Let’s not take our arts ecosystem for granted

“It’s a challenging time for the performing arts across Canada, and while there are inspiring success stories in the mix, including many local institutions, there is lots more work to be done.”

Camilla Holland

Despite warnings from friends that I shouldn’t put away my winter boots just yet, I expect this unseasonably warm weather will extend into April. We’re welcoming spring at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre with a romantic adventure at the Tom Hendry Warehouse and a “feel-everything” musical at the John Hirsch Mainstage.

Rebecca Northan: a different date each night.

Blind Date at the Warehouse, April 5 to 21, combines the thrill and terror of a romantic encounter with improvisation and clown. Rebecca Northan stars as Mimi, a Parisian temptress who chooses a different man from the audience each night and, to the delight of the audience, shares the experiences of a first date. It’s been a hit across Canada and had a great run in New York. Part burlesque, part Lucille Ball, it’s saucy, breathtaking, and a little bit dangerous – just like falling in love. Leery of audience participation, some patrons have asked if they can purchase a higher-priced ticket that will guarantee they aren’t chosen. I assure you that Mimi will only have a date with a willing man – and that lucky chap will experience the great magic of the live-wire act of improvised theatre.

Next to Normal at the John Hirsch Mainstage, April 19 to May 12, is one of the most lauded and groundbreaking musicals of the new century, and won both Tony awards and the Pulitzer Prize. This thrilling rock musical – the production I am most looking forward to in the current season – delivers an astonishing level of empathy and accuracy in portraying a family coping with a painful secret. Jennifer Lyon stars as Diana, a mother who struggles with bipolar disorder. It’s going to be a beautiful, emotional and ultimately hopeful journey, and I encourage you to join us.

On the home front, we will enjoy our first Winnipeg Easter in April and some out-of-town visitors. (I may have to stealthily plant some already budding crocuses to avoid comparisons to southern Ontario climes.) With the lighter evenings and the warmer weather, we’re spending more time outside. I know this spring both my girls will become more confident bike-riders on the long flat sidewalk outside our house.

I re-read the Dr. Seuss classic The Lorax to my girls before taking them to the movie adaptation at the cinema. There’s a line in the book – and the movie – that has such resonance, half the audience chimed in when the character of The Once-ler said: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Over the weekend that I wrote this article, the Canadian theatre community experienced a great loss when the Vancouver Playhouse announced its imminent closure. For a venerable, much-loved institution with 49 years of history to shut down is unprecedented.

The whole situation was a potent reminder of the fragility of the entire arts ecosystem. We take for granted that our cultural institutions are a permanent feature on the landscape, but how well do we actively support that idea with our volunteerism, our donations and our “bums in seats”?

It’s a challenging time for the performing arts across Canada, and while there are inspiring success stories in the mix – including many of the local institutions we hold dear – there is lots more work to be done. I continue to be inspired by the Winnipeggers who do indeed “care a whole awful lot” –colleagues in the cultural sector, committed volunteer leaders, artists, supporters and audience members. Thank you, and happy spring.

Camilla Holland is general manager of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. She can be reached at www.mtc.mb.ca.

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