Thursday, June 7, 2007

Roy Surette Leaves Belfry for Montreal's Centaur Theatre

Photo: Debra Brash, Times-Colonist

Well, I suppose it had to happen, but that doesn't make me happy about it. Victoria is sadly losing the Artistic Director of the Belfry Theatre to the Centaur Theatre in Montreal, that city's premier English-language theatre. After 10 years at the helm of the Belfry, Surette is looking for new challenges and he will find them in Montreal, of that I am sure!

I could wax lyrical about Roy for a long time, but instead I will post some articles published this week on Roy's departure, plus my response to one of them. Tributes will be made over the next few months and I hope to participate in a number of them. My audience education program at the Belfry, Belfry 101 (now taught by my friend and close colleague Kate Rubin), is a testament in itself to Roy's interest in and commitment to the larger community. I can only hope that his successor will continue to appear like clockwork at local shows, supporting the theatre community that supports the Belfry. Sigh...Roy, you will be much missed...

Adrian Chamberlain
Times Colonist
Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Roy Surette, 50, is ready for a change of roles. "I want new challenges and to scare myself."
The Belfry Theatre's artistic director will take over Quebec's premier English-language theatre company.
Roy Surette starts his new position as artistic director of Montreal's Centaur Theatre Company in November, ending a decade-long tenure at the Belfry.
"I'm excited," said Surette, 50. "I'm a little anxious, of course, and aware of what I'm giving up, which is huge."
He replaces Centaur artistic director Gordon McCall, who has already chosen a six-play season for the Montreal company's 2007-2008 season. McCall -- leaving to teach at Indiana's Purdue University -- praised Surette's support of Victoria artists and his expertise as an artistic leader.
"He brings a lot of the qualities that are necessary in Montreal, and for that theatre," he said Tuesday.
McCall added that Surette was the unanimous choice of the Centaur's search committee, besting 50 other applicants.
Surette said he accepted the new position because he has led the Belfry for a long time, is intrigued with the notion of living in Montreal and believes the new job will be artistically stimulating.
"I want new challenges and to scare myself," he said .
One challenge will be brushing up on his French. McCall said Surette has promised to study the language in preparation for his new job.
The outgoing artistic director leaves the Belfry in a solid financial position, said Michael Ziegler, the company's board vice-president. The Belfry's subscription base for the upcoming season is about 5,300 -- a record for this time of year.
In July, the Belfry will strike a search committee for a new artistic director. The job is considered a plum position in national theatre circles and will likely draw about 50 applicants, said Belfry publicist Mark Dusseault.
The Centaur has two theatre spaces -- one 425 seats, and the other 244 -- as well as a separate rehearsal/set-construction building. McCall said the Montreal company, with an annual budget of $2.9 million, is doing well. It carries a $390,000 debt. But he noted the company owns its mortgage-free buildings, worth $6 million.
In Victoria, Surette proved skilful at balancing artistic integrity and accessible theatre that draws crowds, Ziegler said. "They [audiences] expect to be challenged, but not overly challenged ... It's a fine line he has to walk."
Surette, with more than 85 director's credits, is especially admired for his clever use of light and other visuals. He has won two Critics' Spotlight Awards, eight Jessie Richardson Awards and three Monday Magazine awards. One of his best known accomplishments is directing and co-creating The Number 14, a physical theatre comedy returning to the Belfry this summer. The piece has been performed more than 1,000 times internationally, and was nominated for New York's Drama Desk Award.
Raised in the suburbs of Vancouver, Surette worked for Carousel Theatre and Western Canada Theatre Company before being hired as artistic director of Touchstone Theatre in 1985. He left the Vancouver company in 1997 to take over the Belfry Theatre.
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

Roy Wonder

By —John Threlfall
Jun 06 2007
Stage shocker! After 10 years, Roy Surette announces he’s leaving the Belfry Theatre
T hink it’s tough to keep a secret in Victoria’s theatre community? Just ask the tight-lipped crew over at the Belfry, where nary a hint had leaked out that, after a decade of outstanding theatrical achievement, artistic director Roy Surette will soon be leaving to become artistic and executive director of Montreal’s Centaur Theatre. But what is undoubtedly Victoria’s loss will be Montreal’s gain, as the always charming and incredibly talented Surette has proven his stage savvy time and again. With the search for his replacement now underway, Surette won’t be taking up residence in la belle provence until November, still giving him enough time to direct Joan MacLeod’s Homechild, the Belfry’s season opener, in September. (And he’ll be back to helm The Violet Hour in spring 2008.) We caught up with the somewhat shell-shocked Surette about 15 minutes after his big news broke.
Monday: You’re leaving? What the hell?!
Roy Surette: Well, I think it’s a great time for some transition. It’s been a really fantastic ride; I’m so happy how things have gone here. It’s such a difficult decision—it’s a hard place to leave—but I’ve been thinking about the next stage in both the Belfry’s and my life for a little while now, and these opportunities rarely come up. And Montreal’s a city I always thought would be fantastic to live in, so I’m going to go.
Monday: Is Centaur at all similar to the Belfry?
RS: They have a fairly similar mandate—they do a lot of contemporary work—also have two stages (450 and 250 seats), the programming is similar, and it’s a bit bigger of a company—a $3 million budget instead of our $2 million—so it’s not that different in terms of scope and scale. And it’s in a heritage building, the Old Stock Exchange in Old Montreal, and has a nice sense of intimacy. And in a way, it’ll have similar isolation issues, in that it’s the major English theatre in a mostly French city. And the outgoing director, Gordon McCall, has also been there for 10 years.
Monday: How’s your French?
RS: Lousy! I studied physical theatre some time ago in Paris and functioned okay, but it’s in my bones—I’m a Surette, and my father spoke French all through my childhood. It’s just one more learning curve I’ll encounter; it’s going to be a harder road in Montreal, but it’s one of those things where you go, “I’m up for the next challenge in my life.”
Monday: How will being an artistic and executive director differ from the strictly artistic director role you have now?
RS: It’s kind of a combination of what [general manager] Mary [Desprez] and I both do, in terms of working with the management of the theatre, and I’ll be the only one who goes to the board of directors. There is a general manager who’s been in the position for over 20 years, so I think he’ll be a good partner. And I’ll be on the phone to Mary a lot, asking “How do you do this? How do you do that?”
Monday: How do you feel about your tenure at the Belfry?
RS: It’s been great; I’m already feeling all nostalgic about it. The Belfry is very strong in so many ways right now, in terms of our financial health and support in the community. It was stable and strong and had a good pattern in place when I took over from Glynis [Leyshon], and I’ve just maintained and built on that. It’ll be great that there’s going to be a fresh vision of what’s on the stage here, too. It’s a gift of a company to somebody, and I’m sure people will be beating down the doors in the applications to replace me. And I have to say, doing the big monster production of Urinetown last fall almost felt like a closure. And doing The Number 14 again this summer, that was originally done in my first year of programming at the Belfry. It’s like the bus is coming back around again.

