Royal MTC hires first female artistic director

Kelly Thornton leaving Toronto's Nightwood Theatre to take over for retiring Steven Schipper


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In its 60th year of existence, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre has finally broken the glass proscenium.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/10/2018 (1702 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In its 60th year of existence, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre has finally broken the glass proscenium.

For the first time, Canada’s oldest English-speaking regional theatre has hired a woman to take on the position of artistic director. Kelly Thornton, 53, will leave her duties at Toronto’s Nightwood Theatre to come to Winnipeg to take the helm of one one of the country’s most important cultural institutions starting in June 2019.

Thornton will be taking the position left vacant by Steven Schipper, who announced in March he will be retiring from his post on May 31, 2019, 30 years to the day from when he was hired.

Kelly Thornton has been named the new artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Company. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Thornton, 53, has herself maintained a long career in Canadian theatre. Born in Brockville, Ont., the youngest of four children, she moved with her family to Melbourne, Australia, at the age of nine before returning to Canada six years later. Ultimately, her post-secondary education found her studying theatre at the University of Guelph. After working as an actor and dramaturg, she took the reins of the feminist theatre Nightwood in 2001.

The move to the Royal MTC began in May when she was first interviewed in Toronto by the executive search company Searchlight, which led to her interview with RMTC’s hiring committee.

“I flew out to to Winnipeg to meet the committee in the last week of June and had a lovely meeting with them,” Thornton says. “I really connected, and that’s not always the case.

“That hiring committee was incredibly rigorous. They had a very well thought-out process and they asked a lot of questions, and we had a really strong human connection, which I think they were looking for. It’s not just, can a person program a season, but will this person fit in the community? Will this person fit into the work culture that Steven has created at RMTC?”

Thornton is clearly committed to a new career in Winnipeg. She will be moving with her husband Josep Seras and her 11-year-old daughter Chloe, but also moving to the city is her first husband, actor Alex Poch-Goldin, who was seen recently on the RMTC Warehouse stage in the 2016 production My Name Is Asher Lev. Because she shares custody of Chloe with Poch-Goldin, that was potentially a problem, but it came to an amicable solution.

“I have the modern family. When this idea first arose, I had to talk to Alex, and he was super-excited by it,” she says.

“So he’s coming too. And my husband is originally from Spain, from the Mediterranean, just north of Barcelona and he’s like: ‘I love the Canadian winter!’ He’s also super-excited.

“So we’re all moving out. Josep, Chloe and I are obviously going to buy a home and I think Alex will either rent or purchase. The prices are so fantastic.”

Royal MTC general manager Camilla Holland (who was the company’s first female GM) is an old friend of Thornton.

“We came up together at the same time in Toronto theatre, so we’ve been colleagues for decades now, which is amazing because we’re not that old,” Holland says.

Kelly Thornton was first interviewed in Toronto by an executive search company, which led to her interview with RMTC's hiring committee in June. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I’ve always been extraordinarily impressed with her dedication, her directing acumen, and her deep passion for telling women’s stories in her time at Nightwood,” says Holland, adding she was a part of the search committee but did not have a voting role.

“I was thrilled when she threw her hat into this exciting ring. I knew she would be a really fantastic match for this community. She would honour Steven’s successes and legacy, but look to cast her own future as well.

“I think Kelly’s going to embrace it and I think Winnipeg will warm to her really quickly,” Holland says. “She’s got a huge sense of humour and great stories to tell.”

For her part, Thornton is “over the moon” at the prospect of moving to Winnipeg.

“Everything about this move feels absolutely right. It feels already like a home,” she says. “I’m not going to miss Toronto at all. It’s such a grind.”

Twitter: @FreepKing

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Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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