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Rob Kempson

"[I] want to make sure everyone has access points to arts and culture so that we can all be asking those questions together rather than amplifying those things we already know.”

Andrew Rowat

Joe Szekeres

Port Hope Capitol Theatre’s Artistic Director, Rob Kempson, is one hell of a nice guy who puts you at ease very quickly. He exudes strength and confidence in his work with the professional live theatre industry. He knows how to plan, strategize, and deliver quality work within the theatre community.

I firmly believe that Kempson, a game-changer (and lover of Dolly Parton’s music, among other things), has altered the professional theatre scene in Port Hope. His innovative approach remains reason enough to be excited about the upcoming 2024 spring, summer, and fall seasons. There appears to be a freshness and excitement surrounding the forthcoming season.

He answered questions via email three years ago as Covid was in full swing. You can find that link here:

Recently, I drove to Port Hope on International Women’s Day, which was also a gorgeous spring day, to check in with ‘da man’ and get his take on how things have progressed when the world changed.

It was a glorious day outside, and I wished I had someone with me to record our conversation so that Rob and I could walk along Port Hope's streets and talk about all good things theatrical—next time.

In his highly organized office, where everything has its proper place, I was also introduced to a significant individual who plays an integral part in Kempson’s life.

His dog, Delilah.

She’s a cutie and a keeper. The first thing you will notice is her beautiful eyes. If you see Rob walking Delilah on the Port Hope streets, stop, say hello, and give some skritches and pats on Delilah’s head, too.

Kempson and I also share a common respect for the public education system and our love of the theatre. We are both graduates of the Queen’s University Faculty of Education Program. Rob completed the Artist in Community Program at the Faculty. He was a supply teacher for 15 years and stopped in 2021 when he became the full-time Artistic Director of the Capitol. He knew he couldn’t maintain the minimum days required for supply teaching and running a theatre. Rob has always loved teaching and still does, although this time, it’s in a different capacity when he directs or leads workshops in preparation for theatrical works:

“Supply teaching taught me a lot about facilitation, direction and getting people on your side. It also taught me a lot about how to know when to take bullshit and when not to take bullshit.”

That last statement speaks volumes, especially the latter part.

Rob is doing well, given all these changes in our world over the last four years. He bought a house during the pandemic. When he looks back on things he called new, fresh and unsettled, he feels so lucky to be in a job that he loves, working with a team that he thought he could not have possibly imagined at the Capitol, and he gets to play pretend:

“I have the best job in the whole world.”

He recognizes the diversity within his work as Artistic Director. He spends way more time working on budgets, grants and application forms that may not be, at first glance, what people think of theatre artists in comparison to rehearsal hall work. Kempson finds it all engaging and equally creative in the ownership and autonomy that people really and genuinely care about the theatre is affirming:

“The fact that I am in a place where I get to use all of those creative muscles and to be able to use them in the [Port Hope] community that is so welcoming, so culturally alive, and so connected to the Capitol Theatre organization is the greatest gift. I am very, very lucky to be here.”

Rob, the artist, is a big advocate for getting out of the big city and seeing the theatre work happening across this country, in small places, big places, and places in between. When he sees a show in Toronto, Rob recognizes the diversity of audiences, which is excellent. But they are probably homogeneous in terms of their progressive policies. The way the audience votes is perhaps the same as that of Rob. Big city audiences probably come to the theatre to reinforce the ideas they already have or ask questions they haven’t heard before. Still, the big city audiences come to the theatre for that cultural connection a bit more so than to be changed. For Rob, the big city audiences have already been changed.

The great value of Port Hope is the heterogeneity of the community. When Rob sits next to someone at the Capitol, that person probably does not vote the same way as Rob, isn’t the same age, or doesn’t look like him. The person in Port Hope has different life experiences from Rob.

But in his role as Artistic Director, Rob gets something to put on stage where all get to share in the experience together, and that’s the power of theatre at work in Port Hope - to create a shared experience for people who are different and to let those people come to that shared experience with their backgrounds, expectations and questions and to be maybe even changed, poked and prodded by it:

“While [audiences] are laughing, they might be thinking about the message of the shared experience. While tapping their toes, they might also be questioning that casting choice. I think it’s not only a great privilege but a great responsibility to do that work in smaller communities… and wanting to make sure everyone has access points to arts and culture so that we can all be asking those questions together rather than amplifying those things we already know.”

What has artistically changed for Rob these past three years?

The most significant change is his ability to zoom out and think about the big picture of the work and its impact.

It’s always a director’s job to zoom out and look at the whole picture of what is created. Now, not only is he looking at that from the perspective of individual production, but he also looks at it from the overall vision for the company and the journey of the Capitol and the Port Hope community. In his role as Artistic Director, Rob must now zoom out within the context of how a production sits financially, how it’s being talked about in the public, and how it fits into the artists living in the Port Hope community. All these things are artistic choices and require logistical knowledge.

The focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion has tremendously influenced the theatre industry's progress these last three years. As a queer person, Rob also recognizes that he is a white man. This recognition gives him tremendous privilege, and Rob sees that responsibility to use that privilege to uplift and uphold traditionally marginalized voices.

And that’s being done at the Capitol.

Queer stories are being put on stage; there are stories by BIPOC writers being put on stage and stories by women on stage. There are women in leadership positions at the Capitol. There are queer people in positions of leadership at the Capitol:

“I think having a mind to this is something that people think doesn’t happen in small communities, BUT IT DOES. [The Port Hope] community is concerned about that, and this organization is also concerned about it. We are constantly taking steps towards improving our relationship with equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives. That was long needed in the theatre industry.”

The danger here, though, is that you are assuming one thing—casting someone whom you would never have thought about casting before. But that’s not what it means. What Rob gets really excited about is deepening the journey of this expectation. more.

This year, Rob was elated to report a 40% increase in audience at the Capitol, a considerable number he is proud of. Anecdotally, Rob also noted the audience is younger and more diverse, queer, and these people live in Northumberland County. It is the job of the Capitol to do its best to serve all kinds of people in Port Hope and the surrounding area. Rob is already proud of that through the constant challenge of audiences with the programming he has planned as Artistic Director.

When you get a chance, visit the Capitol Theatre’s Facebook page to see how active the organization has been within the community.

And what’s coming up at the Capitol in 2024?

Rob is slated to direct two shows for summer 2024: BED AND BREAKFAST, which opens on June 14 and runs until June 30 and CHRISTMASTOWN, which begins on August 16 and runs until September 1.

Here are the other upcoming live theatre productions:

A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD, directed by Fiona Sauder and running May 17 – June 2

THE FULL MONTY, THE BROADWAY MUSICAL, directed by Julie Tomaino and running July 12 – 28.

RAPUNZEL (A Merry, Hairy Holiday Musical), directed by Cherissa Richards, runs from November 22 – December 23.

GABS SINGS BABS, conceived and performed by Gabi Epstein which runs July 31 – August 11.

To learn more about the 2024 Season Rollout from April 22-25 with a Gala on April 27, visit:

Finally, to learn more about the Cameco Capitol Arts Centre in Port Hope, visit You can also follow their X/Twitter account, @CapitolPortHope and their Facebook page, Capitol Theatre Port Hope.

The theatre is located at 20 Queen Street in Port Hope. Telephone: (905) 885-1071.

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