STAFFORD ARIMA

Where Calgary - - ENTERTAINMENT - —Michaela Ritchie

When a young Stafford Arima trav­elled with his mother from Toronto to Cal­i­for­nia on spring break in the late ‘80s, he had his heart set on Dis­ney­land and Sea World. What he got in­stead was a visit to the Shu­bert The­atre to see a mat­inée of Evita—“the Hamil­ton of the ‘80s,” as he now fondly re­calls. He had never seen any­thing like it be­fore.

“I just be­came com­pletely hooked by this ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in a dark­ened room, hav­ing the lights come up and see­ing mu­sic and lyric be­come a kind of nar­ra­tive ve­hi­cle for the story,” he says. “It took my breath away.”

That ex­pe­ri­ence laid the foun­da­tions of what would later be­come Arima’s guid­ing artis­tic phi­los­o­phy. “I al­ways say that the­atre is meant to re­veal, to heal,” he ex­plains. “The ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing to see the­atre has a kind of awak­en­ing en­ergy to it.”

Arima has found much ac­claim in New York and abroad di­rect­ing sto­ries that lend them­selves to that il­lu­mi­nat­ing prin­ci­ple. He be­came the first Asian-Cana­dian to di­rect a mu­si­cal on Broad­way when Al­le­giance pre­miered in 2015. His di­rec­tion of Rag­time in 2003 earned him eight Olivier Award nom­i­na­tions, in­clud­ing Best Di­rec­tor and Best Mu­si­cal. He de­buted Al­tar Boyz off-Broad­way, suc­cess­fully re­vived in­fa­mous Broad­way flop Car­rie and holds nu­mer­ous com­pa­ra­ble cred­its to his name af­ter a 20-year stage ca­reer. It may sound strange to some that for his en­core, Arima chose to move back up north and be­come the next artis­tic di­rec­tor of The­atre Cal­gary (page 38), but he says it was an ob­vi­ous next step.

“I’ve al­ways been at­tracted to the un­der­dog, to the in­di­vid­ual or the group that needs to be heard. That en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit is in the DNA of Cal­gar­i­ans—that spirit of prov­ing to one­self and to the world that we are here.”

As The­atre Cal­gary cel­e­brates its 50th an­niver­sary this sea­son, Arima says he is for­tu­nate to take part in re­flect­ing on all that the com­pany has ac­com­plished in the last half cen­tury, sug­gest­ing it will pre­pare him to look at the next 50 years both with an­tic­i­pa­tion and rev­er­ence.

“The­atre Cal­gary has had an amaz­ing Act One, and one that this city and its artists can be proud of. Now, what do we have in store for Act Two? I’m very for­tu­nate to have the chance to dis­cover that.”

What has sur­prised you the most about Cal­gary?

Cal­gary feels very de­fined and proud of it­self. The Cana­dian way is usu­ally to be apolo­getic, but I think there’s a kind of ex­u­ber­ant, un­abashed pride here in who we are, as Cana­di­ans and as Cal­gar­i­ans.

Your favourite place to dine out in Cal­gary?

I’ve had, sur­pris­ingly, some re­ally great sushi here. Zi­pang (page 55) and Roku (page 55) are both quite good and worth check­ing out.

Where do you hang out in your down time?

In­gle­wood. It’s very in­di­vid­ual, and has a va­ri­ety of shop­ping that is quite eclec­tic. Record­land (page 45) is a favourite. I’ve also been hang­ing out at the Crossroads Farm­ers’ Mar­ket (page 41) and the Cal­gary Farm­ers’ Mar­ket (page 41).

What ex­cites you the most about Cal­gary’s the­atre scene?

Cal­gary the­atre is lo­cated not just in one area. It’s not like Broad­way or off-Broad­way. You can see some­thing amaz­ing in the down­town core, and then you can drive 20 min­utes and see an ex­cit­ing new piece right across from an Arby’s.

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