Andrea Donaldson becomes Nightwood Theatre’s artistic director

Andrea Donaldson, one of the best directors of new Canadian plays, especially ones by women, has been appointed artistic director.

Andrea Donaldson, one of the best directors of new Canadian plays, especially ones by women, has been appointed artistic director of Nightwood Theatre.

Donaldson has a long history with Nightwood, the country’s leading feminist theatre company. For the last five years, she’s been program director of the company’s Write From The Hip program for emerging playwrights, where she helped develop plays like Rose Napoli’s Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) and the recent Grace, by Jane Doe, both of which she went on to direct.

Donaldson was also assistant/associate artistic director at the Tarragon Theatre for four seasons, starting in 2012.

“We’re in this amazing moment in Toronto theatre right now, where so much of the leadership is actually moving towards female leadership,” said Donaldson in an interview. She’s referring to the recent hiring of Weyni Mengesha and Emma Stenning as artistic director and executive director, respectively, at Soulpepper, as well as Naomi Campbell taking over as artistic director at the Luminato Festival and Monica Esteves becoming executive director at Canadian Stage.

“Who would have thought that three or four years ago?”

Donaldson takes over the position from outgoing artistic director Kelly Thornton on May 1. Thornton is heading to the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre to be its first female artistic director.

Donaldson has ties to many exciting playwrights, like Erin Shields, whom she directed in one of her first Toronto shows, The Unfortunate Misadventures Of Masha Galinski, and Anna Chatterton (Quiver, Within The Glass). Donaldson also directed Montparnasse by Shields and Maev Beaty. All of these scripts have focused primarily on women’s experiences.

“I can count the number of plays I’ve directed that were written by men on one hand,” she laughs. “Partially it’s the material that I’ve been drawn to. All the live playwrights I’ve collaborated with, from the beginning, are women.

“At my arts high school [the Claude Watson School for the Arts], I liked dealing with works that were gritty and provocative, perhaps because I felt a sense of exclusion from a lot of the so-called masters, who tended to all be male,” she continues.

“I always felt that someone had determined that these playwrights were at the top. I felt excluded from that, and I didn’t feel like my stories were in these works. So I guess that led me to generating new work.”

With the #MeToo movement and the increased polarization of society, Nightwood’s plays have felt increasingly relevant. Lo (Or Dear Mr. Wells) and Ellie Moon’s Asking For It were both part of a Consent Event symposium that coincided with the emergence of the first Harvey Weinstein abuse allegations.

“There’s a lot to respond to now,” says Donaldson, “and there’s a great desire to keep finding different ways to safely and boldly share these stories.”

How can Nightwood avoid a situation like the one that made veteran queer playwright Sky Gilbert depart from Buddies in Bad Times, the theatre he helped found?

“One of the biggest values in all that I do is caring. I want to bring that to Nightwood. There are all different kinds of feminists. There’s great vitality in the youngest voices. I think we can find a magical balance. Our elders have paved ways, and young people bump up against walls with nothing to lose and all sorts of nerve. I think these two groups can coexist and enrich each other.”

Donaldson says she’s grateful to be making art right now.

“So much has happened, even in the last five years,” she says. “If I pick up a play from five years ago it means something completely different than it does now. It feels like things go out of date very quickly. And that’s scary for someone who makes things. But given that this art form is ethereal, it also means that in some ways we should be trying to make things that expire.

“I’m interested in seeing what Nightwood, as Canada’s leading feminist company, can do to create relationships east, west and north.”

But the company’s philosophy must be clear to anyone who interacts with it.

“Whether it’s in the office, with audiences, with artists we employ, I want to make sure that these relationships are the best possible ones in the industry. Nightwood has always been many steps ahead in terms of setting policies and procedures, ways of doing things. That needs to continue. We will continue to be ambassadors of progressive ways of doing things.”



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