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Arkady Spivak

"[TIFT] would love to continue enhancing and improving the impact of our work and putting artists into leadership positions in the world."

Scott Cooper

Joe Szekeres

Here’s the first link to Talk is Free Theatre (TIFT)’s profile of Artistic Producer Arkady Spivak:

Time is moving on, oh, so quickly these last three years. Again, I appreciated that Spivak was available to answer more questions about where the theatre industry was headed. We conducted our conversation via email.

TIFT’s mandate as an artist-driven company is to support the emerging artistic community by producing a wide range of ensemble-based, off-center, inventive, and rare programming. That’s quite a lofty mandate to envision, but I like that TIFT always keeps it burning brightly. At the bottom of his electronic correspondence, Spivak includes a quote from Christopher Hoile at Stage Door, who calls Barrie’s professional theatre vibrant and innovative. I’ve attended a few TIFT productions and agree with that statement. On that note, I’m going to plug the following two upcoming TIFT productions:

‘La Bête’ runs at The Harbourfront Centre in Toronto until March 16. I saw the show in Barrie last year and loved it. I’m headed to see it again and stay tuned for my newest review of the production.

‘Cock’ runs April 18-27 in Barrie at a surprise location yet to be revealed on TIFT’s website. Arkady states it will be a funky site-specific production with some favourite TIFT artists.

Spivak remains very proud of what TIFT has accomplished and states: “It’s quite awesome to continue to glorify the underdog.”

Like any theatre company coming out of Covid, nevertheless, some issues must be addressed. Spivak spoke about them.

TIFT is now dealing with a renewed sense of disappointment - of audiences not coming back as quickly as needed as many have lost the habit of regular attendance. But this is also an opportunity for companies to figure out how to broker a place of purpose between the artists who are now creating or performing at a much deeper level, and the audience who are looking for a new sense of purpose and direction. There might be a tendency to go populist and lure in an audience – but the question is – is this the audience needed?

While Ontario theatre companies continue to figure things out as a result of the last three years, Spivak shares what TIFT has done.

The company was able to navigate COVID turbulent years more easily than other companies perhaps, and in fact grow capacity and scope. TIFT’s structure and model are incredibly nimble and varied. Historically the company has proven that we are able to produce many different types of works in several different settings and under widely varying circumstances and levels of funding. The company itself can reconfigure and assess any given situation quite quickly because it is how we have functioned for years regardless of a global pandemic.

This recognition has served TIFT a great deal.

Rather than being stuck in a strict, structural reality that then needs to be undone and changed because of the ever-shifting state of the world, TIFT was able to navigate these changes fluidly as they arose. For example, there was not an overwhelming loss of focus or resources when performing to a physical, paying audience was no longer an option because most of our revenue already came from outside ticket sales.

Although an audience is fundamentally and critically important to serve as a gateway to support mechanisms (donations, new Board members, etc.), TIFT does not need a box office figure to survive fundamentally. For this reason, TIFT was able to launch free admission to our expanded main programming, instead using a deposit system to ensure attendance from those who pre-book. This helps dismantle economic barriers to attendance, drastically diversify our audience and position us to derive greater revenue through contributed sources because of wider audience access.

In the 2023-2024 season, TIFT continues to operate some free performances of every production but has also returned to paid admission for the rest.

Spivak continues to hold tremendous respect for theatre artists. He believes they are more important material than the material they are working on. At TIFT, when artists are given proper agency and authority, they have the capacity to change the world more readily than anyone. TIFT is guided by a mission to encourage, support and uplift artists to be the best they can be through transformative experiences on and off the stage, and to inspire artists and audiences alike to find deeper connection, appreciation and love for live theatre. TIFT works to preserve and promote the art form as a fundamental component of life in Barrie and beyond by providing an unparalleled level of diversity of works and experiences that arouse awe and wonderment about what potential theatre has to transform the human spirit.

That respect for artists is most readily reflected in TIFT’s Artist BIG (Basic Income Guarantee Project). Arkady said the inaugural BIG was wonderfully successful, and TIFT has recently launched the second three-year cohort. The Inaugural BIG quickly yielded a full roster of creative proposals and offerings - enough to fill two outdoor performance festivals in 2021 and three in 2022 - along with multiple successful on-line offerings, like the popular Dinner à la Art. BIG artists also conceived and developed several art-adjacent programs and service projects. I won’t be able to name them all here, but I’ll include a few:

- an Audition Reader program in which actors are paid to act as virtual readers for each other’s self-taped auditions for non-TIFT projects
- the First Day Series: Zoom readings of challenging works facilitated by BIG participants, giving work and purpose to artists throughout the lockdowns of 2020.
- the Two-Way Paid Mentorship program: over-turning the traditional top-down mentorship model, this program connects theatre practitioners of different generations, disciplines, and regions across the country to lay the groundwork for a more communicative, inclusive, and compassionate professional milieu.
- Canadian Musical Theatre Database (CMTdB): an interactive website to archive, support and promote Canadian musical theatre.

Remember, these are only several. If you wanted to contact Arkady personally via email, I’m sure he would happily share other BIG accomplishments.

Where does Spivak see TIFT headed over the next three-five years:

“We would love to continue enhancing and improving the impact of our work and putting artists into leadership positions in the world. But doing so without institutionalizing or growing for growth’s sake. In other words, we want to transform to be even more free to change the world.”

As we came to close the conversation, Arkady made another comment that I found intriguing Historically, the vast majority of cutting-edge, widely influencing theatre was presumed to be produced in the downtown core of major cities (Toronto being only one) or by major theatre festivals. And this is understandable as there is a greater congregation of an audience in such settings to warrant significant artistic experimentations, plus there has been a greater presence of national theatre coverage to popularize such attempts.

I’ll go one step further and ask that you take the opportunity to step outside the Toronto scene and see what TIFT offers audiences, especially with its production of ‘La Bête’ running to March 16 at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre. And take that trip to see ‘Cock’ in April at the yet-to-be-disclosed Barrie performance location.

To learn more about Talk is Free Theatre, visit or visit their Facebook page: @TalkisFreeTheatre or on X: @Talkisfree.

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