Michael Rubinoff

Looking Ahead

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Joe Szekeres

Like many of the artists whom I’ve profiled this last year, producer Michael Rubinoff is one busy individual who continues to move forward as we all are outside of the pandemic.

Over the years, I have heard his name and knew he was a producer of musical theatre here in Canada, but I was not aware of the extent of his influence in the industry. I’ve learned a great deal about him and am most thankful he was able to take a few moments to add his voice to the conversation.

As you will see from his responses below, Michael helped to develop the 9/11 story in Gander, Newfoundland that continues to move audiences here in Toronto, on Broadway, in the West End and Australia. Outside of ‘Come from Away’, Michael continues his busy schedule.

He is a Toronto based producer and lawyer who conceived the idea to share the compelling events depicted in ‘Come from Away’ as a musical. In 2011, he established the Canadian Music Theatre Project, an incubator for th3e development of new musicals, where he produced and developed the first workshops of ‘Come from Away’ and developed 29 other musicals. He is a producer and consultant to ‘Come from Away’s’ five companies around the world and received an Olivier award and a Tony nomination for Best New Musical for the show.

He is producing the new musical ‘Grow’ which will have its world premiere at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario in April, 2022.

He continues the development of new work at home and abroad.

Michael was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross by the Governor General of Canada for his role in ‘Come from Away’.

A proud graduate of Western University Law. @mrubinoff.

We conducted our conversation via email. Thank you so much for adding your voice to the conversation, Michael:

It’s a harsh reality that the worldwide pandemic of Covid 19 has changed all of us. Describe how your understanding of the world you know and how your perception and experience have changed on a personal level.

Despite the numerous challenges of this ongoing pandemic, it has reinforced that we are resilient. It is a rare global event in which everyone has been affected. That impact has been disproportionate, but even those most privileged have been at the mercy of a virus. It has exposed vulnerabilities we have not previously confronted effectively. It has widened awareness and increased support for necessary change on many levels. This time has also invited more meaningful conversations. I am hopeful this newfound resiliency can propel change at a faster pace.

Prior to the start of the pandemic, I was operating at a constant 100 miles an hour, working on multiple projects at home and abroad. The pandemic brought that pace to a screeching halt. That has allowed valuable time to reflect personally and professionally. It has provided an opportunity to re-examine what is most important to me and the work I want to do in my next personal act.

One of the most significant changes has been, after a decade of service, at the end of this academic year, I resigned from my position as Producing Artistic Director of the Canadian Music Theatre Project (“CMTP”) at Sheridan. This has afforded me the time to wholly devote myself to what I am most passionate about, developing new musicals.

With live indoor theatre shut for one year plus, with it appearing it may not re-open any time soon, how has your understanding and perception as a professional artist of the live theatre industry been altered and changed?

It has reinforced that what we do is necessary to foster social interaction and social innovation. We provide a valuable service and outlet for the public. We bring communities together. At the same time, this great intermission is a moment of reflection for the entire industry and has amplified the necessary need for a more equitable and inclusive industry. Time to take time has given the industry the opportunity to have very difficult and uncomfortable conversations. It has provided an opportunity to begin the concrete work on making change, in advance of the start of rehearsals and theatres re-opening to audiences.

This moment has reinforced accountability measures that must be adhered to going forward.

There is no going back to normal.

Many challenges and missteps will happen, but the work must be constant to ensure safe and healthy environments for all.

Further, if the theatre industry is to survive and remain relevant, it must be reflective of the communities it serves on stage, off stage and in the audience. In the musical theatre, where my work is focused, more inclusiveness in storytelling will only make the work that much richer, powerful and desirable to all audiences.

As a professional artist, what are you missing the most about the live theatre industry?

As people we crave social interaction and connection. In the digital age, theatre is one of the last mediums that brings people together, in person, to collectively share an experience.

Theatre is an event, that takes place in a moment in time in which an emotional bond is created between words, sometimes music, actors, and audience. This cannot be replicated online.

I am missing most, standing at the back of a theatre and watching an audience of strangers, untethered to their screens, come together as a community. It is always powerful to witness and feel and I can’t wait to be there again.

As a professional artist, what is the one thing you will never take for granted again in the live theatre industry when you return to it?
I feel so privileged to be a part of the theatre industry, that I try not to take any if it for granted.
However, as a producer, I have never enjoyed being in tech. I have tremendous respect and admiration for all of the artists involved in that process. For good reason it takes focused time to implement and perfect the thousands of intricacies to create theatre magic.

As mentioned earlier, I was always trying to move through life at a rapid pace. So, tech is going to be the thing I am never going to take for granted again when we return. I do encourage you to check up on me on that journey!

Describe one element you hope has changed concerning the live theatre industry.

As mentioned before, there is no going back to “normal”. Institutional change takes time, but it is being on the path towards eradicating systemic racism in our industry that I hope has changed.

Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry.
My commitment as a producer has primarily been to the Canadian musical and commercial theatre.
On our journey towards institutional change, we need to encourage and foster a generation of IBPOC commercial theatre producers in this country. This work for me, personally, is an accountability measure to ensure we are meeting the objective of a more inclusive industry.

I am working with a group of Canadian commercial theatre producers in consultation with members of underrepresented communities, to design a program that will educate, mentor and provide meaningful opportunities to emerging producers who want to work in this space.

Canada has lacked this kind of programming and, with urgency, I am determined to share what knowledge and support I can, to contribute to the necessary change.

Some artists are saying that audiences must be prepared for a tsunami of Covid themed stories in the return to live theatre. Would you elaborate on this statement both as an artist in the theatre, and as an audience member observing the theatre.

As the individual that conceived the idea and developed a musical about 38 planes landing in Gander, Newfoundland and Labrador on 9/11, I get asked about my ideas for a Covid musical a lot. Live theatre can share historical events in very compelling ways.

I believe that musical theatre is one way to report and preserve history. Despite many doubters along the way, it was one of the reasons I felt strongly that the humanity exhibited on such a dark day should be shared in the musical form.

Ultimately, successful musicals connect with an audience. Due to the length of the pandemic my ideas for a Covid themed musical continue to build. I do have a concept that I believe is compelling. However, I have learned that time helps best frame how you want to tell stories about immediate events and post-pandemic reflection will be necessary.

I do believe this moment in history should be preserved in the musical form and I look forward to working on a project that will respectfully resonate with audiences.

As an artist, what specifically is it about your work that you want future audiences to remember about you?

Canada has and will always be home.

I believe in the brilliant Canadian writers, composers, creatives, talent and technicians.

I also believe that we have our own stories that are important to tell, both the good and shameful in our history.

The Canadian Music Theatre Project, which launched with the development of ‘Come From Away’, led a renaissance in Canadian musical theatre at home and around the world. Over a decade the CMTP developed thirty new musicals. Many of those shows have received professional premieres all over the world.

We see Canadian not for profit theatres, commercial producers, schools and community theatres developing, producing and presenting Canadian musicals. This risk taking, in large numbers, on our own talent, was not always the case. Most importantly, we see audiences embracing this work with pride and a sense of ownership.

So, if I am remembered for anything, I hope it is for the ignition of creation and the support of our Canadian storytellers to tell our stories.

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