For enthusiasts of world theatre, the work funded by one country’s arts council will have repeatedly caught the eye in recent years.
As many countries have continued to cut funding for the arts, Canada’s government has gone the other way and embraced culture and the idea of getting it seen around the world.
Had the Liberal party lost in Canada’s October elections, a different attitude may have been taken by the country’s politicians. Instead a great deal of optimism has been generated through Canada Council for the Arts’ commitment to sending domestic work abroad.
For example, Canada Hub has become a fixture at Edinburgh Festival Fringe with a series of successes including this year’s Sea Sick, produced by Toronto’s Theatre Centre, which will be presented at London’s National Theatre next season.
It also shows the value of building international partnerships with producing theatres, producers and arts organisations that can commission and collaborate on new work. Canada has done both and built a real profile from supporting grassroots, cutting-edge companies to getting work on the largest commercial stages.
Producing theatres such as the Citadel in Edmonton have also developed a programme of commercial pre-Broadway tryouts alongside homegrown work. They supporting Canadian talent on both, which helps to develop the technical and creative skills at home that can in turn develop into future opportunities for Canada’s own larger scale commercial work. Next season, the Citadel will transfer artistic director Daryl Cloran’s own Beatles musical production of As You Like It to main-stage runs at Winnipeg’s Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
At the other end, Why Not Theatre is a young company that is now being seen on global stages and being commissioned by major festivals and theatres after support and development opportunities from the Canada Council for the Arts.
It follows other companies like powerhouse Volcano, whose work has been consistently supported to tour extensively at home and abroad. Next year it will premiere a re-imagined major revival of Scott Joplin’s lost opera Treemonisha in an international collaboration. Such journeys and relationships take time, and this is where Canada Council’s commitment is so valuable.
Government-supported showcases are important to get a specific production picked up for programming, which is great, but the question is what happens after that. How does it ensure the artists and companies continue to thrive with placement for their next productions and opportunities for the work they are developing?
It is important to get the right placement, finding the right creative fit. That may not be a festival but at a regional producing house, which can help develop the artists and giving the funders more bang for their buck.
A greater onus should be placed on getting producers, producing theatres and literary managers to attend such showcases and conferences. They may be better equipped to develop longer-term relationships with artists and companies, and commission and collaborate on future work.
The funder should take on an additional responsibility in helping to lay down foundations that promote further opportunities for its artists should funding ever be cut.
The Canadian Arts Presenting Association (CAPACOA) is spearheading this drive and held its latest conference and showcase in Ottawa last month. Founded in 1985, this annual event has steadily built a valuable position on the Canadian and international theatre map.
In 2017, CAPACOA published a landmark report entitled Arts and Belonging that promoted the benefits of the arts through the sharing of knowledge. Chief executive Sue Urquhart and her team promote the idea that creativity and artistic longevity start with conversation and a sharing of ideas by people with knowledge and experience.
As well as showcasing Canadian talent, the event brings people from other countries together to discuss wider arts issues. This year, working closely with experienced Canadian arts administrator and facilitator Judy Harquail, the association invited international delegates from countries including the UK, New Zealand, Spain, Argentina, US and Puerto Rico, to share their knowledge of how to help move a country’s arts agenda forward, the challenges and potential solutions.
Ultimately, the format that CAPACOA has developed can only be an advantage to Canada’s national and international arts scenes, and seems to be echoed by the Canada Council for the Arts. This reflects the country’s arts administrators’ belief that the ongoing success of the creative industry relies on bringing people together from home and abroad in conversation and collaboration.