A Note From Our Artistic Executive Director at the Start of Our 10th Season

On Saturday November 26, 2022, we opened our first production of our 10th season, The Birds, at Hart House Theatre. As my speech was somewhat improvised and a little scattered and emotional, I wanted to share a cleaner version of it now – there’s a reason I’m usually the one behind the camera/stage, and writing this out is sure to be a better way to ensure I share all I want to say.

As you likely know if you are reading this, my name is Emily Dix and I am the Artistic Executive Director of Bygone Theatre, a company I founded in October 2012 along with Matt McGrath and Tom Beattie. Both of them have since moved on, but I’m happy to say that many of the wonderful people I work with today have been with the company in some capacity or another for years, and I hope that continues to be the case. In 2015 we became a non-profit and formed our first Board of Directors: Elizabeth Stuart Morris was Chair, Leete Stetson was Vice Chair, Elizabeth Rose Morriss was Secretary and Conor Fitzgerald was Treasurer. While our Chair and Vice Chair were only with us for a season, Conor has gone on to become Bygone Chair and Elizabeth, who has worked with Bygone in various capacities since the very beginning, is still our Secretary. We have since added to our board Dr. Mark Terry as President, and Vinay Sagar as a member. This team has provided guidance and support in countless ways, and because of them we were able to become a registered charity in the summer of 2022. I would like to extend my thanks to all who have helped in the formation of this company – it isn’t as glamourous a role as some of the creatives, but it is essential, and we couldn’t do it without you.

Through the years Bygone has produced numerous one-night-only performances in addition to our mainstage shows. These include many “Finn and Friend” productions, staring the incomparable Tom Finn and his hilarious brother, Kevin Finn, as well as a series of retro game shows hosted by the one and only Bob Burnhart (aka actor and dialect coach, John Fleming). We have also produced over a dozen “Retro Radio Hour” shows that feature the talents of dozens of lovely singers and actors, both those who have been featured in mainstage shows and those who joined us for a one-off performance. These smaller performances still require a tremendous amount of talent, planning and work, and many have been mounted as fundraisers, meaning those involved have donated their time to help grow the company. To everyone who has been involved in one of these events of which there really are too many to count, thank you.

Our last major production was The Rear Window, performed at Theatre Passe Muraille back in March of 2019. It had been our biggest show to-date, and while a major financial risk, it was one that we felt we needed to take. The show was a success with great reviews and a total of 11 Broadway World Toronto nominations, four of which led to wins: Best Direction of an Equity Play – Emily Dix; Best Original Lighting Design – Wesley Babcock; Best Leading Actor – Tristan Claxton; and Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Kate McArthur. Unfortunately, what we had hoped would be a big jump forward in the growth of our company was quickly stalled in 2020, at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, we had to press pause, and went for over 2 years without producing a live show.

During our production hiatus, we shifted focus to develop the other aspects of our company. We always knew we wanted to work towards charitable status, and so we put all our time and effort into building our Sustainability and Diversity & Accessibility Mandates, and our education program. With the help of Dr.Mark Terry, we partnered with the Youth Climate Report, and became the first theatre company to publicly commit to following all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. When the YCR was awarded an honourable mention at the 2020 UN SDG Action Awards, we were given the opportunity to share a video that outlined our commitments. Since then, we have further narrowed and focused our mandate into three main areas: Mend & Make Do; Vintage Aesthetics, Not Values; and Indie Unite. We reaffirmed our commitment to accessibility, and committed to providing clearer breakdowns in all casting and production calls, highlighting specific skills, abilities, potential challenges and possible solutions. We majorly expanded our commitment to diversity, and instituted quantifiable goals such as reserving 50% of auditions slots for BIPOC performers, and providing free admission to all Bygone shows and events for anyone who identifies as being of Indigenous descent. We also provide free advertising space to Indigenous-led organizations, and are seeking funding to be able to hire an Indigenous artist as a consultant as we continue to expand this mandate.

In 2021, we were awarded the Toronto Star Readers’ Choice Award for Best Live Theatre, and were runner-up for NOW Magazine’s Best Small Theatre – if you like the work we do, voting is currently open for the Broadway World Toronto Awards, and while we did not produce anything last season we are nominated for Best Local Theatre in both the Professional and Non-Professional categories – you can cast your vote here.

