Artistic Director Spotlight: Laurel McKellar, THEMUSEUM

THEMUSEUM features a wide array of cultural content, ranging from Jane Goodall to Andy Warhol. We caught up with Laurel McKellar, Director of Programs & Exhibitions, to get a closer look at the inner workings of rel=”noopener”>THEMUSEUM.

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Artistic Director Spotlight: Marion de Vries

The Blyth Festival is the birthplace of many great Canadian plays – about 120 of them over the festival’s 40 years. We caught up with Artistic Director Marion de Vries to find out more about the festival’s rich heritage, as well as what’s in store for the season.

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Artistic Director Spotlight: Patti Brooks, Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival

The Sun Life Financial Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival has come a long way – from a small street event to the multi-day spectacle that features internationally renowned artists. We caught up with Artistic Director Patti Brooks to get insight into this amazing summer music festival.

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Artistic Director Spotlight: Gregory Oh, Open Ears Festival

Open Ears welcomes a new Artistic Director to the fold for the 2014 Festival. Gregory Oh, known for being a “new music revolutionary” is a renowned concert pianist, conductor and musical director.  We checked in with Gregory to get the scoop on his vision and plans for one of Waterloo Region’s favourite festivals coming later this month.

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Artistic Director Spotlight: Christian Bernard Singer, The Clay & Glass Gallery

The Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery has been a long-standing site for contemporary arts, with critically-acclaimed exhibitions that challenge ideas and perceptions of art, craft and design today. As Canada’s only museum that specializes in ceramics and glass, it’s a national treasure trove of art in our own backyard! We caught up with Curator Christian Bernard Singer to get some insight into the Gallery’s upcoming events.

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Artistic Director Spotlight: Claude Cloutier

The TD Kitchener Blues Festival experienced what Executive Director Rob Deyman called “its most successful year yet” in August of 2013. Presenting top notch emerging and established acts from Canada and the US, it’s no surprise that audiences are coming from far and wide to experience what’s quickly becoming one of Canada’s favourite outdoor music festivals. We caught up with Artistic Director Claude Cloutier to share with us some of his secrets to success.

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Artistic Director Spotlight: Majdi Bou-Matar, MT Space

Waterloo Region’s MT Space celebrates ten years this season under the artistic direction of Majdi Bou-Matar. We asked Majdi to talk about the success the theatre company has enjoyed and to provide some insight into their exciting upcoming projects. />
Q. Please tell us about your role as the founder and artistic director of MT Space, a company which has grown significantly in size and reputation over the course of the past ten years.
Before coming to Canada in 2003, I was an actor with the Afro-Arab Centre for Theatrical Research (CAAFRT) in Tunis. There I gained great interest in the intercultural aspect of theatre. Being on stage with African actors with whom I did not share the same language strengthened my belief in a physically-oriented inter-cultural theatre based on improvisations where spoken language is never a barrier.
I found in Canada, with its official cultural policy, an ideal place to advance my knowledge and practice my art along with artists who share the same passion. I have founded the MT Space to be a conduit for professional artists from diverse cultural backgrounds to share ideas, integrate in the community, and create new and innovative art, while at the same time build Canadian experience to be able to join the Canadian theatre industry. I believe that immigrant artists, and those from diverse cultural backgrounds could play a much larger role in the shaping the future of Canadian theatre.
Q. What attracts you about telling stories of the many diverse cultures that make up Canada?
MT Space believes in theatre that builds communities, changes policies and instigates social change. Our theatre creations are political, relevant, and challenging. The first question I ask myself when confronted with an idea for a new show is: “who cares?” I look for topics that are urgent and dangerous.
Q. How do you go about developing those stories into a stage play?
Once we identify the relevance and urgency of a certain topic to a specific community/ies, then we start our field research, interviews and discussions. We seek out community members with stories to tell, and professional artists (actors, designers, playwrights, musicians) that have something to say about the particular issue or topic. We immerse ourselves in the locality of our topics, themes and stories. We dig deep into the histories, the traditions and the memories of our actors and characters alike. We harvest the body and its cultural baggage. We work together based on a strong recognition and acknowledgement of our differences. We use such differences to create friction and spark actions that are thoroughly shaped and negotiated with much research, talent and artistry. We combine our disciplines and devise the work collectively.
Q. Tell us about The Last 15 Seconds, the company’s flagship piece which is to be remounted at The Registry Theatre April 2 – 5.
The Last 15 Seconds was devised using the process described above and tells the story of the tragic death of Syrian-American filmmaker Mustapha Akkad and his daughter Rima during a series of co-ordinated attacks in Amman, Jordan in 2005. Akkad is the director of two major films both starring Anthony Quinn, The Message: the Story of Islam (1976) and Lion of the Desert (1982). Akkad saw these films as a way to bridge the gap between the Western and Islamic world.
Using movement, dance, video, vocals and text, The Last 15 Seconds constructs an imagined physical and verbal dialogue between Akkad and Rawad Jassem Mohammad Abed, the suicide bomber who carried out the explosion that killed Akkad. The play delves into the imagined history and memories of both the victim and his killer as they revisit each other’s lives after their fatal encounter.
With over 70 performances in 12 different cities (including a tour to the Middle East) this play became one of our success stories. Listed as one of the top 10 plays in 2011 by both the Toronto Sun and theatre critic Lynn Slotkin, the play has garnered standing ovations and rave reviews across Canada and beyond.
Q. Beyond producing and touring your own productions, MT Space also presents plays from around the world.  How do you go about selecting shows to present to the community?
There are various reasons that make me chose a show to bring to this community. Most of the time it is work that I see or know of and I find that there is a mutual benefit for both of us – the artist and the presenter – to invite the work to Waterloo Region. It is about the voices that are not often heard and the stories that need to be shared. It is about the social responsibility I feel towards my own community in Kitchener and area and my wider community of Canadian artists and theatre makers, especially those of Indigenous and culturally diverse backgrounds.
Q. You’re presenting Brimful of Asha at the beginning of May.  It’s an interesting little piece of theatre featuring Toronto-based actor Ravi Jain and his real-life Indian mother having a conversation about arranged marriage.  The reviews are very good and audiences from Toronto to Vancouver have raved about it.  In your opinion, what makes this show work so well?
It is funny, exotic and about marriage!
This play is about the challenges that arise out of the hope for happiness that you want for your parents (or for your kids). People of all backgrounds can identify with the parent-child relationship and the show works because both performers are so good at engaging the audience.
On top of that, everyone gets to eat samosas!
Q. As if running a presenting/producing and touring theatre company wasn’t enough, a few years ago you also launched Impact Theatre Festival, an impressive addition to Kitchener-Waterloo’s cultural fabric.  Congratulations for dreaming it and successfully pulling it off most recently in 2013.  What inspired you to take on such a major endeavor as an international festival?
I think that our international festival IMPACT was a natural next step for our company. Since the very beginning I had the ambition to create a forum for sharing work and ideas. IMPACT was designed to bridge the local and the international, the emerging and the established, the ‘multicultural’ and the ‘mainstream.’ It is part of our efforts to ‘brown’ Canada’s stages and to share our cultural diversity and vibrancy with the rest of the world.
Q. What’s the next big thing for you and for MT Space?
The next big thing for us is to go to the moon or maybe to Mars. It is dreaming the impossible!

