Hinton charts bold new course for NAC theatre

Artistic director Peter Hinton has unveiled a bold new direction for theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, starting with an all-Canadian season.

Artistic director Peter Hinton has unveiled a bold new direction for theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, starting with an all-Canadian season.

The veteran writer and director says he wants to begin setting a new direction for the NAC by bringing to the stage as many unique Canadian voices as he can.

The 2006-07 season, which was announced Tuesday evening in Ottawa, will include 11 works, five of them Canadian premieres.

In a unique manifesto he has drafted for English-language theatre in Ottawa, Hinton outlined plans for a future resident company, a playwright-in-residence program and a theatre laboratory to explore new directions for the NAC.

"The National Arts Centre was given as a gift to the people of Canada in 1969 as an opportunity for Canadians to see the best of Canadian culture," Hinton said in an interview with CBC Radio.

"And that really distinguishes it as a unique company. It's not like a regional theatre; it's not like a commercial theatre. It's really a theatre for Canadians, about Canadian art. That's something that needs to be honoured and needs to be nurtured but it's one that also carries with it a responsibility to artists across the country."

Hinton is bringing in productions from small, independent companies across Canada, including Calgary-based One Yellow Rabbit's production of Dream Machine, the production of Rough House from Toronto's Nightswimming and  The Snow Show from Armstrong, B.C.'s The Caravan Farm Theatre. The Snow Show is a unique outdoor theatre experience in which patrons go from one drama to another by sleigh.

This continues the pattern set by former English theatre director Marti Maraden, who Hinton replaced earlier this year. But Hinton has plans for the NAC to create a flavour all its own.

Among Hinton's promises is at least one show per season by aboriginal writers. "This was a no brainer," he said. "The artists are there, the culture is there. It's alive and vibrant."

Copper Thunderbird,a play about native artist Norval Morrisseau by Métis writer Marie Clements, begins in May 2007. The project is being announced at the same time that a major retrospective of Morrisseau's work is appearing at the National Gallery.

Clements will also join the theatre as playwright-in-residence for the 2006-07 season, along with Daniel David Moses, a playwright of Delaware heritage who teaches at Queen's University in Kingston. Moses is author of The Indian Medicine Shows and Almighty Voice and his Wife.

English-language premieres of Quebec works are planned, including Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad, a Lebanese Canadian who writes about the bitterness of history and the opposing force of creativity. The season also includes a revival of The Little Years by award-winning playwright John Mighton.

Hinton built his reputation by staging powerful, challenging works and his theme for the season is no less challenging: what is the role of the artist in society?

He plans to engage audiences in workshops that explore potential future productions for the NAC, including classics from around the world which he plans to add to the 2007-08 season.

Arts broadcaster Laurie Brown will host a speaker series, with guests such as Ann-Marie MacDonald and Michael Ondaatje.

His larger mandate is to make the NAC better reflect what's happening in Canadian culture, he said.
"What I'm going for is not a casual experience but an intimate experience, a serious experience. When you make a commitment to go to the theatre, you're making a commitment to participate in something, not like going to see a movie or watching a DVD or a video. It's an engaged experience and unlike anything they'll have in other things," he said.

The NAC had a resident theatre company in the 1960s and 1970s and that is a "real dream" for Hinton in his new role as artistic director. "Great theatres are known for their companies," he said. "It's detrimental to our identity not to have one."