a soulpep­per start

The­atre com­pany looks to the fu­ture with new ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor

NOW Magazine - - STAGE - By GLENN SUMI

“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.” glenns@nowtoronto.com | @glennsumi

In­com­ing ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Emma Stenning says Soulpep­per’s pol­icy around be­hav­iour is “best-in-class prac­tice.”

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