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Thursday, April 18, 2024
Shaw’s Kimberley Rampersad a role model and mentor
Kimberley Rampersad as Lila Dixon at the 2019 Shaw Festival. EMILY COOPER

Kimberley Rampersad plays a leading role in the Canadian theatre scene, as an accomplished performer, director, choreographer and mentor — and for the past four years, as the associate artistic director of the Shaw Festival.

Like her predecessors in the position — Kate Hennig and Eda Holmes — she also is a role model and, as artistic director Tim Carroll’s right hand, has a major influence on the creative aspects of the festival.

Growing up in Winnipeg, the daughter of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago who encouraged their children to participate in the arts, she was exposed to a rich array of experiences from ballet and opera to the symphony and Indigenous culture. And a whole lot more.

She’s “very fortunate” to have been raised in such an atmosphere, says Rampersad, who now calls Niagara-on-the-Lake home.

“My parents put my sister and myself into dance class when we were very young, a chance to learn to be graceful and have a beautiful activity” to enjoy, she says.

They didn’t expect it would be something the girls necessarily would follow.

But it built a foundation for a lifelong love of the arts for both Kimberley her sister Penelope, now a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

Their father Jerome spent most of his career in hotel management and “is the most elegant man I know,” Rampersad says.

“He modelled respect for me,” she says. “Respect for myself and for others.”

Her mom, June, may have been her biggest influence.

An “amazing” and “formidable businesswoman,” now retired from a career in finance in the non-profit sector, she gave Kimberley valuable advice to help deal with life’s ups and downs, as a woman and as a woman of colour.

Among those maternal suggestions — and one she passes along for the next generation coming up — “Transform every obstacle into an opportunity because it becomes exhausting and it’s not sustainable to attack every obstacle.”

“The system will put obstacles in front of us as females, because that’s what it does,” she says.

Instead, focus on being “joyful or energetic when we push through them, go around them, go over them or take a new path.”

“To do that with joy and to see that as an opportunity is much more sustainable than understanding the injustice of it,” Rampersad says.

“It doesn’t take away from the injustice. But what it does is it gives us a lift in our spirits, because another obstacle is coming.”

Her mom did that a lot in her career, she says, and it was “remarkable” to watch.

Rampersad says working with up-and-coming members of the company is one of the most rewarding aspects of her role at the Shaw.

“I love working with the young people” and helping them develop as performers and individuals.

Looking back at her own career, she has a few words of advice for young performers.

“I would remind them that their path is uniquely their own,” she says. “Even though they can model things and they can try and emulate, there will be divergent paths, and to embrace those.”

And from her mother: “My mom would always say, ‘Show up to the meeting first and speak last.’ It’s one of the greatest pieces of advice my mom has ever given. She’s given me so much wisdom.”

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