October 26, 2020

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Leader of the pack

New Royal MTC artistic director Kelly Thornton describes her new job, and talks about her Winnipeg directing debut with Bang Bang

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/10/2019 (391 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

During a Season 3 episode of the Baroness von Sketch Show, calamity strikes a school bus of a Theatre for Young Audiences group touring a production of Titus Andronicus for Kids. The troupe must rely on their theatre training to survive.

MTC Artistic Director Kelly Thornton said she loves Winnipeg, the culture and the community pride. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

MTC Artistic Director Kelly Thornton said she loves Winnipeg, the culture and the community pride. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

"We are going to band together," the group chants. "We are resourceful. We are creative. We are theatre people."

The sketch isn’t just hilarious, it’s also a frighteningly accurate depiction of any group of theatre people. Trust me: I myself am a theatre person.

Theatre people are everywhere. They are your neighbours, your baristas and your Winnipeg Free Press writers. They are actors, writers, directors, designers and producers and they are united under the singular vision of one mysterious entity: the artistic director.

Frances Koncan

Why don’t you start by telling me your name and your position at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre?

Kelly Thornton

My name is Kelly Thornton and I am the artistic director of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre.

Frances Koncan

Sweet, perfect, amazing. But what exactly does an artistic director do?

Kelly Thornton

The primary job is artistic leadership, so through programming, season planning, marketing, development and building relationships. I just came out of general auditions and senior artists meetings and I met 150 great, talented Winnipeggers, for instance.

Frances Koncan

You’re from Toronto, right? When did you move to Winnipeg? When did you start at RMTC?

Kelly Thornton

I am! I moved here the last week of May and I was at my desk here at RMTC on June 1st.

Frances Koncan

Speedy. How is it so far? Is it hard?

Kelly Thornton

It’s a balancing act. You’re being pushed and pulled in all directions while trying to focus on the core idea of the conversation you want to have with your audience, the conversation you want to provoke on stage.

Frances Koncan

Speaking of provocation, you’re directing Bang Bang by Kat Sandler, which opens Thursday at the RMTC Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre. What’s that about?

Kelly Thornton

It’s about a white male playwright who has decided to exploit a story he reads in the paper about a black female cop who mistakenly shoots an unarmed black man at a roadside stop.

 

Sébastien Heins with Beverly Ndukwu (right). (Dylan Hewlett photo)

Sébastien Heins with Beverly Ndukwu (right). (Dylan Hewlett photo)

 

Frances Koncan

Definitely provocative! What themes does the play explore?

Kelly Thornton

It’s a play about cultural appropriation. It’s an outrageous, hilarious unpacking of some brutal issues. Kat is quite brilliant in that she’s dealing with difficult issues but doing it with humour and intelligence.

Frances Koncan

Do you think the show reflects who you are as a director?

Kelly Thornton

Yeah, I think it’s a great launch for me. I think that theatre should start the conversation, not be the end of the conversation. I like theatre that lives in your subconscious long after the curtain. And Bang Bang will do that.

Frances Koncan

Have you directed a show in Winnipeg before?

Kelly Thornton

I haven’t! This is my debut.

Frances Koncan

Who’s in it?

Kelly Thornton

The cast is Alex Poch-Goldin as Tony Capello, Karen Hines as Warona Setshwaelo, Beverly Ndukwu as Lila Hines, Tom Keenan as Tim Bernbaum and Sébastien Heins as Jackie Savage.

Frances Koncan

That’s an interesting cast! It has some locals and some out-of-town actors.

Kelly Thornton

Yes, three Winnipeg actors, one from Montreal and one from Toronto. I want as much Winnipeg talent on the stage as possible. Historically, RMTC has brought in a lot of out-of-towners, but I think it’s important to invest in the local community and put that talent on the stage. There’s a huge talent base here.

Frances Koncan

Have you gotten to do any fun things since you moved to Winnipeg?

Kelly Thornton

We went on the riverboat! We went up and down the river looking at the historic sites, which was great. The geographic location of Winnipeg is very energetic. If you look at a map, the city is right smack in the middle of Turtle Island, of North America. The confluence of the Assiniboine River and the Red rivers combined with 15,000 years of human activity... it’s a powerful place. I think that’s why a lot of really dynamic people have come out of this area.

Frances Koncan

And how are you liking it here? Do you miss Toronto?

Kelly Thornton

I love Winnipeg. I love the culture here and the community pride people have. I love the big blue sky. I love the people and the talented community. There’s disparity in the city that is problematic and needs to be addressed but I think it’s a lovely, livable place. I’m very impressed!

Frances Koncan

How different is it coming from a smaller organization like Nightwood Theatre, where you previously worked as artistic director, to a larger one like RMTC?

Kelly Thornton

It’s a totally different kettle of fish. At Nightwood we had a core team of only six people; you kind of just roll up your sleeves and do everything. Here at RMTC there’s a large staff and it functions like a big machine. It’s fantastic and everyone is incredible... but they all want your opinion! There’s a lot of moving parts to keep organized.

Frances Koncan

Absolutely. OK, most important question — what is your zodiac sign?

Kelly Thornton

I’m a Virgo! You know what, I’m a double Virgo: Virgo sun and Virgo rising.

Frances Koncan

That makes so much sense! You have big Virgo energy. Virgos are detail-oriented, hard-working and empathetic. Besides Bang Bang, what are some of your favourite plays?

 

"It’s (Bang Bang) a play about cultural appropriation. It’s an outrageous, hilarious unpacking of some brutal issues. Kat is quite brilliant in that she’s dealing with difficult issues but doing it with humour and intelligence."

 

Kelly Thornton

In the canon I would say Death of a Salesman or The Crucible. Arthur Miller’s pretty brilliant. One of my favourite plays that I’ve directed is The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.

Frances Koncan

Did you start out in theatre as a director?

Kelly Thornton

I went to the University of Guelph, where I acted, wrote, directed, built costumes, and learned how to light — I kind of got the full experience of theatre, which ultimately was amazing. I came out of school thinking I was going to be an actor, but I began to feel that I wanted more... well, more power, ultimately!

Frances Koncan

Do you have any advice for theatre artists who might be struggling to find their place in industry?

Kelly Thornton

You can’t do everything. You need to focus your goals. Someone once told me, "People don’t know what to give you until you tell them what you want."

 

Bang Bang by Kat Sandler opens Thursday at the Tom Hendry Warehouse and runs until Oct. 19. Tickets start at $22.25 and are available at the Royal MTC box office (174 Market Ave.), by phone at 204-942-6537 and online at royalmtc.ca.

frances.koncan@winnipegfreepress.com

Twitter: @franceskoncan

History

Updated on Tuesday, October 1, 2019 at 7:08 PM CDT: Fixes newsletter prompt

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