With the help of a generous donation last season from Jane Aster Roe of Aster Roe Productions, we were able to start two new initiatives; a revival of our Retro Radio Hour series, now to be in podcast form; and the expansion of our Youth Production Assistant program. As with all of our new programs and initiatives, our top priority is with providing payment and support to artists, who have been disproportionately affected during the past few years of the pandemic. With that goal in mind, our first charitable campaign was the creation of our Artist Fund, which gave 100% of funds raised directly to our artists. It is our goal to re-fill this fund with the ticket sales from each show, as well as through fundraising campaigns, so that we can work towards always providing industry standard rates to all the artists we engage. This year, we raised over $12,000 which went directly to the cast of The Birds – thank you to everyone who donated, and if you would still like to give your support, donations can be made via our Canada Helps page.

Throughout the pandemic we provided a series of free webinars on topics ranging from producing to vintage design – these will become a regular part of our programming. This season, thanks to a major donation from IG Financial, we are launching a new program: Empower Your Tomorrow: Financial and Business Literacy for the Arts – stay tuned for details. We are also thrilled to be providing a series of workshops through our venue partnerships with Hart House Theatre.

Finally, this season will include two more mainstage productions: The Yellow Wallpaper, a mix of ambulatory theatre and digital projection being presented at Campbell House Museum, March 2023; and Wayne & Shuster, Live! which will bring Canadian comedy legends Wayne & Shuster back to the stage with the support of their children, Michael and Brian Wayne and Rosie Shuster, thanks to sponsorship from Alterna Savings and a venue partnership with Hart House Theatre, May 2023.

Now that we’re all caught up on the craziness that is the last few years, it’s time to say thanks to those who have helped create what is not only our first show of our 10th season, but the first back since our COVID-19 hiatus, AND our first show as a registered charity: The Birds.

First, to the staff of Hart House Theatre. To Doug Floyd, who took a chance on a small company and let us come into a space we simply could not have afforded on our own – thank you for the encouragement and support, and for giving us a chance to show what we can do. This literally wouldn’t be happening without you. To Gillian Lewis, who is actually the HHT Education & Production Coordinator, but who seems to do basically every job there is. Thank you for helping with everything from organizing workshops to finding props and for the constantly positive attitude and excellent hugs. To Brian Campbell for his guidance and support as we get used to being back in a theatre, and a union house at that – thank you for your patience. To Lindsey Middleton for all the last-minute help when my computer decided to die THE WEEK of opening – thank you for being on-the-ball, keeping a cool head, and finishing the program I should have had done 3 weeks prior. To Parker Nowlan, for being an absolute superstar. I don’t even know where to start. Parker has done everything from set building to programming the lights and has been there to save the day numerous times through this process (starting with emergency printing at our callbacks). Thank you for all your help, and most of all, for doing it with a smile and the patience of a saint. To Brendan (oh my god how do I not know your last name??), who programmed our sound and took my rambling, very non-technical notes and requests and made it all work – thank you for also being super patient, and for making last-minute adjustments more times than I’d like to count. And to all the front of house staff, the Hart House volunteers, and the cleaning staff who’ve dealt with our cluttered backstage – it takes a huge group of talented and dedicated people to run something like Hart House Theatre, and I am thankful to all of you.

Warning – this is where I may start to get sappy.

To our cast and crew, starting with our team of production assistants. Thank you to Ainsley Munro for late-night flat painting, to Sarah Allen who shadowed Wes and helped with odd set and prop tasks that ranged from dressing to running to Rotblotts for more tape. To Kiana Josette, who is working with us in various producing capacities and who took stunning production photos and all the pictures of our opening night gala. To assistant/apprentice director Julia Edda Pape, who attended nearly every rehearsal and provided great vision and insight, as well as helping in a variety of PA roles, and who was a part of the workshopping of the script. Thank you for being consistent, reliable, hardworking and talented – you are going to go far. To our ASM/Associate Producer Jane Aster Roe, who has worked with us in some capacity since 2016 – thank you for doing everything from raising funds to selling tickets, setting props and doing coffee runs – your willingness to do whatever needs to be done has been invaluable and is very much appreciated. To my mother, Karen Henderson, who sewed the lovely dress you see on Daphne at the top of the show and to Tegan Ridge, who came in last-minute with some hair & makeup suggestions – thank you. A major part of Bygone’s image is our historically accurate aesthetic, and that couldn’t have been achieved without you.

