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Friday, December 9, 2022
An occasional glimpse into the life of the artistic director of the Shaw Festival

“So, things are quietening down for you now, I guess?”

This is the time of year when I hear that line about ten times a day. I can see where it comes from — my second summer season has just finished, there is only one show on now instead of eleven. This, surely, is my chance to take a deep breath and think deep thoughts about life, art and the theatre. Right?


Time has a funny way of not stopping. The 2020 season may seem a long way off, but if I don’t start thinking about it now, I will soon be in a pickle. I start rehearsals for The Ladykillers in March, and once that happens I will be too busy to focus on 2020. This means that we have till the end of February not only to decide on the plays but to have a pretty good idea of who we want to be in them. Since casting alone takes up most of January and February — weeks and weeks of pencil and eraser work — the playbill for 2020 really needs to be in place by Christmas.

That may seem very early, but in fact it’s almost too late — some of the directors I hope to hire need to be approached before then, or they will get snapped up by someone else.

Thus I am already having conversations that begin ‘Now, things are still a bit up in the air, so this isn’t a concrete offer yet…’

Of course, as I try to finalize the line-up of plays for 2020, I get expert input from many people to make sure the season has a good balance to it, that it can be played by a single company of actors, and above all that it will sell.

How do we know something will sell? We don’t. But Val Taylor, our head of marketing, makes better guesses than the rest of us.

Then, once we have a season that looks good, we have to see if we can afford it. Questions become “how many actors will we need, and for how many weeks? Will the shows have technical demands that might bankrupt us?” And so on.

Meanwhile, if I get too caught up in planning for 2020, I might lose sight of where I am needed now — Judith Bowden is busy designing my first show next year, The Ladykillers, so we need to look at the set model and scratch our heads over little plastic figures making entrances and exits; Ravi Jain is in Rehearsal Hall 3, working with a wonderful group of actors on his adaptation of The Mahabharata, so I should drop in and see how they are doing; and our amazing production of Middletown is opening at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, so I had better get in the Shawmobile and be there.

With all this and the day-to-day stuff (what you might call ‘moans and meetings’), when am I supposed to answer all the e-mails piling up in my inbox? I know: when things quieten down.