a soulpepper start
Theatre company looks to the future with new executive director
“I’m sympathetic to the trauma the company has been through, but I can wholeheartedly say that this is a team of people ready for the future with vigour and energy.”
That’s the feeling of Soulpepper’s new executive director Emma Stenning.
The UK-based arts leader, currently chief executive of the Bristol Old Vic, has just been announced as the ED of Toronto’s largest not-for-profit theatre company, replacing Leslie Lester.
Stenning assumes her duties in mid-November.
After a tumultuous and potentially brand-damaging eight months, during which the company dealt with four female company members’ allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against former artistic director Albert Schultz, who resigned in January (along with Lester), Soulpepper has been running relatively smoothly under acting artistic director Alan Dilworth and interim executive director Lisa Hamel.
The women’s civil cases against Soulpepper and Schultz were settled out of court earlier this summer.
“There’s best-in-class practice around behaviour and policy,” she says about the environment at the company now. “Not unlike the work we’ve done in the UK with the #MeToo movement, that’s
made us all reflect.”
Stenning finds Toronto’s diversity incredibly inspiring.
“The city’s welcoming and warm – although, when I first arrived, it wasn’t [physically] warm at all.”
She’s talking about her first time in Toronto, in January 2017, when she was visiting a friend who had relocated here.
Stenning says it’s exciting to work at a company that has an in-house group of resident artists.
“From a UK perspective, that’s a rare and precious thing,” she says. “The work that Alan has done to put together the next season is incredible. When I was in my office in Bristol and got the announcement about the season” – which includes Oraltorio: A Theatrical Mixtape, The Virgin Trial and Wedding At Aulis – “I was jumping up and down.”
The financial fallout of the civil case, and the loss of a planned $375,000 raise to Soulpepper’s annual grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, might signal some belt-tightening for the company.
“We’re not ready to talk about that yet,” says Stenning. “But I’m optimistic about the future.”
Obviously the company’s next big step is hiring a new artistic director.
“We can’t step completely into the planning until that person is in place,”
says Stenning, adding that there will be an announcement this fall.
Stenning is used to dealing with financial matters. At Bristol Old Vic, she transformed the company’s business model and, according to Soulpepper’s press release, “delivered a £25 M [$41 million Canadian] redevelopment of its historic theatre.”
She was also a cultural programme advisor for the 2012 Olympic Games.
“I spent a year and a half trying to understand what we might want to achieve in the opening ceremonies. Writing a first draft of the budget of that opening was an epic task.”
She also thinks Soulpepper could resume its expansion and collaboration plans that were put on hold after last winter’s controversy.
“I can definitely say this company’s instinct is to collaborate,” she says. “One thing I can offer is an international perspective. Bristol Old Vic was a wobbly regional theatre before I got there and in the past few years they’ve opened productions in New York and L.A.
“Once the artistic director is in place,” she continues, “I hope we start looking outside of these doors in the Distillery and out around the country and world.” firstname.lastname@example.org | @glennsumi
Incoming executive director Emma Stenning says Soulpepper’s policy around behaviour is “best-in-class practice.”