Guiding light New artistic director Suzie Martin takes the reins of Theatre Projects Manitoba with a mandate to move forward

Theatre Projects Manitoba has looked into its past to find the person to lead it into the future.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/03/2022 (189 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Theatre Projects Manitoba has looked into its past to find the person to lead it into the future.

The company has named Suzie Martin as its new artistic director. While studying at the University of Winnipeg, Martin was an assistant director with her predecessor, Ardith Boxall, for the 2010 Theatre Projects production of North Main Gothic, Winnipeg author Carolyn Gray’s gritty drama.

Preview

Coming up at Theatre Projects Manitoba

● Screening of digital footage from performances of Chautauqua: The Interlake Trail, Monday, 7 p.m., Cinematheque

End of the Line, a staged reading of a musical from the Walk & Talk Theatre Company, April 6, 7 p.m., West End Cultural Centre

Climate and Main, three new short plays by Manitoba playwrights Waawaate Fobister, Jack Maier, and Victoria Hill and Tanner Manson, June 2022

”She’s been such a lovely, supportive and cheerleading presence in my life since then,” Martin says of Boxall.

It was Boxall, who announced her resignation from the company in July 2021, who encouraged Martin to further her theatre studies after their 2010 collaboration.

That included directing shows at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival and for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s Master Playwrights Festival, but also a move to Edmonton.

During her six-year stay in the Alberta capital, Martin earned a master of fine arts degree at the University of Alberta, served as an associate season director with the Edmonton International Fringe Festival and was part of the inaugural dramaturgy lab at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre.

She also continued to direct fringe productions in Edmonton and Winnipeg, two cities that maintain a healthy rivalry over which summer theatre festival is Canada’s largest.

While her studies and work had aimed her toward an artistic director’s job, she remained unsure about pursuing the career last summer after Boxall resigned.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Director and dramaturg Suzie Martin is the new artistic director of Theatre Projects Manitoba.

A chat over a beer with her mentor, as well as Theatre Projects’ job description, got the 35-year-old director pointed in the right direction.

“The way they phrased the posting was so lovely. The way they described what they thought the job was made me apply for it, and made me realize I was already doing that kind of work,” Martin says.

Martin’s dramaturgical background — “a motivator and a guide, and a coach and a midwife,” is how Martin describes it — is a big plus for Theatre Projects, which often debuts works from first-time playwrights.

“It’s one of the things we hoped for with a new artistic leader is that they would have some experience with dramaturgy. A really exciting part of Suzie coming on is her facility with and her interest in dramaturgy,” says Rea Kavanagh, the company’s general manager. ”It’s quite a treat to have her back, and have her energy here as well.”

Martin has seen larger theatre companies following Theatre Projects’ lead in developing local authors and presenting their work, but she says it takes more to prevent a one-and-done playwright.

“There’s sort of a joke in Canadian theatre: ‘What makes a Canadian classic? A second production,’ ” she says. “Can we do second productions? Can we sustain artists in the middle part of their career when they’re not considered emerging anymore but not necessarily established on the world stage?

“I’m really interested in that sustaining arts practice, and that directly relates to the roots in the community that Theatre Projects already has.”

Martin returned to Winnipeg in the spring of 2020 to direct a University of Winnipeg production, only to have the COVID-19 pandemic derail the production.

She spent the extra time attending theatre conferences online to keep her head in the game, but also grew to appreciate Winnipeg once again.

“It was also good to leave Winnipeg and be somewhere else for a while,” she says. “I’d come back and forth all the time, so I had this ongoing conversation with this city and whether I wanted to be based here, and it always kept drawing me back.”

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Suzie Martin, the new artistic director of Theatre Projects Manitoba, will take over from Ardith Boxall on April 1.
Martin recognizes the daunting task that awaits her when she takes over Theatre Projects’ top artistic job on April 1 after Boxall’s tenure. The future of the COVID-19 pandemic adds another hurdle of undetermined height, but behind every challenge are opportunities.

”Theatre Projects is at this really cool moment of transition now,” Martin says. “There’s willingness from the board and there’s willingness from the community to push the envelope of what that little theatre can be. I think it’s really exciting.”

Kavanagh likens it to a clean slate.

”Ardith was gracious enough to shepherd the company through these last two years of enormous turmoil,” she says. “As the world really did shift, we certainly saw there was an enormous new opportunity to blaze new trails, to reimagine the place of the company within Manitoban theatre, within Canadian theatre, that this was a fabulous moment in time to re-examine our purpose.”

The company’s schedule of productions for the 2022-23 season — as yet unannounced — is mostly set in stone, which means theatre fans might have to wait until 2023 to see a Martin-directed play at Theatre Projects.

Martin says she’ll have her hands full guiding the productions and looking to the future.

”I have relationships with numerous playwrights and some of them have work in various stages of development and there are definitely a few that I’m thinking it would be good to see, but I think I need to know more,” she says. “I need to have those conversations with the community and the company.

“We’ve also had two years of everything being postponed. We’ve made commitments to artists that we couldn’t honour, and how do we honour them going forward… Big conversations.”

Alan.Small@winnipegfreepress.com

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small
Reporter

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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