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NAC's English theatre head Peter Hinton to step down

Peter Hinton, who helped reinvigorate the National Arts Centre's English theatre division, is stepping down after his seventh season as artistic director.

Peter Hinton, who helped reinvigorate the National Arts Centre's English theatre division, is stepping down after his seventh season as artistic director.

The Toronto-raised playwright and theatre director will end his run in August 2012, the centre announced Wednesday.

"The NAC is a unique gift to the people of Canada. It has been a privilege to be a part of its legacy and to build its meaningful place with artists and audiences across the country," he said in a statement.

After seven years and two terms Hinton described as "rewarding and fullfilling," the NAC had approached him to consider an additional term. After much thought over the summer, Hinton said he decided not to extend his contract.

"I'm just aware of turning 50. The job requires such dedication and discipline and travel all over this huge country that I've really had to put my own personal projects aside," he told CBC Wednesday afternoon. 

"So I felt like it was the right time [to leave]. I'm very proud of what I've accomplished and eager to move on to my own freelance career at this time."

'Builder and mentor'

NAC president Peter Herrndorf praised Hinton as "a builder" for reintroducing a resident English-language acting troupe to the centre and for being a "true mentor" to the students of the National Theatre School.

"We will miss his passionate commitment to artists and to his audience," Herrndorf said.

Hinton took on the NAC post in Ottawa in 2005 after having established himself in the Canadian theatre scene through his work with many groups, including the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, Toronto-based Canadian Stage Company and Theatre Passe-Muraille, Vancouver's Rumble Theatre and Playwrights' Workshop Montreal.

'Theatre is such a collaborative medium and so bringing together a group annually of actors, directors, designers, dramaturges ... really makes the term "centre" meaningful because we're gathering people across Canada and bringing them here to work on something unique.'—Peter Hinton

Along with his decision to reinstate the NAC's Resident English Theatre Company (more than 20 years after it was initially disbanded due to cuts), Hinton has received praise for his programming choices. In particular, he shone a spotlight on Canadian playwrights and an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic productions and aboriginal artists — including the upcoming NAC production of King Lear featuring a cast of First Nations actors from across the country and led by August Schellenberg.

Hinton teamed up with the Royal Shakespeare Company to create a stage adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad and endeared himself to audiences for his habit of chatting with patrons from the NAC stage before each curtain went up. His contributions to Canada were recognized in 2009 when he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Though there are individual shows, like The Penelopiad, that are standouts for Hinton, several of these achievements are particularly special. 

"I am very proud of producing the first all-Canadian season in the history of the NAC," he said.

"The reinstatement of a resident company here is [also] a thing I’m very proud of. Theatre is such a collaborative medium and so bringing together a group annually of actors, directors, designers, dramaturges — we had a historian — it really makes the term 'centre' meaningful because we're gathering people across Canada and bringing them here to work on something unique."

He also singled out the NAC's aboriginal programming as important, saying he was proud of "making that commitment to doing a work each year that really honours and celebrates our First People’s theatre culture, which is so rich."

Passing the baton

The search for a successor will be led by Nancy Webster, the NAC's managing director of English theatre. Beyond expressing the importance of "keeping the artist in the forefront...always a challenge in large institutions," Hinton said he doesn't plan to over-direct whomever follows him during the transition.

"I'm curious about what someone new will bring to [the job]. I don’t want them to do exactly what I did," he said.

"I will never sit in a bar anywhere and go ‘What they should do is this!’...because it’s a tough job."

Hinton still has a busy year ahead of him staging his final NAC season, programming the 2012-2013 season and helping pick members of the resident company. But he is looking forward to taking a bit of time off next fall and also carving out blocks of time to write new material.

His tenure at the NAC and role uniting artists from across the country will inform his future work, he said.

"I’m really taking away [from this job] the spirit of the national perspective. It’s something that’s easy to be political about, cliché about. I surprised myself about how passionately and enthusiastically I took that on with the team," Hinton said.

"There are so many great artists across the country, so to bring together people literally from Vancouver to Halifax to work on something has been a marvelous dialogue and conversation between cultures… not just geographical or regional, but also between the immigrant perspective and the First People's perspective and gender-wise."

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