David Klassen may be a baritone, but he has some high hopes for the Steinbach Arts Council and what he can deliver as its new director of performing arts.
"I think what I am excited about is that the arts council board has asked me to specifically pay attention to the performing arts and to concentrate on giving that piece of the puzzle what it needs to develop at a smart rate something that is sustainable," said Klassen, who was hired into the new role in May.
Klassen’s own growth as an artist has intertwined with the arts council’s growth over the years. Ask Klassen about his performance credits and he will tell you that his resume notes at least 20 engagements with the arts council.
SAC is entering its fortieth year and, for Klassen, his first connection to it goes back to his days as a high school student in the 1990s, when he was asked to perform in a musical theatre variety show.
"Watching older students going onstage with me, people that I admired and respected as high school students for what they could do and the talent that they had really striving to reach that goal that’s my first memory, being inspired to reach for more."
Broadening the opportunities for performers is something Klassen hopes to achieve in the newly-created position.
He said he appreciates the arts council board’s view that the time is right to look at the performing arts as more of an independent entity. Timing is right, he suggests, because of the growing talent he observes in young people from the region.
"I see it in my students who are going through the training to be professional musicians. The standard has become very high and we're able to put those people up on the stage for our regional audiences. That's an exciting opportunity and an exciting time for presenters."
Those burgeoning talents have Klassen hopeful Steinbach is primed to emerge with an even greater reputation for the arts.
Audiences are already noticing what Steinbach has to offer, he said, noting audience members who welcome SAC offerings as an alternative to what they might find in Winnipeg.
Still, Klassen relishes the conversations with other community members, who may not be as inclined towards attending performances, and how he can share about the importance of the arts with them.
"So many times people just haven’t had the opportunity to learn about why it is so important," he said.
"I think I consider some of my greatest performing successes when I’ve had a small audience in a living room and I can tell them all sorts of things about why I do what I do, educate them about the music and give them a bit of historical context. People always walk away feeling so gratified."
But don’t think he’s satisfied with living room performances alone.
"My hope is to do that on a larger scale," he adds.
As he looks towards programming opportunities for the arts council, he anticipates part of its future success will come from partnering with other local arts organizations, like choral and theatre groups, who he says deserve larger audiences too.
There’s a value, he says, in giving local performers a chance to share their abilities.
"The opportunity to get up on stage to demonstrate their own skills and their own gifts often results in a performance that is as passionate and high quality as any of those that you'd find in larger city centres."
Though this season’s yet-to-be-released schedule was already largely planned before Klassen assumed his new role, he thinks audiences will find the coming year to be a rewarding celebration of SAC’s forty years of success.
"I think audiences will be very excited to see a really solid local component throughout the season and the arts council taking the opportunity to celebrate what quality of performance is coming out of our region already and what we believe we’re doing well."
As he looks further ahead, he wants more performance opportunities for both performers and audience members.
"Ultimately I want to do more. Instead of giving you six opportunities, I want to give you 12. Instead of having them in small spaces, I'd like to have them in big spaces."
How big a space, you ask?
"It would be great if every concert we have could be in a bigger space," he says, "The spaces that we have are too small. That would be a dream."
A dream he says can come in time, as more evidence demonstrates audience demand. There’s an element of business in the arts too, he notes, which means considerations need to be made for finances and how productions fit within the organization’s overall success.
"That’s evidence that the quality is high that people want to be in that room. The more that we produce events of that calibre, the more we will realise that a bigger space might be needed. Whenever that happens, the bottom line is that we can continue to fill seats the way we have for so many years, someday it will be necessary."