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SPOTLIGHT: Artistic Director Phil LeConte, KW Comedy Festival

We continue our spotlight series in this conversation with Phil LeConte of the KW Comedy Festival (formerly the Uptown Waterloo Comedy Festival).  The Centre is pleased to partner with this growing local event to present their Gala performance on March 6, 2014 which will feature a full evening of fantastic comics including headliner Steven Wright.
Q: How did the KW Comedy festival come to be? 
PL: Well in 2006 I started the Waterloo Arts Festival, which was an annual event held in Waterloo Park, and four years in I had one of my sponsors ask me if I had ever considered running an event in the Uptown Core. I had already thought about one day starting a Comedy Festival but now I knew that I would have initial support going in. I proposed a plan, budget and 3 months later in March of 2010 we held the first annual UpTown Waterloo Comedy Festival.
Q: What does it mean to you to be the Artistic Director of the KW Comedy Festival?
PL: Artistic Director is only part of my job as executive producer. But I suppose that the Artistic Director portion involves choosing all the comics and performers, putting together all the shows and line ups. And to be honest this is the fun part of the job. I watch a lot of comedy online and try to see as many live comedy shows as I possibly can. It is a great feeling when you put together a show and hundreds of other people get to experience what you made possible.
Q: How do you select comedians for the lineup? Is there a theme each year or do you look for certain types of comedians?
PL: Most of the comics I book I have either seen live or have done much research to make sure that they are up to the highest standards that we have been trying to achieve at the festival over the last 4 years. I want people to trust that even if you are not familiar with a specific comic that you can feel good about buying a ticket and knowing that you will have a great time.
I also review submissions from agents and comics alike. Every year we get more and more inquiries and that is a good sign. To me it means comics and agents are speaking highly of our event and how we run things.
And aside from a few new theme shows we are running this year I always try to have a mix of comics with different styles – this way our audience has more choice and can always find a show that appeals to them.
Q: The Festival has grown significantly since it began five seasons ago.  What do you think has contributed to your success?
PL: I think that the growth is due to a few things. Number one we received a lot of positive support from the Uptown BIA, local businesses and all the local media before we even started and that support grew with the event. Second I had great support from my staff, friends and family. Lastly, I think that we / I had a plan to not compromise the quality of the comics or the brand we wanted to create all while taking our time to expand when it was right.
Q: What else is new for the 2014 Festival?
PL: The biggest thing is that we have expanded into Kitchener. So we are now officially the Kitchener – Waterloo Comedy Festival. This expansion opens us up to more venues, which means more ticket sales (hopefully) and that creates the opportunity for more shows and bigger names. It has also allowed for us to partner with Centre In The Square for our opening night Gala. Without such a partnership we would not have been able to secure such a great headliner as the Comedy legend Steven Wright.
In addition we are having 3 theme shows, the Ethnic Late Show, the Rainbow Show and the Homegrown Show, all which are new to the festival this year.
Q: What are your hopes for the future of the Festival?
PL: I hope that the festival will live on for many years and that its reputation both with audiences and performers will be at the highest level for any event around the world.

