It was 1996 and Winnipeg was bidding farewell to its beloved Jets and departing young people who believed their hometown was no longer a major-league city.
"I remember that time when Winnipeg was wondering who we were because we didn't have the Jets any more," says Ann Hodges, then a National Theatre School graduate on the cusp of a promising career as a director, not knowing whether it would take place in a bigger centre. "There was a poor-me mentality going on in the city."
Hodges left on a theatre exchange to Cuba and got to talking to the host artistic director, who told her that when theatre spread away from the capital of Havana and into the smaller centres, the country found its soul. The words resonated with the former St. Mary's Academy student, who came home determined that even without the Jets, Winnipeggers could still delight in good plays.
"I knew from travelling around the country that what we had here was very special," says Hodges. "I knew Winnipeg had so much going for it, and it's just not defined by a sports team. I didn't have to move to one of the bigger cities to make my mark on Canadian theatre. I wanted to make my mark as a resident of Winnipeg."
That mark is being the most sought-after freelance director in the city. In 2012 she helmed the best show of the year, the black-hearted dysfunctional family drama August: Osage County, as well as the admired Manitoba Opera production of Daughters of the Regiment. Since then she has worked in Calgary and Vancouver, at the Blyth Festival in Ontario, and provided the steady hand behind Bashir Lazhar, last month's Theatre Projects Manitoba offering that rates as one of the highlights of the Winnipeg theatre season.
She directs the business satire Other People's Money, which closes Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's current year, and Harvey next October, which kicks off a new one. Her plate is also piled with the première of Jail Baby for Sarasvati Productions next month, Mary Poppins at Rainbow Stage in August and another assignment for a show not yet announced.
Manitoba Theatre for Young People, where she got her start as an actor, also recently came calling, but there was no room in her schedule.
"I've been very lucky the last couple of years," she says. "I've been offered really great projects. It's exciting -- I'm now able to work across the country but I have kept my home here."
Other People's Money -- written by former real estate entrepreneur Jerry Sterner -- is an off-Broadway hit that was the darling of Wall Street in 1989. American mogul Donald Trump saw it, hailed it as an extraordinarily timely and insightful play, insisted it belonged on Broadway and offered to pay for its move there. Sterner declined the offer but was more receptive when Warners Bros. turned his script into a romantic comedy in 1991 that earned a modest $25 million at the box office.
Suits like Trump were interested because Sterner wrote what he called an honest play about a businessman, set during the corporate-takeover frenzy of the Reagan era. In Other People's Money, ruthless corporate raider Lawrence Garfinkle (named Garfield in the movie) sets his sights on a profitable but undervalued family business that he will destroy to earn huge profits for himself and other stockholders. Larry the Liquidator's deal would mean unemployment for most longtime employees and economic disaster for the town. Kindly company CEO Andrew Jorgenson refuses the offer to maximize shareholder value, saying it would be suicide for his business. Both sides ultimately get to lay out their positions at the firm's shareholder meeting.
Hodges says no one should judge Other People's Money by the film version, which starred Danny De Vito, Penelope Ann Miller and Gregory Peck (in his last major role).
"There was a different intention and they went after all this silly romance," she says. "They sliced and diced the dialogue into different parts of the story. It feels like it went off the rails.
"Why did they mess with a really interesting, exciting examination of the business world?"
Garfinkle represents the new breed of businessman who is in it for immediate financial gain and doesn't care about the collateral damage. The charm and brashness of Garfinkle reminds Hodges of Kevin O'Leary of Dragons' Den fame.
"Garfinkle is Falstaff in a different world and a different time," she says. "That time in the '80s felt like it was a big turning point in the 20th century. We can look back on it now and see the ramifications. The play is what I call a cautionary tale."
Hodges appreciates Sterner's even-handedness.
"He presents both arguments so articulately," she says. "It's a cool play to watch. I sit very firmly on one side until some of the arguments are made on the other side."