Montreal·BEST OF 2018

Meet the 1st woman at the helm of Montreal's Centaur Theatre

Montreal’s oldest English-language theatre is turning 50 and its artistic director adds another milestone to the mix — this season is the first programmed by a female artistic director.

Eda Holmes wants to bring more inclusivity to the 50th season at Montreal's oldest English-language theatre

Eda Holmes poses with Mike Payette (left), the director of Choir Boy, and Floydd Ricketts, the show's musical director. (Andrei Khabad/Centaur Theatre)

Montreal's oldest English-language theatre is turning 50 and its artistic director is adding another milestone to the mix — it's the first season programmed by a woman.

Eda Holmes became the first female artistic director of the Centaur Theatre in Old Montreal last August.

She was stepping into a season programmed by her predecessor, Roy Surette, so its 50th is the first she has full creative control over.

Holmes is often asked what it feels like to be the first woman in the top job at Centaur, but she says it's not something she can answer since it's all she knows. 

Still, she has simple advice for other women in high-pressure jobs.

"At the end of the day, if you're in the job, do the job. Don't doubt yourself, don't second guess," she said.

She said women's career challenges shouldn't all be lumped together just because of a shared gender — but there are still some universal issues they face.

"One thing we all share is a sense of imposter syndrome, I think," Holmes said.

"The best advice I can give myself every day, and I can give a woman any time I meet them, is to just let that go," she said.  

The Centaur Theatre was founded in 1969. (Eloi Savoie/Centaur)

This isn't Holmes's first leadership position — she previously worked as an associate director at the Shaw Festival, an international theatre festival in Ontario highlighting plays by George Bernard Shaw.

It was at Shaw that she developed a sense of how women can navigate positions of leadership, thanks to the women that mentored her when she was starting her theatre career, she said.

The past and future of Centaur

Holmes's experience rising up through big institutions like Shaw, and now Centaur, drew her to the play The Last Wife, the fourth show of the Montreal theatre's upcoming season.

It's about Catherine Parr, King Henri VIII's last wife.

"It's a story about how women build power from the inside-out of an organization," Holmes said.

It was nominated for a Governor General Award in 2017 and Holmes said it was the best Canadian play she read last year.

The new work plays into the themes Holmes set out to capture in the theatre's 50th season — a nod to the past, present and future of Centaur.

In Centaur's past, many plays were brought in from around the world, and in its first 30 years, particularly Britain.

In that spirit, the second play of the season, The Children, is by British playwright Lucy Kirkwood. It premiered in London in 2016.

Holmes calls it both weighty and funny, with a story that revolves around four characters in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster.

Looking to the future, Holmes said from the start that she wants to draw on Montreal's music scene for collaborations.

With that in mind, the season launches with Choir Boy, a play by the Oscar-winning writer of Moonlight, which incorporates gospel and R&B music.

The play was introduced to Holmes by Mike Payette, the artistic director of Montreal's Geordie Theatre.

Holmes was impressed by Payette's work and brought him on as the director of the show.

Fresh-faced future

Holmes says she's hoping to work with up-and-coming local writers, as well, who can speak directly to the Montreal experience.

She's currently looking through plays by young Montrealers and expects to announce in January which will be chosen as part of a spring reading.

Holmes is also working with young theatre practitioners through the National Theatre School (NTS).

Since her return to Montreal last year, Holmes has been moonlighting as a director for NTS — her old stomping ground, when she was a student in its directing program.

Along with working with young theatre lovers on their turf, she hopes to entice all students to come down to Old Montreal with last minute, rush tickets for $18.

It's a new initiative Holmes thinks will appeal to young people's penchant for last-minute planning and tight budgets.

Those special student tickets will be released an hour before each show.

Holmes said she hopes to build more inclusivity into Centaur's approach and make the company "Montreal's theatre."