Soulpepper looks to the future with a new executive director

Im sympathetic to the trauma the company has been through, but I can wholeheartedly say that this is a team.

Im sympathetic to the trauma the company has been through, but I can wholeheartedly say that this is a team of people ready for the future with vigour and energy.

Thats the feeling of Soulpeppers new executive director Emma Stenning.

The UK-based arts leader, currently chief executive of the Bristol Old Vic, has just been announced as the ED of Torontos largest not-for-profit theatre company, replacing Leslie Lester.

Stenning assumes her duties in mid-November.

After a tumultuous and potentially brand-damaging eight months, during which the company dealt with four female company members allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against former artistic director Albert Schultz, who resigned in January (along with Lester), Soulpepper has been running relatively smoothly under acting artistic director Alan Dilworth and interim executive director Lisa Hamel.

The womens civil cases against Soulpepper and Schultz were settled out of court earlier this summer.

Theres best-in-class practice around behaviour and policy, she says about the environment at the company now. Not unlike the work weve done in the UK with the #MeToo movement, thats made us all reflect.

Stenning finds Torontos diversity incredibly inspiring.

The citys welcoming and warm although, when I first arrived, it wasnt [physically] warm at all.

Shes talking about her first time in Toronto, in January 2017, when she was visiting a friend who had relocated here.

Stenning says its exciting to work at a company that has an in-house group of resident artists.

From a UK perspective, thats a rare and precious thing, she says. The work that Alan has done to put together the next season is incredible. When I was in my office in Bristol and got the announcement about the season which includes Oraltorio: A Theatrical Mixtape, The Virgin Trial and Wedding At Aulis I was jumping up and down.

The financial fallout of the civil case, and the loss of a planned $375,000 raise to Soulpeppers annual grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, might signal some belt-tightening for the company.

Were not ready to talk about that yet, says Stenning. But Im optimistic about the future.

Obviously the companys next big step is hiring a new artistic director.

We cant step completely into the planning until that person is in place, says Stenning, adding that there will be an announcement this fall.

Stenning is used to dealing with financial matters. At Bristol Old Vic, she transformed the companys business model and, according to Soulpeppers press release, delivered a 25 M [$41 million Canadian] redevelopment of its historic theatre.

She was also a cultural programme advisor for the 2012 Olympic Games.

I spent a year and a half trying to understand what we might want to achieve in the opening ceremonies. Writing a first draft of the budget of that opening was an epic task.

She also thinks Soulpepper could resume its expansion and collaboration plans that were put on hold after last winters controversy.

I can definitely say this companys instinct is to collaborate, she says. One thing I can offer is an international perspective. Bristol Old Vic was a wobbly regional theatre before I got there and in the past few years theyve opened productions in New York and L.A.

Once the artistic director is in place, she continues, I hope we start looking outside of these doors in the Distillery and out around the country and world. | @glennsumi

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