Leading through a pandemic

Leading a theatre company through a pandemic is not something anyone would have been prepared for, but Artistic Director Eda Holmes has done a fantastic job of continuing to keep the Centaur a vital part of Montreal’s thriving arts community. I sat down with Eda to ask her a little about how she’s been making plans for the company in this unprecedented year.

Interview with Artistic Executive Director Eda Holmes by Rose Plotek, Artistic Associate, Centaur Theatre Montreal.

Where did the idea for the Portico Project come from? 

I was thinking about all the artists here in Montreal for whom all their work and practice had come to a halt. I worried about what people were going to do with their creative energy. And when the Black Lives Matter resurgence happened, and the social justice conversation was at the forefront, I felt that this was a moment that people needed to talk and make work about. I also felt we must get whatever money we can out to the artists in the community.

And so I was thinking about how I could bring all those ideas into one central event, and still do it safely. I approached some of my colleagues who I believe have a good hand on the pulse of the artistic community here–Eo Sharp, Julie Tamiko Manning, and Nalo Soyini–and we talked about what we felt the community needed. We created a call for submissions which focused on “unpacking the moment we are in” and that is how the Portico Project was created.

And when the Black Lives Matter resurgence happened, and the social justice conversation was at the forefront, I felt that this was a moment that people needed to talk and make work about.

As it became clear what kind of limited funding I would have to work with this year, I started to put other things in place, like the Artistic Diversity Discussion @ Centaur (ADD @ Centaur) and the Catalyst @ Centaur. It was pretty clear by June that this pandemic wasn’t going away anytime soon, and we would have to think about what work we could get out there and how. It’s been a uniquely challenging process but it’s been very inspiring to be able to ask, “What is theatre for right now and how can we best serve and inhabit that”?

Is asking yourself that question a continuation of what you do in your role as artistic director, or is it a change in direction brought on by the pandemic specifically?

I had actually started from that question in the company’s current strategic planning process. So it hasn’t felt like a complete shift, it’s just that the tools have changed, because we can’t put a show on stage and we can’t hire artists in the way we normally would. But the conversation is not that different from the question of what kind of work we want to be making and sharing.

“What is theatre for right now and how can we best serve and inhabit that”?

Mostly I want to make sure that the work we are putting out there now is well positioned to be successful given our current reality. And that’s why the reading of Steve Galluccio’s play, At the Beginning of Time, worked so well. Not only is it filled with Gallucio’s natural wit and love of his characters but also because it’s written to take place in a small room between three people.

A blue graphic cards reads New Work at Centaur

And so as our first attempt at a live-streamed event I felt we could achieve it fairly simply and successfully. Luckily that turned out to be true! We have many more plans for this year so stay tuned!

Can you tell us more about ADD @ Centaur?

Specifically when the Black Live Matter resurgence happened and theatre companies were posting statements of solidarity, I felt under pressure to post something, but I didn’t want to post anything until I could say something that we as a theatre could truly stand behind. For me what was most important was that Centaur needed to be an agent of change, that was the centre of our statement. Once we’ve said that in public, how do we do it? Just saying it is not enough. So what do we need to do? I started by calling Patrick Lloyd Brennan of QDF, because he had worked with us at Centaur in the past and is also very familiar with the community.

We discussed how the conversation needed to start with people who are very established in the community, people who really understand where Centaur is at right now in terms of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and how we got here. We will continue the conversation with another group of younger artists in the spring that will help us to articulate where we need to go next.

We are only 2 months in, but the experience and insight the panel is sharing with us has been revelatory and inspiring.

Please visit the ADD @ Centaur page on our website to learn more about the panelists and listen to our Saturday Salons discussions.

When we started, I didn’t want to bring in an outside organization to manage these conversations, I didn’t want to step back from the work that had to be done. I wanted us to do the work actively. We have to engage ourselves in this work. We have to take on the risk of being in the potentially challenging conversation. Not have someone tell us how to do it but actually formulate it for ourselves.

I think it’s important for us to create a future for Centaur that is authentic to this place. Our theatre does have a strong foundation to build on but there is no way that we can decide in a vacuum what the change should look like. We need to bring in other voices and other experiences to give the change real agency.

What does the future look like?

It is honestly really hard to know what will stick but in preparing for an uncertain future one thing is always certain! We will be in need of financial support to continue to make theatre that strives for artistic excellence alongside our pledge be be agents of change. Our upcoming campaign is in fact called, The Future @ Centaur. I believe that we can continue to make good changes and great theatre for years to come. I’ve certainly learned so much during this challenging time!