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Brett Christopher

"My goal is to loosen up the allow the audiences to see all the stories told in the season"

Provided by Thousand Islands Playhouse

Joe Szekeres

Not only is Managing artistic leader Brett Christopher one intelligent man who inherently knows his community and their artistic interests, but he is also extremely patient and kind.

Especially with me.

I was to have compiled this second profile on him months ago.

Thank you, Brett, for your patience and kindness.

The upcoming 2024 Thousand Islands Playhouse season slate looks rather impressive:

‘Liars at A Funeral’ to be directed by Krista Jackson and runs May 31 – June 22

‘Mamma Mia’ to be directed by Stephanie Graham and run July 2 – August 4.

‘Mary’s Wedding’ to be directed by Brett Christopher and runAugust 16 – September 8

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to be directed by James MacDonald and run September 24 – October 27

‘Murder for Two’ to be directed by Jeremy Webb and run August 1 – August 25

‘Doubt, A Parable’ to be directed by Lisa Karen Cox and run September 5 - September 29.

‘Sequence’ to be directed by Kathryn MacKay and run October 4 - October 27

(At this point, the casting of each show has yet to be announced. This is the next bit of excitement to come)

What was my initial impression just by looking at these titles? Get yourselves to Gananoque this summer and fall. Plus, there are the Boat tours, so why not make it a couple of nights? Stay in town at some of the bnb homes, see some theatre and go on a boat tour.

Since Covid, I can’t imagine how exhausted Christopher must be at this stage. He agreed that he was.

But he’s like the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going and going.

What did he have to say about these past few seasons?

“What was great was that people did return for [the past two seasons] despite having full mask mandates. We had great houses and audiences…there were full restaurants and accommodations. The challenge is that everything costs 30% more than it used to including set materials, housing, and labour. These are national trends, not just in the theatre.”

When he built the budget in August 2021 for the 2022 season, Christopher was basing those figures on what had happened in 2019 regarding the scope of the producing model. He wanted to return as fast as possible to what the company had produced in 2019 before the pandemic. Christopher knew materials had increased in cost, but it was shocking how quickly the operating budget went from 2.5 million running cost to $2.9 million. This was all just in the cost of the plays, as administration and facility costs were virtually the same. Producing theatre costs way more than it used to.

Yes, the pandemic did eat some of the costs in returning to the performances, but there were some capital reserves that the company could use to help re-establish the foundation.

What are the biggest challenges as he advances into this coming 2024 season as the Managing Artistic Director of the Playhouse?

“We have to anticipate these increase over the last two years are not going to drop. We just have to match the revenue to keep things going forward. A conundrum facing the entire [professional] theatre community is how to do it. Sell more tickets? Get more public funding? Donations? We must be more creative in diversifying revenue…raising ticket prices is the last resort... I’ve always been adamant that we maintain accessible pricing so that pretty much anybody can come and see a play here…. So, we’ve got to be more innovative.”

Well, Brett, just looking at the 2024 season titles tells me you might be on your way to matching the revenue costs.

What are some plans for the Thousand Islands Playhouse Christopher has in mind in the future? He’s open to teaming up with other theatre companies or educational institutions in the Haldimand/Dundas/Stormont/Glengarry Region and trying to figure out what sort of projects could be worked on that we’re already paying full-time staff to do.

Ultimately, the game right now is finding money, which is awful because that’s not about art. Art is about imagination and creativity.

Does Brett have concerns about the theatre industry going forward?

Like any theatre administrator and producer, yes, he does.

The other big challenge that producers are trying to address is that the producing model has been predicated on a six-day, 8-hour work week:

“A conversation is happening in the [theatre] industry as to how to change that. If a week of rehearsals is added, labour costs are exponentially increased, as are housing costs. There has to be a tough conversation in the industry about how long we have leaned on people’s willingness (even with the Equity standards required) to get the play up. Can a working schedule be created that is more humane while, at the same time, not losing our shirts?”

The reality of working is that the theatre industry does not follow the traditional 9 - 5 period. There are odd hours, yes. However, education is another area where teachers usually don’t just work the school hours during the day, and that’s it. Teachers also work outside a traditional designated work time frame.

Nevertheless, teachers and actors/artists choose to work in this field knowing these conditions. It is an unusual labour situation. Yes, there has to be some give and take and an acknowledgement that it is unusual. Otherwise, the danger in not doing so – the theatre industry will or could lose many excellent individuals dedicated to their craft.

Brett was a working artist/actor and remembered his career choice's long hours and ‘unusualness.’ He then went into theatre administration because he missed his wife and kids. He didn’t want to travel across the country anymore in that capacity:

“I think a lot of actors are now looking at this same thing. Covid and the isolation allowed all of us (yes, even actors) to be with our families…I think a lot of people have been considering leaving the industry for something ‘normal.’”

And none of us wants that to happen.

As an artist and theatre administrator, does Brett believe listening to feedback from audience members and reviewers/critics/bloggers is essential?

As an artist, he tried as hard as he could not to read reviews or feedback from audience members until after the show run. Positive or negative, the comments always affected his performance. Criticism/feedback cannot be embedded into an artistic process in the moment. But after the fact, as an artist with a bit of time and distance, usually most of the time, Brett agreed with constructive feedback since there is always a spectrum of comments. After the fact, yes, feedback is always helpful for the actor. As an artistic leader now, Christopher’s feelings never get hurt if feedback is not as positive as he hoped it might have been for the show. If feedback is more negatively constructed, he will think about the artists involved in the production. He will also consider his reasons as an artistic leader why that play was selected.

I also asked him about Intimacy coaches for productions as they have become part of shows dealing with sensitive subject matter. Brett says it’s all about artist safety and believes entirely in these coaches trained to deal with unsafe moments that actors may have to confront during the play. Discussion takes place during rehearsals with the actors involved and the coordinator. Rehearsals involve choreographing each move, where every intention is discussed to ensure everyone feels as if he/she/they have a voice and to speak up clearly, if there is a feeling of unease.

Brett added further:

“Intimacy moments are now being choreographed with a great deal of care. No one is in any way confused. Artists are included in the decisions of what’s going to happen on stage, in terms of intimacy, so that they are complicit in the act. It’s not one person doing something to another person. It’s choreography that is discussed, learned, rehearsed, and performed. Safely.”

Our discussion then turned to some edgy drama I’ve seen at the Playhouse over the last two summers. The Firehall Theatre (the thought-provoking space) was developed twenty years ago as the counterpoint to the comedy/summer stock musicals on the Springer stage. The Firehall has evolved slowly and is not seen as the ‘poor cousin.’ Brett hopes that as a program leader and programmer, he will continue to mature the relationship between the Springer Stage and the Firehall, where the productions complement each other to create a dialogue with the audience. That takes time, nevertheless, as Christopher does not want a polarizing effect where specific audiences will only go to Springer Stage and the Firehall. He adds:

“My goal is to loosen up the wall between these two buildings to allow audiences to see all the stories told in the season.”

As we wound down our conversation, where does Brett see the Playhouse and his role as Artistic Director headed, over the next proverbial five-year plan:

“I still have many things I want to achieve with the company, both artistically and operationally. I want our audiences to continue to be excited about the breadth of our work, artistically. We must continue growing our relationship with eastern Ontario’s communities, and foster more community-based artists, administration and crew. It’s also vital to continue relationship building with our High School community and conceive how to bring young people forward into the theatre.”

To learn even more about the Thousand Islands Playhouse, visit their webpage: and their Facebook page: @ThousandIslandsPlayhouse.

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