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Spotlight: Artistic Director Peter Brennan, Jeans ‘n Classics

This year we are partnering with a number of innovative arts organizations to bring exciting productions and events to The Centre. In Spotlight, we’ll feature a series of conversations with the Artistic Directors at the helm of these creative entities.  We kick-off the year with a long-time partner whose work is well known to our audiences, Peter Brennan of Jeans ‘n Classics.
Q: Can you begin by sharing your thoughts on what defines the role of an Artistic Director?
PB: Generally speaking, the Artistic Director, of a theatre or an opera company for example, is responsible for coming up with everything to do with the art; choosing what’s going to be performed, where, its scope, the concept and direction of the work.
Q: How does this play out in your role as Artistic Director for Jeans ‘n Classics?
PB: It’s a charmed existence.  My role literally is from coming up with the show concept from soup to nuts, writing the orchestrations, finding the people who share my vision, understand the music and are capable technically to perform it…that would include the band, instrumentalists, and singers.  Over a period of time you can assemble a team, as is the case at Jeans ‘n Classics, and that team can handle whatever you throw at them.  They show you the scope of their talent and tons of opportunities open up as a result of this.   I never lose sight that the point is to bring this symphonic music to the main stage along with the band.   Without both, we’re just a band up there…sure we might be a good band, but the orchestra is an important part of the sound and the experience.
Q: You’ve made a number of changes this year, new design, new shows, why?
PB: We can’t rest on our laurels, we need to push the envelope and improve on it.  It would have been easy ten or twelve years ago to say ‘we have a dozen shows let’s stick with it.’  But for me the reason you create new shows is that hopefully you are getting better at what you do, and hand in hand with that goes the visual experience.
We want to keep our audience excited and happy and moved. And also intrigued…so that they don’t always know what’s coming.  So many interesting developments have been made in technology and we want to incorporate them into the show experience.  In our first show this year, 50 Years of Rock & Roll, we rolled out some of these great lighting and staging innovations to enhance the concert experience.
Q: All that tech must have been a challenge to pull together.
PB:  You might think so but the team at The Centre knows us really well and made it a very smooth process.  For me, one of the biggest challenges in creating that show was trying to find a balance between presenting successful songs that had a variety of styles, shapes, artists, genres while avoiding songs from past seasons or future shows coming later this season.  Trying to choose 18 pieces from a genre spanning 50 years was a carefully considered, and at times, painfully difficult process!
Q: What about a show like An Evening of Pink Floyd – The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon, that must be easy by comparison?
PB: Every show has its own set of challenges to be honest.  Though it’s always a tad more difficult when you have a broad based concept like 50 years of Rock & Roll or Age of Innocence or a disco show where the scope is pretty wide and there’s so much to pick from.
The new Pink Floyd show that we’re bringing to The Centre in February is a much tighter concept and different from the last version we performed.  The first half is a cross-section of The Wall.  Since there’s not enough time to perform the whole album we’ve taken highlights and set the tone for the night.  In the second half of the show we let it run through the full Dark Side of the Moon album.  We’ve performed this new concept last year in the States and just recently in Thunder Bay and the audiences went bonkers.  They just loved the idea of an orchestra playing this material and the melding of the two worlds.  That multi-dimensional approach is at the core of our work; we’ve always tried to maintain a respect for the material while bringing it to a whole new light through the orchestration and performances.  It’s done with a great deal of care.
Q: What else is on the horizon for 2014?
PB: We’re working on the new Queen show, One Vision – The Music of Queen, adding new material from a number of their albums. The choir is very engaged.  I’m really excited about the Woodstock 2 – The No Shows.  It’s ironic that the people who didn’t go to Woodstock ended up having great careers and longevity.  It’s staggering who the luminaries are who were invited but didn’t go, and some of the lame excuses they gave.  This show features songs that those artists would likely have played if they had gone to Woodstock.  It’s an exciting show for us because it gives us the opportunity to venture into new areas and perform music by artists like Bob Dylan, whose materials we haven’t explored before.
Q. Jeans ‘n Classics has enjoyed a long and successful history. Has it become what you first envisioned almost 20 years ago?
PB: I consider myself fortunate that it turned out to be what it is.  It’s much better than I had dreamed it would be mostly because I’m surrounded by an incredible team of artists, many who have been with Jeans ‘n Classics from the very beginning. They really are the best gang in the world to work with, and I didn’t know that when I first started out.  Who could have predicted some of the adventures we’ve had, the amazing places we’ve travelled to, and the many great artists we’ve worked with together.  The other thing I didn’t anticipate was the audience response.  It’s very gratifying to have people appreciate your work.  If it all ended tomorrow I would look back and say ‘what an amazing run we’ve had!’

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