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Rainbow Stage Hogg-wild about artistic director

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Ray Hogg will be welcomed to Winnipeg this week as the new artistic director of Rainbow Stage by a theatre community unhappy with the company's hiring process.

The 35-year-old Toronto resident, making his first trip here since the announcement last month, will unveil the organization's 2013 playbill, but he likely won't hear the grumbling from actors, directors and designers who feel they were shut out of the search for someone to succeed the late executive producer, Ken Peter. Some are saying privately that they feel disenfranchised by the non-profit summer theatre over its failure to post the position and carry out an open search.

"I think the people who are calling you are people who I got their resumé, we talked a bit on the phone and I knew those people didn't fit with what I was needing," says Julie Eccles, Rainbow's newly installed executive director.

She says was afraid if she had solicited applications, she wouldn't have had enough hours in the day to go through them all and would still be reading them.

Eccles, the theatre's general manager for the last three seasons, said she and the board were swamped with people applying before she even started a search for an artistic director to run the 58-year-old troupe. Expressions of interest came from as far away as Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria and Toronto. A shortlist was drawn up internally but the serious candidates came down to two -- Hogg and a Victoria wannabe, both of whom were brought to town for interviews.

"We needed someone who liked talking to people, had charisma and could be the face of the organization," says Eccles, who came to Rainbow after five years as general manager of the Zoological Society of Manitoba. "I couldn't find what we were missing here in town, someone who wasn't associated with another company. I really wanted someone here who was just for us, as selfish as that sounds. And this was a big one for me, I wanted someone younger."

Hogg, 35, was the clear winner.

"When we finally interviewed him he was so prepared and his vision of the future, without any prompting, was so in line with us," Eccles recalls. "It was an 'a-ha!' moment."

Hogg was known to Rainbow Stage mostly through his directing Cats in 2011, when the former dancer made a positive impression on cast and staff alike. He recalls hitting it off with Peter, who died suddenly of a heart attack in December 2011, and from whom he learned all about the organization during their daily car trips to rehearsals.

"I had been looking for a few years for a good reason to move to Winnipeg," says Hogg, during a recent telephone interview from his home in Toronto.

Hogg had made his Winnipeg stage debut in 2008 in the ensemble of Dreamgirls at Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. The Toronto-born, Montreal-raised performer was impressed with Winnipeg's flourishing arts scene and its vintage architecture. He made it a goal to get himself to Winnipeg.

"No, I wasn't surprised, I think I deserved the job," says Hogg, who plans to settle in Manitoba in April. "I presented a very clear plan. It's a job I really wanted. It's a company I believe in."

His intention is to honour the legacy Peter set out and the board's mandate, which is to support Manitoba talent and to train them. Hogg says he wants to develop mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities between senior and emerging artists.

"I'm a big believer in professional development at all stages of your career," says the former soloist with the Danny Grossman Dance company. "I can't believe the world-class talent in this city and I really want to showcase that talent. My really big goal is to increase the number of shows that are younger, hipper."

Hogg joins Rainbow after a season that was in the black and attendance topped 45,000 to see Footloose and Annie. There are no plans to expand its two-show summer season.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 1, 2013 C3

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