Expect the eclectic at Centaur Theatre with new artistic director Eda Holmes

Centaur’s new artistic director says Canadian theatre is experiencing an eclectic moment and Montreal’s urban theatre is in one of the best positions to capitalize on it.

Former dancer, Shaw festival associate director, becomes first woman in Centaur's top job

Eda Holmes is the new artistic and executive director of Centaur Theatre in Old Montreal. (David Cooper/Centaur)

Creative crossovers involving music and dance are making their way onto Canadian main stages and Centaur's new artistic director says the urban theatre is uniquely positioned to lead the way.

Eda Holmes takes the reins at Centaur Theatre Aug. 1, after finishing up work as associate director at the Shaw Festival, an international theatre festival highlighting plays by George Bernard Shaw.   

She'll be the first woman at the helm since Centaur opened in 1969.

Centaur, with where it is in the city, where it is in the country, can be a place where crossovers happen.- Eda Holmes 

"I feel like Canadian theatre is having a wonderfully eclectic moment where there's all kinds of crossover art happening," Holmes said.

"Centaur, with where it is in the city, where it is in the country, can be a place where crossovers happen and different kinds of artists come together to create new things," she said.

It was announced last year that Roy Surrette would be leaving Centaur's top job after almost 10 years — he's returning to Vancouver to be artistic director at Touchstone Theatre, a role he had from 1985 to 1997.

Looking for continuity with ingenuity 

A search committee of five people assembled to find Surrette's successor. The candidates needed to have the creative vision of an artistic director as well as the managerial experience of an executive director.

The head of the committee, Nancy Cumming Gold, said that with the theatre closing in on its 50th anniversary, it felt like an especially important time for Centaur to have the right leader.

Gold said Holmes stood out from other contenders because of the level of drive and agility she's shown in her personal and professional life.

Holmes was a ballet dancer and soloist before a knee injury forced her to realign her creative pursuits — something which saw her study directing at the National Theatre School (NTS) in Montreal and move into a theatre career.

Gold sees this resourcefulness as a sign that Holmes is the right person to bring new creative languages to the stage, along with her resumé showing that she is well-versed in traditional, text-based plays.

"None of us in this world of theatre and art consider ourselves to be silos," Gold said.

"The theatres, symphonies, museums, and all the things Montreal has to offer, I think we really value each other."

Hybrid performances and community

Holmes said she is already thinking of where she will take the theatre for its 2018-2019 season — this upcoming season was programmed by Surrette.

She's hoping to source musical collaborators from Montreal's local scene and create hybrid performance pieces with them.

"My main goal is to capitalize on the kind of city we have, and the kind of artists we have, and audience we can build," Holmes said.  

She wants to create a community around Centaur, for the artists and the audience.

Holmes hopes to get in touch with what attendees are looking for by hosting "Sunday afternoon salons" at the theatre.

She will make herself available after Sunday matinees to meet with audience members and discuss any topic they want.

Centaur Theatre was founded in 1969 and is housed in Canada's first stock exchange building. (Eloi Savoie/Centaur)

First female artistic director

Holmes is the first female artistic director Centaur has had in the almost 50 years since it opened.

"I think it's exciting that it's a woman running the Centaur Theatre for the first time. I think it's essential," said local theatre director Emma Tibaldo.

More than a decade ago, Holmes was teaching at the National Theatre School and mentored Tibaldo on topics like female representation in theatre and feminist theatre. 

Tibaldo said Holmes is interested in community and how theatre fits into a community.

But after spending years in Ontario at Shaw, and in the Toronto theatre scene, how much work needs to be done for Holmes to understand Montreal's English-language theatregoers in time for Centaur's semicentennial? 

Holmes is confident she'll meet the challenge — she's maintained ties with Montreal through visits and guest teaching posts at NTS and McGill University.

She was in Montreal in July, setting up her new home and noticing how her experience in the city has come full circle — her new apartment is only two doors down from the one she had as a fresh-faced NTS student.

For the upcoming season, she will be directing the 39 Steps, a fast-paced, highly choreographed show based on both the 1915 novel and 1935 Hitchcock film by the same name, opening in November.

The 2018-2019 season Holmes will be working to plan for the next few months is set to be announced in March.