Allen Macinnis

Toronto Profile

Young People’s Theatre Facebook page.

Joe Szekeres

Sadly, as I write this, I never had the opportunity to meet Allen in my short time reviewing at Young People’s Theatre (YPT) for On Stage Blog. I only began reviewing for YPT in May 2019.

I wished I had now.

“Le sigh”, as my niece says. Why the glum sound?

The company press release showcases Mr. MacInnis’ extensive forty-year theatrical career in which he has devoted nearly half of it (nineteen years, specifically) to YPT. I had no prior knowledge of the impact he has left on the face of Canadian theatre across the country most notably on the youngest audience members, including babies.

However, as Executive Director Nancy Webster stated in this same release, Allen will first program YPT’s 2020-2021 season as well as direct before he steps down. It will be a “long good-bye in order to allow for a smooth transition into the company’s next chapter with a new artist at the helm.”

I better get moving in YPT’s new season to track him down, to introduce myself, and to wish Allen well in the new chapter of his life. Hey, as a retired high school teacher, I will let him know that this new phase opens endless possibilities and further opportunities. But I’m certain he’s already aware of them.

When I taught high school English and Dramatic Arts in the late 80s and 90s, I remember bringing my students to YPT especially if a play we were studying was to be performed live. I always believed it was important for students and young people to see the world of literature come alive dramatically. That was then.

Today, Ontario schools have shifted tremendously in their development of meeting overall and specific curricula expectations. This year, in consideration of reconciliation to our Indigenous people, the YPT slate of productions was to have focused on the Seven Ancestral Teachings of the Anishinaabe. No one could have ever predicted how two major events this season – unrest in the provincially funded education system and the pandemic of COVID – 19 – would turn all live theatre seasons upside down.

Despite these tumultuous months provincially, MacInnis’ artistic vision in joining YPT in 2002 has remained steady. YPT took these Ontario Ministry of Education expectations and fully brought them to fruition and focused on the emotional, social and intellectual development of young people which influenced all artistic choices as well as the company’s core values of purpose and audience. Additionally Mr. MacInnis, together with Executive Director Nancy Webster, established the company’s ‘Innovative Education & Participation Department, connecting every element of YPT’s educational work with the company’s professional productions. This job and calling taught Allen it’s “all about maintaining an authentic relationship with young people and the people who care about them.”

Ah, there’s the key word right there – authenticity. As a retired schoolteacher, I also saw firsthand that young people truly do know when something or someone is authentic and genuine and when they’re not. You can’t pull a fast one on youth because they will automatically sense and know if it’s done. They just somehow do.

I reviewed five YPT productions this year, four of them during the current upheaval of teacher unrest and threat of COVID-19: ‘Antigone’ (from the 2018-2019 season), ‘The Mush Hole’, ‘A Million Billion Pieces’, ‘The Adventures of Pinocchio’ and ‘The Jungle Book’. The last four believably, genuinely, authentically and realistically appealed to the diverse audiences of children and adults specifically in the following four out of seven teachings of the Anishinaabe – Love, Honesty, Truth and Respect. If anything, on a personal note of reflection, these four teachings became ironic reminders of how important it is to maintain them especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic in which we now find ourselves worldwide.

I will most definitely track down Allen MacInnis to speak to him more about where he believes our Canadian theatre industry is headed. He is quoted as saying in the company press release that “it’s time for someone like me to get out of the way for a new generation, especially those who face barriers to accessing leadership roles.”

You have me intrigued, Allen, about this statement. I can’t wait to pick your brain and to talk theatre with you.

Young People’s Theatre can be found at 165 Front Street East, Toronto. Visit www.youngpeoplestheatre.org for further information or their Facebook page: Young People’s Theatre

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