An internationally recognized theatre company in Ontario that is inspired by playwright George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries has named its new artistic director, someone known for his Shakespearean work.
The Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.-based Shaw Festival officially welcomed director British-born Tim Carroll to its ensemble on Thursday morning. As artistic director designate, Mr. Carroll will work with current artistic director Jackie Maxwell, who is departing at the end of 2016 after 14 seasons.
Mr. Carroll officially takes over as the Shaw Festival's artistic director on Dec. 1, 2016, for the start of the 2017 season.
A British theatre and opera director with 25 years of experience, Mr. Carroll is best known for his Shakespearean works, which have shown in theatres internationally and utilized original practices of The Bard where possible. He is also a founding member of the Factory Theatre Company (London) and was associate director of Shakespeare's Globe from 1999 to 2005 prior to directing productions with the Stratford Festival.
Shortly after the announcement, Mr. Carroll told The Globe and Mail that he sees this opportunity as "an exciting continuation of the work I've done."
"I've never made the distinction between Shakespeare and every other style of play," he said Thursday. "Good writing is good writing and makes for good theatre."
Though the longlist for the position was 30-strong and later trimmed to 12 with seven serious Canadian contenders, eventually the board unanimously chose Mr. Carroll to run the theatre company. There were two other Canadians in the final four candidates considered.
"We're living in a global world," the board's vice chair Peter Jewett said. "[Tim] is very familiar with Canada [and] had more knowledge of the Canadian industry than the other non-Canadians we talked to, but he knows that one of his jobs in the first year is going to be to get around the country and meet people."
The Shaw Festival was established in 1962 with a mandate to take inspiration from the work of plays written by or during the lifetime of George Bernard Shaw, his contemporaries and modern Shavian plays and musicals. A challenge for Mr. Carroll will be to counter the festival's stagnant ticket sales. So the big question is: How will he invigorate new audiences?
"It's too early to say what I'm going to do with the mandate," he said. "I'm very much here to learn for the time being about how the operation runs and what its strengths and weaknesses are."
Though he admits today's marketplace is not easy for live performance, Mr. Carroll says he still believes that there is an audience for intelligent, exciting theatre.
"Live theatre is at its best is when the work is all about being spontaneous and unpredictable … I'm very happy to embrace that … There is no question we will do the plays we want to do in the styles we want to do them."
Luckily for Mr. Carroll, it is Ms. Maxwell's 14-year legacy that loosened its original mandate of the institution considerably – making room for contemporary, female-driven and Canadian plays that are "in the spirit" of Shaw, but also forcing the festival to become more flexible.
"Jackie has done a great job in promoting Canadian artists especially and I think that would be a wonderful thing to carry on," said Mr. Carroll. "I think I'm going to be racking up the Air Miles to go and see what's out there."
Operating out of four venues, the Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.-based festival is also gearing up for an estimated $45-million building project and capital campaign.
"We're in for some exciting and entertaining years to come," said Mr. Jewett of the challenges facing the festival's future. "I'm very confident in our choice."