To Wes Babcock, our set designer who eventually came on as lighting designer as well, and had to work with tight deadlines and an even tighter budget – thank you for not only doing your job wonderfully well, but for helping with all the dozens of things that were decidedly not your job, like helping with sound cues and InDesign files – I know you weren’t the production manager, but you were definitely a production manager. More importantly than that, you’ve been an amazing friend, as you always have been, and I appreciate you lending an ear not only to my worries and questions about the show, but to my complaints about life in general. I’m so happy to have known Wes for many, many years, and hope to have him in my life for many more to come – I promise every time we will pay you more than the last.

To our wonderful stage manager, Kate McArthur, who is one of the most beautiful people I know. I am so proud of you and all your work on this, jumping into a role you hadn’t filled in years, you’ve done an amazing job and shown you really can do anything. Thank you for being a constant support in every way, you’re one of my closest friends and I could not have maintained my sanity this past month without you. I look forward to spending this entire year creating things with you.

To my fantastic cast – Anna Douglas, who I have not known for long, but who I could immediately see was the perfect Daphne. Anna approaches her work with a focus and dedication that is truly admirable, and while I rarely have time to point it out in rehearsals, I see new details and nuances every time she runs a scene, and those are noticed and appreciated. Her commitment to the show and determination to make it a success has been clear since day one. Thank you, Anna, for the attention-to-detail, thoughtfulness and thoroughness in all that you do.

To Alex Clay, another one of my closest friends, and someone who I have been lucky to work with several times before. Alex read the very earliest versions of this script and has been a sounding board throughout the entire process. Thank you for the lunch-time phone calls to go over ideas, and for coming to each rehearsal focused and ready and full of incredibly lame jokes that always make me laugh. I’m so happy to see you in a role that allows you to show such range, and excited for everyone to see what a talented and capable actor you are. I’m so happy to have you in my life.

To Oliver Georgiou, who I knew was “Mitch” about 5 seconds into his audition. Oliver is wonderful onstage and off – not only is he a talented and engaging actor, he is a thoughtful and supportive team member who has done everything from running warm-ups to bringing me allergy medicine the day after I complained about a dusty theatre. Oliver’s additions to the script have been essential, and the ending is what it is thanks to him. Thank you for supporting and elevating all my ideas, and for being a great listener and a wonderful person to be around.

To Kiera Publicover, who is one of the most wonderfully laid-back actors I’ve ever had a chance to work with, thank you for being a constantly positive and calming presence – much needed in a show as intense as this. Kiera took what could have easily been a small, two-dimensional part and built it into a fully-formed, engaging and endearing character that is exciting to watch. I can’t wait to see all the amazing things you go on to do. Thank you as well for your assistance with editing the Land Acknowledgement, and for the suggestions of Indigenous organizations to support.

To Chad Allen, who I had worked with briefly before years ago when he swooped in last minute to save the day by playing several small roles in His Girl Friday. Chad is a true pro, and has excellent taste in coffee. Thank you for always bringing focus and dedication to all you do, and for being such a positive and guiding presence in rehearsals – I look up to you, and not just because you’re a giant and an “old man”. Chad has also taken a small role and turned it into a character worthy of a spin-off. Thank you for always going above and beyond.

Last, but certainly not least, to Conor Fitzgerald, Bygone’s Chair, my fellow Producer, and my partner in every aspect of life. Thank you for creating business plans and spreadsheets, for driving ridiculously far away for obscure auction pick-ups, for keeping me supplied in Diet Coke, and for supporting me during every stage and mood and thing. It sounds so cheesy to say he is my other half, but it really is true, and I could not do any of the things I do without him.

To all who have helped Bygone become what it is today, and to all who have supported The Birds in anyway, thank you. I hope you enjoy our show and our season, and all the big things to come.

