By Aly Boltman, Theatre Manager, Roxy Theatre
Meet Kate. Kate is an enigma. Kate is a survivor. Kate is a mould-breaker. Kate is a single mom and full-time college student in her mid-20s. Kate is a 4th generation Owen Sound-er. Kate has a wide network of friends and family, none of whom, just like her, had ever stepped foot in The Roxy Theatre before June of this year when Kate began working for us.
Last May, Kate’s resume landed in my inbox, courtesy of Georgian College’s business program. Kate had answered my near-desperate plea for a summer intern, and an oh-so-desirable unpaid internship at that. Throwing caution to the wind and ignoring the warnings of “you get what you pay for”, I was so swamped at work I decided that any help was better than no help at all. My caveat was that whomever I hired couldn’t be a mouth-breather and had to have tolerable spelling skills. After detecting no unusual breathing habits during our interview and passing my standard spelling test with flying colours, Kate was hired. And I exhaled the first of many sighs of relief this summer that came as a result of dumb luck, a little fate and a great HR decision.
Kate has taken to The Roxy like a fish to water. She started with mundane tasks and quickly demonstrated that she was capable of more. I began to pile jobs on her with the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store. Was she computer savvy? Check! Could she read my handwriting? Check! Could she handle social media? Check! Could she cold call? Check! Could she organize events? Check! Could she stage manage a show with no previous experience? Check! Could she read my mind? Sometimes…
So how was it possible that this intelligent, hard-working, creative and self-directed local woman with a great set of contemporary competencies had never been through the doors of The Roxy before? Why had her parents never brought her here, or any of the schools she’d attended? It certainly wasn’t for lack of available programming. Why hadn’t she or her friends ever seen a concert here? It certainly wasn’t for lack of variety. Why hadn’t she brought her child to our Children’s Performance Series before? She certainly didn’t lack an interest in meaningful experiences for her son. And how was it possible that the same could be said of almost all of her friends and family? This was a travesty. A catastrophe. A heartbreaker. This pain is only magnified when I think of how many more are just like her in our city, our region and the world.
This conundrum has led to numerous conversations over the past few months, and Kate has been grilled incessantly. The answer to the questions is always the same. “I just don’t know.” We compare the value of movies to live theatre, with no arguments that a live theatre experience is generally more rewarding and of more lasting value than the average slapstick Hollywood kids movie (Tim Burton excepted). We analyze our prices at The Roxy and she feels they are fair and generally accessible, especially our new family-friendly pricing for our children’s performance series. We discuss The Roxy’s official charitable status, and confirm that our aims are true and our goals worthwhile. We look to programming like OTHERfolk and Lupercalia for her hipster friends, and confirm appropriateness for this alternative clan. And yet, not a single friend or family member of Kate’s can be found anywhere in our database. It’s enough to keep me up at night.
I can’t help but to be reminded that in the arts industry we throw around the word culture a lot. But the term arts and culture, when used by arts organizations, refers most often to the culture OF the arts, and the patronage of them. But what is to be said about the culture of non-patronage? It can’t be dismissed. It is an audience waiting to happen. The obvious answer is to bring the mountain to Mohammed. But how do you do that with a limited budget, immoveable sets, and lack of appropriate, alternative venues? Could you tingle with excitement at the mall while a live version of The Sound of Music was played out inches from the fast food line up, the scratch and win counter and the screaming babies? I doubt it. How about The Metro, the Y, the Timmies, the splash pad, or the tattoo parlour? The smell of the greasepaint, the miracle of theatre technology and the magic that happens beneath the proscenium arch are generally vital parts of the experience that get lost when you move the mountain, albeit for a most important cause. So are there other ways?
Theatre and music in the schools is an irreplaceable step, although don’t bother telling school boards that. They already know. The age-old conclusive studies are in, but that doesn’t seem to stop the slash and burn of arts programming. Do I send Kate out there in the world, a newly converted arts warrior, to try to convince her community that they are missing out? That wouldn’t be very fair – she has enough to do and she would be lonely. Plus, I can’t live without her at the office anymore. But I think Kate is the key, and people just like her: people who are willing to try new experiences, and share their thoughts with others. Kate is the path to getting her child to a children’s show, and to encouraging her child’s school to take advantage of arts programming at The Roxy. Kate is the best shot we’ve got for minimizing the many degrees of separation between arts supporters and the rest of the population. It all comes down to Kate. And to listening to the needs of people like Kate as we navigate a strange and beautiful land that is the unknown; our potential future audiences.
So I guess the answer, or at least one of them, is that we all need to take more chances and hire more Kates. We need to take the time to mentor eager learners, and in so doing, open ourselves up to the possibility that sometimes, we may learn as much from them as they can from us. We need to ask the right questions and not dismiss the answers that don’t sit well. And in my case, I need to be open to the possibility that if another Kate walks through my front door again, however rare that might be, I will be smart enough to recognize my luck, and not jeopardize an amazing opportunity by worrying about trivial things like spelling or mouth-breathing.
Theatre Manager, Roxy Theatre
P.S. While Kate is busy trying to convert her friends into arts supporters, she would want me to tell you that the next few months at The Roxy are jam packed with amazing shows that even she (and some of her friends) will be going to on occasion. On September 21st, we will rock the house with 1969 Revisited’s FM Daze, featuring retro favourites from the 1960’s and 1970’s. Our One Act Play night for new OSLT directors is scheduled for September 22nd. Amberley Beatty’s tribute to honky tonk legend Loretta Lynn will have you tipping your hat on September 27th. The First Lady of Broadway, Mamma Mia star Louise Pitre visits with Joe Matheson and pianist Diane Leah on October 12th for a night of original music and Broadway favourites. October 18th it’s Leisa Way and Aaron Solomon’s Country Jukebox, a tribute to country music’s best duos like Waylon and Tammy, Johnny and June, Kris and Rita, Tim and Faith and many more. The amazingly interactive Great Rhythmobile Adventure for music-loving kids cruises into town on October 20th. And with OSLT’s musical Anything Goes set to charm audiences this fall, it will be an incredible season and an opportunity to get to know The Roxy a little better, whoever you are.