Centaur Theatre names new boss
Relative unknown Roy Surette takes over post vacated by Gordon McCall
Matt Radz, Gazette Theatre CriticPublished: Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Roy Surette is the new boss at Centaur, effective in November.Roy who?That's the question everyone was asking after yesterday's abrupt announcement, including the theatre's mainstay playwrights David Fennario and Vittorio Rossi."I'm not familiar with his work," Fennario said after two terse no-comments, "but it should be interesting.""I have no idea who this man is," said Rossi, whose autobiographical drama, The Carpenter will open Centaur's 2007-2008 season on Oct. 2.Rossi, one of several Montreal theatre artists who applied for the job, did not make the search committee's short list and was not called for an interview. "My biggest challenge at Centaur will be to enter a new culture," Surette, who celebrated his 50th birthday yesterday said when reached in Victoria, where he has been running The Belfry, the British Columbia capital's only mainstream theatre. After working in the West, the past 22 years in his native B.C., the unilingual Surette said he was "very excited about coming to your wonderful and vibrant city."Centaur's top post was left vacant early this year when Gordon McCall, 58, who came here from Sudbury, Ont., announced he'll be stepping down after 10 years to take an academic position at Purdue University, but not before directing Rossi's season opening play.Since taking over The Belfry in 1997 after 12 years as artistic director at Vancouver's Touchstone Theatre, Surette has boosted the number of the theatre's subscribers by between 200 and 300 patrons a season. It now stands at about 5,900, thanks to a program Adrian Chamberlain, the veteran Times-Colonist's theatre critic described as "conservative and commercially successful.""Victoria is a conservative city," Chamberlain said, predicting that Surette would likely do "more edgy" work in Montreal. He described the new AD as a "nice guy" with a solid knowledge of theatre repertoire, an artist particularly adept at physical theatre and with an excellent grasp of production mechanics, especially lighting design.Asked to rate the extent of The Belfry's artistic ambition during Surette's tenure, Chamberlain said he would peg it at no more than 7 out of 10.Infinitheatre's artistic director Guy Sprung was reluctant to comment on Surette's appointment, pointing out the obvious conflict coloring his opinion. "Good luck to Centaur in its choice," Sprung said. "What the Centaur does is important to all of us. It's a primary cultural institution. The important thing is what he knows about Quebec."Not a lot, apparently. Surette has visited Montreal, but he has never worked or lived here. "He doesn't speak French," Chamberlain said. "Will that be a problem?" The Belfry and Centaur are mainstream theatre enterprises of roughly equal size. The former runs on an an annual budget of $2 million, the latter on about $2.8 million, about $1 million of that from the taxpayers through government grants.When he arrives full time in November, Surette will pick up the reins for the theatre's 39th season, already in progress and mapped out by McCall. The second play of the season, Pamela Gien's The Syringa Tree opens Nov. 6. A Graduate of Vancouver's Studio 58 theatre school, Surette will be the third person to occupy Centaur's top post, held until 1997 by Maurice Podbrey, the theatre's South African-born founder.

Letter to the Editor - The Gazette - Sent Thursday, June 7/2007

I consider theatre reviewer Matt Radz's June 5th story on Roy Surette taking over the Centaur Theatre to be unfortunately typical of the Eastern ignorance of anything West of Toronto that plagues culture in this country. As a CBC Radio theatre reviewer in Victoria, and a local theatre artist who has worked with Mr.Surette in a number of capacities over the past years, I can say without hesitation that Montreal is gaining one of the best directors in Canada, or anywhere else. His sense of vibrant theatricality, his playfulness, his love of actors (uncommon) and his passion for Canadian theatre have led him to win eight Jessie Awards in Vancouver and three Monday Awards in Victoria. Roy has worked internationally in Australia, Japan, France, and the UK (and more). And this is a "relative unknown"? Shame on you!

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