Sarah Garton Stanley

Looking Ahead

Alejandro Santiago

Joe Szekeres

Sarah Garton Stanley is highly respected among the theatre community as the links found at the conclusion of her profile reveal her prolific status.

We conducted our conversation via email as she is one extremely busy lady right now.

I knew Sarah was the Associate Artistic Director for Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, English Theatre, but that’s all I knew of her work. Her bio from the NAC told me far more about her work in the theatre: “[She is a] Director, dramaturg and conversationalist, originally from Montreal, now lives in Kingston and works from Ottawa. Sarah is the Curator for The Collaborations and leader for The Cycle(s). Sarah co-founded and is creative catalyst for SpiderWebShow, (where Canada, the Internet and live performance connect). She is also a former Artistic Director of Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. As well, Sarah is also Executive Producer of FOLDA (Festival of Live Digital Art) whose mission it is to support artists creating theatre in a digital age.

In the course of her award-winning career, Sarah has worked across Canada and overseas. Most recent directing credits include Unsafe (Canadian Stage); Out the Window (Luminato/Theatre Centre); Kill Me Now (Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre production in collaboration with NAC English Theatre); Bunny (Stratford Festival); Helen Lawrence (Canadian Stage, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Munich Kammerspiele and elsewhere) and We Keep Coming Back (Jewish Culture Fest, Krakow, Poland and Ashkenaz Festival, Toronto).

Sarah received the 2016 Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas’ Elliot Hayes Award, the 2017 Manitoba Theatre Award for best direction for Kill Me Now and the 2018 Honorary Member Award for Canadian Association for Theatre Research.”

Thank you again for adding your voice to the discussion, Sarah:

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.

Between March 13 and 20, 2020 I watched a future disappear. What I was doing, was to be doing, and in the planning stages for what might come after that, all of it changed. The one constant was my relationship with my partner. But even that went through enormous change.

We started off in Vancouver, I was there directing David Yee’s brilliant ‘carried away on the crest of a wave’ at the Arts Club. The set was on the stage, tech rehearsals had begun. This was March 13. March 20 we were on a flight to Toronto. At the airport the cancellation of my upcoming production of Erin Shields’ ‘Paradise Lost’ at the National Arts Centre became clear.

By March 25th we had moved to Kingston and the FOLDA festival that I co-curate along with the Green Rooms pivoted to entirely online offerings. On April 13th we brought home our pandemic puppy, Matzo. And on June 17 we arrived in Nova Scotia to live off grid at Birchdale. We stayed there until November 30th. We still have an apartment in Toronto, but now live in Yarmouth Nova Scotia. All of my work in the theatre has happened online since March 17th, 2020

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?

My career was characterized by travel and meeting new people and seeing old friends and family. I have been incredibly lucky to work in many parts of this amazing land called Canada. Those experiences of change and return were a huge part of my joy in what I get to do as a director and dramaturg.

Shifting to online has flattened a lot of my personal connection to the theatre. I liken it to a heart monitor. It still beats but without much drama. That said, I have truly loved seeing and participating in the creative shifts we have been making to face this moment. FOLDA is a great example of this excitement but so too are the wide-ranging outpourings of social justice creations that have more capacity when working in the digital realm. (or at least this is how it appears to me).

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

I miss the dust on the floor in the rehearsal hall. I miss having to wear pants. I miss awkward conversation with incredible people. I miss trying to avoid opening nights. I miss eating weird snacks in tech. I miss watching actors work. I miss going into the room at the beginning of a process and coming out into a lobby just before an audience is about to come in and asking myself, “How exactly did we get here?”

I miss feeling shitty at opening night cards and gifts and I miss feeling sad and oddly relieved when a show closes. I have always believed that theatre gave me life, offered me a sense of family. I have missed my family.

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?

What it takes for every single person to participate. What the pandemic has shown us is the facts of our lives. Our kids, our pets, our homes, our personal demands. We have, through the transition to online, seen so much more of what each of us goes through to live a life. So, when I think about the theatre, I think more deeply about what an artist has to organize to get to an agreed upon meeting time with countless others. And I think the same about the audience. What did they have to do to make it possible to get to the show?

I think the future will see a split experience; some who will make it to the theatre and some who will want or need to see it on demand from home. But what I will never again take for granted is what is required for a group of people to gather at an agreed upon time.

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

I hope how the industry has responded historically to social inequities has been forever changed. I hope that the industry will continue to be populated and led by more and more IBPOC artists. I hope the industry can be the changemaker it wants to be. AND I hope it can offer up MORE and MORE joy.

Explain what specifically you believe you must still accomplish within the industry.

Oh god. Joe! what a question!

When the pandemic hit, I felt like I had both hit an incredible streak of work AND like I was not going to be able to sustain the pace for too much longer. And like so many of us, the pandemic forced a lot of things to happen. I was a non-stop mover who has now stopped moving.

I am currently working on my PhD in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University. I am working on a creation project called: ‘Massey and Me: Conversations about the end of theatre in Canada.’ It is a work that I hope will illuminate some of the issues we continue to contend with and hopefully it will offer some insights about possible ways forward. It is a “show” and “research event” that I truly do hope I will be able to pull off. And, if it goes really well, I aim to publish the work.

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.

Hmmmm...I really have not thought much about that.

I hope and trust that there will be a lot of work on our stages that reflects a breadth of experience and while Covid is bound to make its way into most creation and interpretation for the foreseeable future, I think this pandemic period has highlighted for me the enormity of social change that we are experiencing in this country and the world over. I expect that a lot of work in the next set of years will be a reflection of the dynamic power shifts that we are witnessing and experiencing in many corners of our day to day lives. Perhaps that is aspirational, but I really hope that is what floods the stages upon our return.

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

I want people to remember the conversations I ignited through my work. I want people to remember how I played with form. I want people to remember how much I loved making work with other people and, if I am really lucky, I hope people will remember some brilliant moments of stagecraft and a few good quotes.

To follow Sarah:

Twitter: @saragstanley / FB: @Sarah Garton Stanley / Insta: @sarahgstanley / LinkedIn Sarah Garton Stanley

web site saragartonstanley.com web site spiderwebshow.ca web site folda.ca

web site birchdalelake.com web site green rooms

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