The board of directors at Calgary’s Alberta Theatre Projects stayed mum after its surprise statement in November that artistic and executive director Rohit Chokhani was “no longer with the organization.”
No further comment was the message then, and each time I followed up during the winter, indeed, I received no comment.
But now, in a statement sent to The Globe and Mail, chair Vishal Saini has broken the board’s silence about what has been going on behind the scenes at the theatre company since it parted ways with Chokhani just 13 months after he started his job – and days before his holiday production of The Jungle Book opened on stage.
While general manager Claudina Morgado and producer Marcie Januska have been handling the company’s day-to-day operations, the board hired Tony McGrath, a consultant who runs Surge Strategies Group and spent a couple years as chief executive officer of Calgary’s Grand theatre during its recent upheavals, to provide advice and support to them going forward.
In the end, after McGrath’s consultation with the local community, the board has decided not to search for a new artistic and executive director, but to split that position in two again and hire both an artistic director and an executive director. Martin Bragg & Associates are in charge of the search and more information will be announced soon.
Saini did not respond to a request for an interview, so I don’t have any new information as to the reasons behind Chokhani’s sudden departure (so sudden that a publicist was offering media interviews with him one week and then denying them the next).
But the board’s decision to split ATP’s top leadership position in two suggests that whatever problems were going on at the company were less about the individual than the role.
As it happens, many in the Alberta theatre community voiced concern when they saw ATP’s posting for a new executive and artistic director in March of 2021, four months after the death of Darcy Evans, who had been in that position since 2018.
Former ATP artistic director Vanessa Porteous sent the board a letter at the time, stating: “In a nutshell, the job described is impossible.” Vern Thiessen, former artistic director of Edmonton’s Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre, spearheaded an open letter to the board then, too, with a similar message. He told me earlier this year: “The job posting was so ridiculous in its scope and responsibilities and the pay behind it was so poor that the chances of finding any successful candidate was small.”
Questions linger about why the board decided to plunge ahead with the process that led to the hiring of Chokhani despite community warnings about it, and why they were so mysterious about bringing McGrath on to consult in November, referring only to engaging an unnamed “theatre executive professional.”
You can file this imbroglio in the big, whopping pile of similar controversies marked, “Who provides over oversight of the boards?” at not-for-profits.
That said, however, the bottom line is that ATP is on the right path now – and, for that, the board deserves applause for listening and learning. Better late than never.
Shark jumps south
Sonia Friedman Productions and producer Scott Landis announced this morning that The Shark is Broken, Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon’s behind-the-scenes comedy about the making of Jaws, will open on Broadway for a strictly limited 16-week engagement starting on Aug. 10. The press release notes that this transfer comes after “critically acclaimed runs at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and on London’s West End.”
There is absolute no mention anywhere in the release about The Shark is Broken’s North American premiere in Toronto last fall, however, perhaps because the critics here did not bite. My review was not an outlier.
There’s no mention of any casting for New York beyond Ian Shaw, returning to play his father, Robert Shaw. This suggests that the producers will be hiring new actors, likely American, to play American stars Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. That would go a long way to helping the play swim better on this side of the Atlantic, in my opinon.
What’s opening this week – three big shows to see in Montreal
The Riopelle Project, internationally acclaimed director Robert Lepage’s theatrical response to the centenary of Quebec painter Jean-Paul Riopelle, opens to critics on Thursday night at Théâtre Jean-Duceppe, where it runs to June 11 (in French). Olivier Kemeid is credited with the words in this four-and-a-half hour long show; Steve Blanchet is listed as co-creator.
Echo, Cirque du Soleil’s first new touring show to premiere since the start of the pandemic, is also holding its media night Thursday. It runs under the big top all summer long to Aug. 20. Mukhtar Omar Sharif Mukhtar is the author/director, having replaced well-known designer Es Devlin in that role during COVID-19 reconfiguration.
Prayer for the French Republic, the latest from Bad Jews playwright Joshua Harmon, is on stage at the Segal Centre to May 14. This Canadian premiere of last year’s winner of outstanding play at New York’s Drama Desk Awards in 2022 is directed by Lisa Rubin, and will have French surtitles at all performances. Magnifique.
Opening elsewhere in Canada – west to east
The Legend of Georgia McBride, a play by Matthew Lopez (The Inheritance) about an Elvis impersonator who pivots to drag, is running at the Arts Club in Vancouver to May 21.
Burning Mom, Mieko Ouchi’s new show about a 63-year-old mother headed to the Burning Man festival (inspired by her own mom), opens on the main stage at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre on April 26 and runs to May 20.
New, Pamela Mala Sinha’s cliché-busting play about a group of immigrant men and women in 1970s Winnipeg (inspired by her parents and their circle), is at the Berkeley Street Theatre through May 14. This is a Necessary Angel Theatre Company production in association with Canadian Stage and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (where it premiered last fall). Aparita Bhandari talked to Sinha about the play then for The Globe and Mail.
Gloria: A Life, American playwright Emily Mann’s show about famous feminist Gloria Steinem that changes form in an intriguing, interactive way in the second act, also opens in Toronto this week. The Harold Green Jewish Theatre production faces the critics on Thursday and runs to May 7.
Billy Elliot: The Musical, in a new production directed by Jeremy Webb with choreography and co-direction by Ray Hogg, hits the stage at Neptune Theatre in Halifax this week. It’s set to run to June 18.