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Honouring Resilience Campaign Launch: An Interview with Mark McGrinder
Studio 180 Theatre has launched our HONOURING RESILIENCE FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN with the goal to raise $10,000 by June 30, 2021 to support our artistic, educational and outreach programming during our 2021/22 Season. Thanks to the generosity of board members, advisory council members and an anonymous donor, any donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $6,000.
Mark McGrinder is Studio 180 Theatre’s Associate Artistic Director. His responsibilities include season planning, directing and dramaturgy, producing and working with artists, grant writing, and leading our IN DEVELOPMENT new play programming. Below, Mark shares his experience of the pandemic and his thoughts about resilience of theatre.
What did you feel/think when the pandemic just began? How long did you expect it to be?
At the start of all this, I knew that it would be particularly damaging to our industry but I really don’t think I could have anticipated the extent of that impact. It was easy to be self centred at the outset. I lost a couple of gigs, we had to cancel Indecent and I never got to see Hamilton. But as things progressed it became clear that this wasn’t going to be a minor disruption. Our entire industry was being upended and we were going to have to find alternative ways to connect with artists and audiences for the foreseeable future.
As the pandemic continued and Studio 180 began producing digital work for the first time, how did your view of theatre artists or theatre making change?
What struck me as we began to develop and explore work in the digital realm was just how hungry theatre artists were for a connection to the process. After the first sessions working on a play, someone would invariably say something along the lines of, “it just feels so good to be working, to be exploring a text and connecting with other people.” I think in our work it’s very easy to become focused on the product. It was a real reminder of how central play, exploration and especially conversation are to our work. Breaking the doldrums of isolation made me realize how much I take for granted in our process. It’s such a gift to come together with a group and to dig into complex, challenging material.
What were the specific challenges that were difficult for you as a theatre artist and Studio 180 as a company?
For me, the biggest challenge was getting over my cynicism about online content. If it’s not live, why do it? Is it really theatre? Why don’t we just wait this out? It took a while but I realized that coming together and creating was just as vital as the piece of virtual theatre that would emerge at the end of it all. I think I also underestimated our audience’s appetite for connection with artists they know. Sure, they could just watch Netflix but there was comfort in something different, something created in less than ideal circumstances.
How do you feel about Studio 180 Theatre’s response to the pandemic and what has been learned?
I’m in awe of what we were able to pull off, not just in terms of the work produced but the conversations we’ve had around that work. With Studio 180 AT HOME, we’re realizing that, even when this is all over, when we can return to theatres, we can embrace the digital format to expand the conversations we’ve always sought to have and they don’t have to be limited to the number of people who have the time to stick around for a talkback after a Wednesday matinee. I’m realizing that we often focus on a narrow definition of “audience” as bums in seats at our productions when, in reality, that definition can expand to include anyone who wants to talk about the issues our work explores. I’m especially proud of the work we did in schools through our IN CLASS program this year, connecting students with new work and inviting them to explore their own feelings about isolation, the pandemic and the future. It’s not about us coming in as experts, it’s about facilitating a conversation that puts their point of view at the fore. I’m grateful to have had access to their insight and optimism throughout the year.
What do you think about the word “resilience” and how it relates to theatre artists, companies and theatre itself, especially during this time?
I know that resilience often brings to mind the notion of bouncing back but I’ve always thought of it more fundamentally as the ability to not be destroyed. That may sound a bit stark, but I think that’s what it’s really about. After everything you face, are you still standing? I think that theatre has always been resilient. It’s been on the verge of extinction for centuries but, against all odds, it keeps kicking. And while this past year will see the end of a number of individual companies, I think that those who weather the storm will emerge into a world with a hunger for live, embodied artistic experiences. Our vitality and necessity will be more apparent than ever. That’s resilience, the ability to survive, to persevere and, with any luck, to do so in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
What’s your hope for theatre and for Studio 180’s work during and coming out of the pandemic?
My hope is that the work we’ve done and will continue to do in the coming season functions as more than a stopgap placeholder. I feel confident that we’ll be able to connect with audiences online even after we return to theatres and I’m excited by the possibility of expanded access to our work for high school students who might not have the physical proximity or means to connect with our work. I’m curious about the opportunities to connect with artists in other parts of the country (world) and how that can support the development of new work. Being in a room together is always the ideal scenario but now that I’ve experienced the benefits of connecting online there’s an opportunity to expand the breadth of audiences and artists participating in our work.
Want to hear more stories from artists about how they’ve adapted during the pandemic? Click on the name of an artist below.
Photos: (top) Honouring Resilience Campaign Graphic (photo of Jessica Greenberg in Our Class); (left) Mark McGrinder, Associate Artistic Director; (right) Mark introduces an IN DEVELOPMENT Reading (photo by Dahlia Katz); (left) Mark on Zoom with IN DEVELOPMENT Playwright Rachel Mutombo.