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Artistic director leaving MTYP in good shape

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Derek Aasland was given the task of turning around MTYP's fortunes.

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Derek Aasland was given the task of turning around MTYP's fortunes. Photo Store

The Manitoba Theatre for Young People has rebounded from tough financial times so quickly that the man who led its resurgence is letting the company stand on its own.

Derek Aasland, who took over as artistic director in March 2013 after losses had threatened MTYP's future, announced Monday he would be stepping down on June 30.

While he said he knew that the job was not a long-term situation, even he was surprised how quickly MTYP returned to its feet.

"There was a sense it was going to take a long time," Aasland said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "We had to do move swiftly or the theatre could have been lost."

That meant dramatic downsizing, and only five productions were staged during the 2013-14 season while Aasland and board members pounded the pavement to find a financial solution.

"Here's the situation we were in: Can we do something about it? And can we do something about it now?" he recalled. "There was no time to have any doubts."

The financial solution arrived, in part, from two-for-one matching grant from the Winnipeg Foundation, Aasland said. Donations from corporations and the public also helped.

By October 2013, the theatre company was back in the black, reporting a $137,000 surplus and reducing its overall debt by $1.6 million.

A second consecutive surplus is expected to be reported later this year, a media release announcing Aasland's departure said Monday.

Aasland considers himself as a transitional figure at MTYP, between the founding 30 years and company's next 30 years.

"It would have been wonderful to stay on," Aasland said, adding, "It was a good point for me to leave the seat for the next person to take MTYP to the next level."

MTYP has launched a search committee, led by its board of directors, for a replacement. Max Reimer has been named interim artistic director.

Aasland is returning to the Toronto area to be closer to his family and to take part in other theatre projects, he said Tuesday afternoon.

"This is what I enjoy to do. I put down tracks for artists to run their trains on," he said.

But his leaving doesn't come without moments of sadness. Besides his 16-month stint as MTYP's artistic director, he was also its associate artistic director and assistant general manager from 2006 to 2010.

"I love this company," he said. "I find it difficult to even get away from this building."

From an artistic standpoint, much of what Aasland brought to MTYP has yet to appear onstage. He said the company's hard work to stabilize its finances also helped it boost its 2014-15 season to seven productions, including appearances by two of Winnipeg's top children's performers, Al Simmons and Fred Penner.

"We were able to get back to the basics of what made the company successful."

alan.small@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2014 D3

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