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SCENE SETTER: Theatre company ready to take on 'extraordinary opportunity'

Theatre by the Bay will produce world premiere of playwright Vern Thiessen's new script about Barrie
2019-07-09 Theatre Lab RB 4
Theatre by the Bay artistic director Iain Moggach is shown in a file photo. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

In a city of more than 150,000 people, Barrie is home to countless unique experiences that help make up its identity.

On any given day, residents and visitors can enjoy a meal from an eclectic range of culinary spots, kick back with some incredibly well made craft beer, get lost in our formidable music scene, and become immersed in a multitude of traditional and performing arts.

But who are the people working to support and help evolve Barrie’s cultural identity?

With the recent announcement from Theatre by the Bay (TBTB) that Governor General's Award-winning playwright Vern Thiessen will be writing a play about Barrie, I had the opportunity to talk with TBTB artistic director Iain Moggach about what brought him to Barrie and what the company is doing to enrich our community.

RV: How long have you lived in Barrie and what brought you here?

IM: I have lived in Barrie since 2015, so just over six years. I actually came here because of an educational program that Theatre by the Bay was launching called the Indie Producer Co-op. It is this amazing program — still going strong, by the way  that provides two theatre school students with the opportunity to learn theatre producing during a six-week job placement with the company.

My co-producer and I worked on a walking tour show called the Nine Mile Portage. I was by the water and in the sunshine every day and met all sorts of amazing people. During those six weeks, I fell in love with Barrie and the work TBTB was doing. Soon after the co-op, I got a job with TBTB and moved up here. Now I run the company!

RV: Where did TBTB’s focus on local artists and local stories come from?

IM: Perhaps a little ironically, it came from surveying our audiences. 

TBTB was going through a bit of a phase where it lost its footing. It didn't really know what it wanted to be.

So, over the course of two seasons, we asked the audiences why they came to see the shows they were seeing. This was very interesting because the insights led us to conclude that audiences came when they had familiarity with the material, and they knew people involved.

Now, we could have taken those findings and concluded a bunch of things, but we decided to experiment with a "local stories, local artists" approach.

In 2016, that led to We Must Have More Men!, a show about Barrie during the First World War. The reaction was electric! Lots of sold-out performances and huge buzz from the community.

It was clear we were on to something and never looked back.

RV: What can audiences expect from TBTB?

IM: There is so much to look forward to over the coming years.

In 2022, we are launching the Simcoe County Theatre Festival  an event for local artists to explore their creativity and see their work brought to the stage.

But also we have amazing productions planned for the coming years. We are doing history shows, contemporary examinations, and even some completely made-up material that is set in the region.

RV: What does having a play written by Vern Thiessen mean to you?

IM: Well, it is a huge piece of news for both TBTB and the community. The fact that a Governor General's Award-winning playwright is writing an original work about our community is a big deal and is going to put us on the map in a new and wonderful way.

Plus, Vern's work has been produced across the world, so in a way, Barrie's ice industry could be immortalized by this play.

For me personally, it is a dream come true. I have been a fan of Vern's writing since I was 16. It was Shakespeare's Will at the Stratford Festival and I remember thinking before the show started, "Pfft, a one-woman show about Shakespeare's wife? How good could this be?" and then having my mind blown by the beauty and power of the script.

Having now read every published script written by Vern, and having seen a couple, too, I think Vern's ability to make events  be it something big like the Battle of Vimy Ridge or small like Shakepeare's wife anxiously delaying the opening of his will — into something richly personal and character-driven is the reason he is one of Canada's greatest living playwrights.

The fact that I get to direct the world premiere of a script by a playwright of that calibre, let alone someone whom I have deeply respected for just over half of my life, is an extraordinary opportunity.

To stay up to date with Moggach and TBTB’s work, visit their website by clicking here.