Interview with incoming Arts Club Theatre artistic director Ashlie Corcoran: plans on diversity, new plays, and more

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      Ashlie Corcoran, who will replace 45-year Arts Club Theatre artistic director Bill Millerd, spoke to the Straight this afternoon on some of her plans for the company when she arrives here in October.

      She takes over the helm officially in spring 2018.

      The White Rock-raised, Ontario- and U.K.-trained Corcoran spoke to the Straight from her office at the scenic Thousand Islands Theatre in eastern Ontario, where she oversees a season of diverse work from April to October, in a post she's held since 2012. As a director, she's helmed everything from opera to edgy new plays to hit musicals, staging a work that opened the Shaw Festival this year.

      Theatre artists were watching the selection process keenly, worried that someone from outside might not maintain Millerd's commitment to staging local new work alongside bigger hits.

      In conversation with her, we found out she's such a strong advocate of new local work that she started a playwrights residency as soon as she arrived at Thousand Islands Playhouse. She's also the money-minded daughter of a banker, she's keenly aware of the national conversation about diversity in theatre going on in the country, and she's been trying to find her way back to B.C. for years. Here are some snippets from our conversation.


      On the news she'd won the position after a long selection process:
      "It was like Christmas, but 5,000 times better!"


      On filling the shoes of someone like Millerd, who has been with the company so long:

      "It's similar to when I moved here, to the Thousand Islands Playhouse: my predecessor was the founder and had been here 30 years. For both, I have so much admiration for how they have built up these companies. Bill is so revered in the community and he's so kind and such a smart businessman and such a genius: through calculated risks he has really grown the company. I'm excited that my first four months he'll be there."


      On what she's learned at Thousand Islands Playhouse:

      "I've been here five years and I've learned a lot as an artist and as a leader. I've put a lot of attention on new play development programs and education and outreach, and I've looked for new funding to help them grow....The work here is as good as anywhere in Toronto or New York City--much like the Arts Club it has broad programming and the defining feature is high production values."


      On the importance of new plays:

      "That comes from my first real professional theatre job at Tarragon [Theatre in Toronto, where she was administrative assistant and apprentice stage manager]...It taught me how important creating work for new and exciting voices really is. And then I launched the new playwriting residency here at Thousand Islands [the yearlong Playwrights' Unit, now in its fifth year]."


      About taking on the largest theatre company in Western Canada:
      I love to work....I love theatre because the jobs of artistic director and stage director work so many parts of my brain. So for me the fact that the Arts Club is so large is exciting. While I've been artistic director here [at Thousand Islands] I've still been doing a lot of freelance as well, so I love to be busy, and to put that all into one institution is great."

      On being one of the country's few female artistic directors:
      "I feel very fortunate to have this position. When you look at the stats there are not very many women in this type of role, so I feel thrilled to have it but also a responsibility in it. Through education and outreach we can be able to have gender parity, and that means gender of all types."

      About opportunities where the Arts Club can grow:

      "The Arts Club is already creating and commissioning new work but I also really want to look at professional development and the opportunities it offers to strengthen the next generation....Also, a big part of what I want to do is collaborate with smaller theatre companies. Theatre Smash [the indie Toronto company she cofounded] has just been in residency at Canadian Stage for two years and that was just phenomenal for what that did for us."


      On the importance if diversity: 

      "It's another of my programming objectives. It's a conversation I'm very passionate about, and now there's an even larger opportunity."


      On the importance of international and national exposure:

      "I want to develop and strengthen and support the art coming out of Vancouver and I want everyone across Canada and internationally to know about it."


      On her plans for coproductions:

      "I love harnessing resources from other institutions and other regional theatres across the country, and even partnering with nontheatrical art forms, like the art gallery, for example."


      On her strategy for audience engagement:

      "The Goldcorp Stage offers just such amazing opportunities for people who don't necessarily get excited about a theatre event. Spontaneous participatory shows or theatre that is happening 360 degrees around an audience: for me those shows are kind of a gateway to get people to come to the Stanley."


      On the minutiae of company finances:

      "If you look at where the Arts Club is now,...not many theatres are in as strong a position. But though the company is big in revenue, it's big in expenses. Maybe it's from being at the Playhouse or maybe it's being the daughter of a banker, but here [at Thousand Islands Playhouse] we talk about our budget in $15 increments. I'm excited to take the strong audience and move forward into the future."