Factory Theatre, the Toronto theatre company that’s one of the country’s foremost originators of new plays, has found its next leader: Mel Hague.
Hague, currently associate artistic director at Canadian Stage across town, will take over when outgoing artistic director Nina Lee Aquino decamps for Ottawa later this summer to lead the National Arts Centre English Theatre.
I know Hague best from her strong run curating the boundary-pushing Rhubarb Festival at Buddies in Bad Times. The Toronto-based artist has been the company dramaturge for Buddies and Obsidian Theatre, as well. I asked her some questions over e-mail in advance of the announcement of her appointment today – and here are her responses.
Congratulations on the new job. We mostly see directors appointed as artistic directors – and it’s great to see an artistic leader who is best known as a dramaturge (and curator) land one of these roles. When you talk to people outside theatre, what’s your one- or two-line explanation of what you do as a dramaturge?
For me, dramaturgy is a verb – everyone does it in some way. When you look at a story and think, oh that ending should have been this instead – that’s dramaturgy. I would say that a dramaturge is like an editor for theatre, but the role means so many things to so many people, and constantly needs to shift based on what the needs of the work are, who you’re working with, forms, histories and content. That’s what I love about it.
How do you think being a dramaturge will make a difference in how you lead Factory?
To be honest, I’m not sure yet. I am who I am and I always bring every skill I have to the table. For me, as an artist, working in depth with playwrights and creators is the best way for me to access the infinite possibilities of art, creation and storytelling. I get to be with them in that incredible moment of creation – and it is an honour to be there, every single time.
What, to you, makes Factory stand out from the other theatre companies of similar size – and with similar mandates – in Toronto?
Toronto is an incredible city, full of arts and culture. There are other companies devoted to supporting Canadian artists as there should be – this city needs all of us. But I think that, programming aside, what makes any theatre distinct is the relationships that you build with that space. Factory is a formative space for me; I had one of my first professional internships here, and so the plays, the people and the relationships I built then, are what I think of when I think of Factory. And that is what I think I want to share – many ways and opportunities for many people to build their own distinctive memories and relationships with us: with our plays, our playwrights, our space and our neighbourhood.
The old complaint about the hiring of artistic directors is that the emphasis was usually on the artist and leadership was supposed to naturally follow. You’ve benefited from some leadership training that has emerged in response to these concerns – like the Artistic Leadership Residency program recently created at the National Theatre School. Was that helpful?
The NTS Residency was a huge opportunity that offered me, among other things, the gift of time – time to consider how I want to be in the world. One of my biggest takeaways was that every one of us is a leader – from playwrights, actors, creators, designers, to administrative and technical professionals, our box office and front of house personnel, our audiences, and more. All leaders. All critical. At this moment, I am really interested in moving away from the idea that leadership is always connected to a job title – it’s everywhere, all the time, in all of us. And if we can find a way to work together, as leaders, that’s where I’m interested in being.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
I was in Montreal this weekend for personal reasons, but got to spend five hours at the Festival TransAmériques (continuing to June 9), one of the great events showcasing avant-garde performance in this country. I had one of those nights where each show seems to top the next and you end it feeling exhilarated by the possibilities of what can take place on a stage (or in a water tank).
I started with two ticketed dance shows that had the discerning local crowds up on their feet at the end. First was High Bed Lower Castle, a co-creation of Ellen Furey (Montreal) and Malik Nashad Sharpe (London), on to June 1, that I hastily described on Twitter as “starting like a Grimes/Lil Nas X crossover video set in a Meta VR world – and ending with an air guitar singalong to Fleetwood Mac.” What I loved was how I was constantly surprised by what these two performers, like a pair of dancing nesting dolls shedding shells, revealed next in this loud and unabashedly weird exploration of the intersection of myth and pop culture.
Next was Les jolies choses (also on to June 1) by Montreal choreographer Catherine Gaudet – the ironic title is in the vein of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days – in which five dancers were kept in constant motion for close to an hour, trapped in a limited series of movements to a metronomic score, allowed only small moments of rebellion as they sweat through their leotards. It was extraordinary watching them break down and break through – the torture and the exhilaration of repetition and perseverance. Surprisingly funny and ultimately cathartic as heck as a metaphor for the hell of the past two years, aka the pandemic.
(“Dance really feels necessary after having our physical worlds and movements shackled for so long,” I tweeted. “I didn’t realize I was so thirsty to watch bodies break the rules, show off – and just be weird.”)
I capped off that FTA night by watching Los Angeles artist Lars Jans’ Holoscenes, which was free in the Quartier des Spectacles and is now, alas, over. These are haunting underwater performances in a 3,500-gallon glass tank that can be filled in under a minute. (The performance installation’s very first incarnation was at Toronto at Nuit Blanche in 2014.)
It’s clear the FTA is back and firing on all cylinders post-pandemic under the new co-artistic direction of Martine Dennewald and Jessie Mill. Can’t wait to return next year – hopefully for more than five hours.
People fall in love with the performing arts when they are young – and I worry about the long-term effects of the pandemic on the next generations of audiences and artists. It’s more important than ever to get kids and teens to the theatre – and bring theatre to kids and teens.
Two big festivals with that aim kick off this week.
The Vancouver International Children’s Festival runs from May 31 to June 5 with theatre productions from near (Monster Theatre’s Crisis on Planet Z!) and far (Denmark’s A Story of a House That Turned into a Dot).
Meanwhile, in Toronto, WeeFestival, an early-years event aimed at audiences ages 0 to 6, runs from May 31 to June 12. I’m hoping to take my little one to a show there, perhaps Cheri Maracle’s The Friendship Star.
There are number of shows opening for adults in Toronto this week too, including an anticipated new production of 2009 Governor General’s Award for Drama winner Where the Blood Mixes by Kevin Loring at Soulpepper (runs to June 26).
I will be up at the Stratford Festival, which is having its first proper opening week since 2019. Hamlet and Chicago have their opening nights in the Festival Theatre on Thursday and Friday – and then, on Saturday, it’s the most notable opening in decades as Richard III officially inaugurates the stage in the brand-new Tom Patterson Theatre. Look for my reviews starting Friday.
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