A place where the future of theatre is already here
A little-known hazard of working at NTS: our administrative offices are not air conditioned! For those of us who work through the summer, the month of August can feel very, very long. I have two fans in my office and find it best to only crack my window a little while pulling the blinds all the way down. It feels a bit, with our building’s thick stone walls, with no students around, with no pressing theatre emergencies, like I am working in a dark cave. It’s a slow, languorous, sweaty time of year, and while I value it as a moment to think, plan, reorganize and redirect, I am so excited to finally have some life, some noise in the building. It’s la grande rentrée, the first day of classes at the National Theatre School of Canada. Soon, our hallowed halls will be filled with students in tears or wailing or wrestling (because, mostly, they’re acting), with equipment being hoisted and schlepped, with swatches of fabric and splashes of paint… a whirling dervish of activity that won’t stop until May. A little-known benefit of working at NTS: if you are ever bored or tired at your desk, go for a quick walk in the halls.
It is hard to describe the energy that takes hold of our buildings. It’s the energy of opening night, cranked to 11 and sustained over months. Constant work, exploration, debate, emotion… an energy that comes from young, ambitious, rigorous, passionate artists taking possession of the profession that they will soon join. Five years into my journey at NTS, I have learned that there is nuance to the noise as well. There is the nervous buzz of incoming students, unsure of how they fit into this wild expression of creativity. There is the staccato energy of second-year students, excited to have a chance to start leading and putting what they have learned to the test. And there is the calmer energy of graduating students, a quiet confidence that is visible in the way they hold themselves, an almost physical manifestation of their readiness to graduate and get going on their careers. Of course, this being a school full of theatre makers, the volume is high and the expressions of emotion frequent.
In truth, this energy is the energy I want to feel every time I walk into a theatre: a feeling of possibility, acceptance, emotional expression and passion. I dream of our professional venues feeling as inhabited and uninhibited as NTS does every day. And I wonder often what gets lost along the way… why do our theatres feel so stayed? Why so serious all the time? Why so prim and proper? Why the insistence on totally homogenous ways of presenting theatre, at a certain time for a certain number of days? Why do we insist on containing our artistic expression to the stage and not let is spill into every nook and cranny of our venues? Why do we manufacture so much distance between artist and spectator, process and final product? If theatre is to remain a vital form, if it is to be the tool our communities use to deal with our most complex problems, we have to find a way to sustain the energy these young artists produce and let it fill our professional spaces.
All this enquiry to say that I have the great privilege and pleasure to work in a place where the future of theatre is already here. A theatre that is engaged, complex, full of energy and in the hands of an inspiring group of artists who, through their very presence, make the walls vibrate with sound, colour and emotion and who inspire me every single day.
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Gideon Arthurs and his daughters at a back-to-school gathering