand new studio theatre at 55 Whiting Road. We have musicals, comedies, and now also challenging politically engaged theatre, and technology-based site-specific theatre, all created by the highest standard of artists in NB and Canada. All of this is an invitation to the audience to see the theatre as a gathering place for our communities to engage with questions of how we’re living in the world. The answer to “why theatre?” is this gathering of humanity to exchange ideas. Live audiences seeing live actors in a performance, an event, that will never happen again. Each audience is different, and each experience of each of these shows will be as varied as the people who are there. What we will all share is the impact of these stories, these experiences, as we leave the theatre and re-engage with the world outside the theatre.
BESIDE THE SHOWS
To heighten the experience of the shows themselves, we are offering a monthly event called Studio Fridays. On these nights we give talks and demonstrations to share the process and ideas of our work as artists. It is a chance for audience, artists, and ideas to meet. At our first event, actor Byron Abalos, talked about his process as an actor, and the audience then entered into a discussion about the use of the body for the actor, and that body in empty space. Byron was directed by the audience, and they were able to discover different variations of how the same text or moments can
be interpreted based on the interest of the artists in the room. This was to help with the appreciation that every moment on stage, every choice made by the artists, is also a choice not to do the billions of other available choices.
To serve the needs of both professional and independent theatres, we are offering a full year of actor training. In June, eighteen actors from three separate provinces traveled to Fredericton to train in The Suzuki Method of Actor Training and Viewpoints. In November, Cathy MacKinnon of The Stratford Festival is coming to offer workshops in voice and Shakespeare. She will be followed by master puppeteer Mike Peterson (Labrynth/Fraggle Rock) who will offer puppetry workshops. Finally, Kameron Steele, director of training at The Suzuki Company of Toga (Japan) will arrive to offer training.
As an artist, I train at least once a year somewhere in the world. In 2014 I traveled to Japan to train with Kameron and the remarkable Suzuki Company of Toga. It was one of the most enlightening and transformative experiences of my life (both personally and professionally). What an honour it is to bring Kameron here so that our artists, in Fredericton and in Canada, can receive this same quality of training at home.
The workshop leaders who are coming to offer their experiences are of the highest standard of excellence. We are dedicated to offering the same quality on our stages, too. With a mixture of NB artists and artists from away, we are absolutely floored by the people coming to play with us. Familiar NB artists include: Norm Foster, Ryan Griffith, Patrick Clark, and Kaitlin Hickey. Other artists include: Soheil Parsa, Byron Abalos, Julain Molnar, Michelle Ramsay, and so many more to be announced as the shows get closer.
This year we have three world premieres in our season, which is absolutely incredible. We’ve also started a playwrights group of NB playwrights called The HIVE. This initiative is to seed and support new NB plays. It’s important that we have NB writers and stories as part of our offerings at the theatre, and it is equally important that we support these works as they develop over time, and champion them to other theatres in the country. It usually takes two years to write a play, and so we are hard at work seeking residency funding to support our writers. The HIVE is another effort to support with feedback, encouragement, and interest.
Finally, we are making a return to touring. In the past, TNB toured to twelve communities in NB. For many good reasons, mostly financial, this touring ended. In recent years, we have been thrilled to tour our holiday productions to Moncton and Saint John. WE now feel it is also time to reach out to the rest of the province again. WE are beginning this journey by bringing our production of You Play Beautifully to Bathurst, Florenceville, and Miramichi. We look forward to even more touring, and even more communities, as the years go on. In this way, we feel that we can once again fully realize the New Brunswick in our name.
And so, a new theatre, new plays, a return to touring, the young company, the theatre school, artist training, engagement and collaboration with other arts organizations, and a renewed commitment to engage our audiences with the known and the unknown alike, we are full of possibility. It’s a lot. It’s necessary. We are full of inspiration, dedication, and passion.
And we are so excited to share it all with you.