State Of Theatre: Kelly Thornton

Kelly Thornton is an award-winning director and dramaturg. Since 2001, she has been the Artistic Director of Nightwood Theatre. Prior to this she worked in new play development as an assistant dramaturg at Canstage, Factory Theatre and at Buddies In Bad Times theatre as Rhubarb! Festival Director, curating, for two seasons, the largest festival of new works in Canada. She has been directing for the stage for over ten years. Selected credits include Veronique Olmi's Mathilde, translated by Morwyn Brebner (Nightwood), The Comedy of Errors for Canstage's Dream in High Park, The Danish Play (Nightwood, Aveny-Teatret, Denmark, Edmonton's Magnetic North Theatre Festival and National Arts Centre , Ottawa) and This Hotel (Theatre Passe Murraille/Planet 88- six Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations including Outstanding Direction). In 2003 Kelly was honoured with the prestigious Pauline McGibbon Award for her outstanding work as a Director.

What is your opinion on the current state of theatre in Toronto?

"The state of theatre in Toronto concerns me a bit, to be honest. Mainly because I think we are witnessing a dwindling of audiences. I think the current critical climate, set by our city's media outlets, has had a serious effect on our audiences and eroded even some of our dedicated audience base.

Toronto is a busy place, people are consumed by work and other commitments, and theatre, especially when it is often poorly received by the media, is not on one's 'to do' list. Ill feelings like: "Is this going to be work" or "Oh, I'm not going to like it anyway" sometimes keep people away from what can often be a transformative, mind blowing experience that lays inherent in the immediate nature of live theatre.

I just spent some time in Montreal and was so taken by the importance of culture, especially theatre to the Quebecois identity. We don't seem to have that here. Young people don't necessarily look to the playwrights as the important voices of our time. They don't seem to be choosing theatre as a key element in their lives. And yet you travel to New York and it is a vital part of the city's heartbeat for ALL generations. Of course some theatre can be under whelming (as can some movies...but when you see a bad movie you don't abandon the art form forever, you take it with a grain of salt)."

What needs to be improved upon?

"There is a vibrant fabric of theatrical activity in this city that should be seen. There are some incredibly exciting artists working on our stages today and I am most excited by the diversity of experience one can have in the theatre if one sniffs it out. There is wildly experimental stuff as well as engagingly strong narrative based plays about town, there is culturally diverse work, physical theatre, site specific work - much more than we even know about sometimes. Which brings me back to the media, they barely represent the activity that abounds.

Our Newspaper's Entertainment sections are often invaded by the visiting American celebrity or the exclusive interview from Manhattan of some washed up TV star. And we really have to ask ourselves 'what does this have to do with us?' I long for a more enthusiastic response to the vibrant theatrical activity in the city. We as Torontonians should feel the adversity of being part of an American cultural melting pot and strive like Quebec does to make our cultural identity paramount to our very existence. So I say go to the theatre, get engaged, open your mind to what can happen with that exciting and very intimate exchange that can only happen when it is LIVE."

Where do you see yourself in all this?

"Most importantly, of course, we are a women's company so the story-telling is from a female perspective. Of course that is not to say that our theatre does not welcome as many men seeking out good theatre as it does women. I love my mandate and I love the kind of theatre we bring to our stage and we enjoy and dedicated audience for the work we do.

I think Nightwood Theatre strives to produce high calibre, risk taking theatre. Something exciting about this season for example is that it represents that diversity of theatrical experience I was speaking of. Our season is a blend of the well made narrative play (Sonja Mills' THE DANISH PLAY) and the hugely experimental play (Sarah Kane's CRAVE). More than anything we strive to make theatre that is relevant to us and to our time."

Is your current show representative of that?

"In The Danish Play, though it is a historical drama, its themes resonate for today's world. It is a portrait of the cost of war on the individual. The senselessness of the borders that divide us. It is a profound play - a play that I have toured to four cities and always at the end I watch the audience, some unable to move from their seats because the effect has been so deep. It is a truly magnificent piece of drama that interestingly enough is also laced with dry Nordic humour, which only makes the tragedy that much more real. In

Crave the text is experimental in form, like a poem for four voices. But its core is about the isolation and desperation of individuals seeking love and belonging in this torturous world. This diversity of programming ultimately enables us as a company to broaden our audience base, to reach out to audiences that seek out all different experiences in the
theatre."

THE DANISH PLAY By Sonja Mills. Directed by Kelly Thornton February 22 to March 17, 2007 At The Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

The State of Theatre in Toronto is a weekly series where theatre artists and affiliates, professional and emerging, will be interviewed on their thoughts on the subject.


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