Changing of the Guard

Women take over the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre

Playwright Audrey Dwyer returned to her native Winnipeg this week to serve as Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s (RMTC) associate artistic director. She joins Kelly Thornton on her first season as artistic director at RMTC. This is the first time in the history of RMTC that both positions have been filled by women.

Thornton worked for 18 years as the artistic director at Nightwood Theatre, a feminist theatre company in Toronto, which specializes in developing new plays. Dwyer was the associate artistic director at Nightwood in 2008, where her play Calpurnia debuted in 2018.

Thornton says it was her “secret dream to invite Audrey here” and calls her an artistic confidante. Thornton and Dwyer say the fates aligned as Dwyer, instead of taking over at Nightwood, decided to return to Winnipeg.

Dwyer is a familiar face in Winnipeg, having returned over the years to act in several shows including The Crucible (1998), Good People (2013) and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (2014).

Ardith Boxall, artistic director of fellow woman-led theatre company Theatre Projects Manitoba, says RMTC has hit the trifecta, as Dwyer and Thornton work with returning executive director Camilla Holland.

“I know that Manitobans are going to benefit from the artistry and experience Kelly and Audrey will bring to our community,” Boxall says. “I think it’s a new day. Stand by for a surge of  electricity in our province’s largest theatre.”

Dwyer returns to a full slate of new artistic directors. This past year saw Brazillian-Canadian Rod Beilfuss take the reins of Shakespeare in the Ruins this past spring, and 2018 saw Thomas Morgan Jones take over from Bob Metcalfe at Prairie Theatre Exchange.

“The changes are exciting,” Dwyer says. “Theatre is, to me, of the people, by the people. It is really about relations and coming to the work humbly. I felt like (the other artistic directors) are all so curious, humbly wanting to do their best by the people who live here.”

Thornton credits Steven Schipper, her predecessor, for the steady company she now leads. As Schipper excited donors new and old alike, Thornton says he was able to foster “the creative excellence that RMTC is known for,” thereby investing in Winnipeg’s theatre scene and Winnipeg as a whole.

“Not every artistic director is inheriting such a completely financially stable, healthy company. I am blessed for the work that Steven did.”

Schipper's last season is an array of diverse stories and characters, which Thornton calls “his love letter to his audience.” Thornton’s tenure starts with Bang Bang, Kat Sandler’s searing play about a white man who writes a play based on the true story of a Black woman cop who shoots an unarmed Black man.  Thornton calls the play "a collision course in cultural appropriation and who is allowed to tell what story.” 

Later in the season, Dwyer will direct Women of the Fur Trade by Winnipeg’s Frances Koncan.

For Dwyer, Women of the Fur Trade emphasizes the purpose of RMTC.

“This theatre has to be for all Manitobans,” Thornton says. “We have to make sure that we are responsible for all Manitobans on the stage, and that (means) growing our playbill to represent that.”

Published in Volume 74, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 5, 2019)

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