Playwright Yvette Nolan says Persephone Theatre needs to focus less on profit and more on building community.
Last week, the theatre company announced that Nolan had been named as a co-lead of its new Artists Working Group, which represents theatre workers and is intended to bring their perspective into conversations about how the organization should function.
Last year, Persephone’s artistic director Del Surjik resigned after many artists in the community began criticizing the for its lack of diversity. Since then, the theatre has pledged to do some soul searching.
Nolan, a well-known Algonquin playwright, director and dramaturge, said Persephone has a lot of work to do.
“A lot of theatres in this country have fallen into the same trap, which is being becoming disconnected from the communities in which they’re actually living,” she said.
“Part of the challenge that Persephone has faced was having to look at itself and go, ‘Why are we so white? Why are we so male? Why is there so little connection, actual true connection to the artistic community here?'”
Nolan, along with Cynthia Dyck, executive director of On the Boards Staging Company, will now reach out to other people in the theatre community to bring their perspectives into the Persephone’s artistic direction.
Nolan said the conversations with artists so far have been difficult, but necessary. She said many young artists have left the province because they weren’t being supported.
“People are hurt. People feel silenced. People felt disappeared,” she said.
“People were afraid because, of course, there’s a power dynamic there. The people who have the power are in charge of your career and your and the possibility of work in this community.”
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She said the theatre ultimately has to reconsider its priorities, and start focusing less on filling seats and more on its changing community.
“They were really focused, I think, on subscribers and, you know, getting people into the theatre and a kind of theatre that maybe is not as relevant anymore, given where we are,” she said.
“I think it was a bit of an awakening for the staff and the board of Persephone to realize that they weren’t they weren’t the theatre they thought they were.”
Nolan said making change is going to be difficult, but it’s important to try.
“It’s hard to recognize your own privilege. It’s hard to recognize inequity. And even when once you do, it’s hard to begin the work to make things more equitable.”