L-R: The Theatre Centre Board Members Lindy Cowan, Philip Shepherd & Mallory Gilbert at The Theatre Centre Groundbreaking celebrations. October 2012. Photo by Maylynn Quan.

Board Series: Philip Shepherd

When I joined the board at The Theatre Centre some 25 or so years ago, we were located at the Poor Alex on Brunswick, and it looked like we’d have to move. What we really needed was a permanent home. We tried, and it didn’t happen. We’ve tried over and over, but we’ve been a little like gypsies ever since, putting up camp here and there, making the best of it.

Wherever we took up residence, we were home to truly remarkable theatre shows, some of them shining gems amidst work that was always as important for the artists as the audience, and occasionally more so. What I mean by that is simple: an artist’s vision and competence grow by being tested and questioned. The only way to truly fail is to be unwilling to risk it. No new show starts out with a guarantee of success, and the bolder the vision, the higher the risk. Me, I’d rather see a radical theatrical vision imperfectly implemented than a safe vision implemented with polish. The Theatre Centre has always supported the process of pursuing an artistic vision and bringing it to life, and has nurtured some of the finest playwrights, directors, designers and actors in not just Toronto, but across Canada. Because of the commitment The Theatre Centre showed to its community of artists and theatregoers, I felt no hesitation in continuing my commitment to The Theatre Centre.

Why did we need a home? We’ve always been renters, in buildings over which we’ve had no control. There is a special heartache (I speak from experience) to pouring heart and soul, blood, sweat and tears into a show, only to have opening night drowned out by the noise from a country and western hoe-down upstairs, or a mega-watt band playing next door. Noise isn’t the only issue, though. Developers always seem to have their eye on spaces we’ve moved into – and then it’s back to square one, looking for a home and trying to book the next season without really knowing if we’ll have a venue to hold it in.

I have warm memories of all the spaces we’ve called home:

• The back alley behind the Poor Alex, where I warmed up my chainsaw so it would be ready to fire up when I made my appearance in KLOWN – a show produced by Phyzikal Theatre, of which I was a director.

• The dark, compressed quiet of OHM space.

• Meeting with the board in Lippincott, where the character “Anita Theatre” was hatched, I think by Daniel MacIvor, as a publicity stunt to help bring attention to our plight: “I need a theatre”. (Anita was played with inimitable panache by Elley-Ray Hennessy).

• Renovating the space on George Street, which had been a photographer’s studio with a cyc painted so many times the layers of paint were almost an inch thick.

• Playing Wotan in “Das Rheingold” (directed by Stephen Seabrook at 1032 Queen St West) and hurling lightbulbs through the darkened space to smash against the back wall at the top of the show.

• Chairing a board meeting at 1032 while the most amazing lightning storm was dancing across the sky outside. At the end of the meeting I said something to the effect that we’d done well not to be too distracted by the storm, to which Susan Serran replied, “I’m not so sure”. Right. Maybe a few minutes of mute awe would have been in order.

• And that moment at 1087 Queen St West during a board meeting when Franco noted that there was a city-owned Carnegie Library a block and a half away, which he thought could someday be our new home.

Of course there are reams and reams of memories from my years of association with The Theatre Centre. But Anita Theatre can rest her soul, because we have for the first time found a space to call our own. My soul too can rest – and in fact I’ve happily resigned from the board, knowing that the long quest is over, and a new era is dawning. Of course, my heart will always share its journey, cheering it on and supporting it as I might.

It’s been a wonderful ride.