  • Emily Dix
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A Note from Our Artistic Executive Director

A message from Artistic  Executive Director Emily Dix regarding Bygone Theatre’s commitment to diversity and accessibility;

When I started Bygone Theatre back in 2012 my main goal was to produce engaging, character-driven theatre from the early 20th century – there were stories I wanted to see onstage that were only available at big companies, like Soulpepper, Stratford or Shaw, and I wanted something similar but on a smaller, more accessible scale. I set about making theatre with whomever I could find, and focused more on the work than those involved. Now, as Bygone Theatre enters our 9th season, it is clear we need to expand our focus and work harder to prioritize our commitments to diversity and accessibility; simply saying “all are welcome” and using wheelchair accessible spaces is not enough. We need to make concrete, measurable changes in order to better serve our community and our work.

As a company that produces “vintage theatre”, we are in a unique position when it comes to diversity. We have the opportunity to re-examine stories through a more authentic lens, looking at them not from the perspective of turn-of-the-century, primarily white audience members, but through one of historical insight, that acknowledges that the world has always contained diverse communities with fascinating stories, even if they weren’t being published or produced.

Plays from the 1920s-60s often feature racist stereotypes, that or they completely white-wash the story and show no diversity at all. When re-staging these stories it can be easy to fall into the trap of eliminating the overt racism while still maintaining the subvert – colourblind casting, 2-dimensional characters, or tokenism. Does that mean these stories are no longer relevant, or not worth retelling? No. But they do need to be redone. And that needs to be done with care.

While diversity and accessibility have always been important to us, we have admittedly existed in a bit of a bubble. Attempts to engage communities outside of my own have rarely been met with much success, and to be honest, the difficulty in doing this lead to me not making it a top priority. I do the majority of the work for Bygone on my own, and I did not know how to engage people past simply putting the message out there, and I never had time to really learn how.

Then COVID-19 happened.

After the initial upset of coming to terms with the uncertain year ahead of us, we at Bygone came to the realization that this “break” in the regular programming is exactly what we need. We are taking this time to learn and improve, not just as artists, but as people, and a part of the Toronto theatre community. We are listening to the voices speaking out against discrimination in the arts (the #InTheDressingRoom thread on Twitter was eye-opening and deeply upsetting). We are listening to the voices telling us how to be better allies. And we are taking time to make important changes and commitments, and to share that with you now as a commitment to change and accountability. This is not a final comment, it is a series of first steps. As we continue to learn and grow we will readdress these commitments, make more, and do more. I will make these a priority, and am working on learning how to do more. The following statements come from myself, and the Bygone Theatre Board of Directors:

Bygone Theatre believes Black Lives Matter.

Bygone Theatre sees the racism faced by BIPOC communities, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity.

Bygone Theatre sees the homophobia and prejudice members of the LGBTQ2+ community faces, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity.

Bygone Theatre sees the women who face sexism and discrimination, the members of the #MeToo movement, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity.

Bygone Theatre sees the challenges and discrimination faced by Mad/Disabled communities, believes their stories and stands with them in solidarity.

We are making a commitment to support all these communities, prioritize their members and stories in our work, and to continue to work to become better allies. The following is our Commitment to Diversity and Accessibility, as of June 30, 2020.

BYGONE THEATRE DIVERSITY & ACCESSIBILITY STATEMENTS

OUR COMMITMENT TO DIVERSITY

Auditions & Casting

  • 50% of all audition slots will be reserved for those who self-identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Colour)

  • Our Diversity & Accessibility statements will be included on all audition postings

  • We will begin our casting process earlier than we have in the past in order to make time to submit postings to diverse communities currently outside of our network

  • We will continue to provide character breakdowns that do not include physical attributes or race (unless essential to the story) and will promote colour-conscious casting

  • Casting will prioritize actors that have the shared experience of the character ​​

Rehearsal Process​

  • The first day of rehearsal will include a talk about equity, diversity and inclusion​

  • All cast members will be required to sign a contract that includes a code of conduct which addresses equity, anti-racism and sexual harassment – this will include a clear structure breakdown for a complaint and resolution process

  • Should we produce a show that centres around a character or story about a diverse community, we will hire a consultant or creative team member from that community to address any issues both in the play and the rehearsal room

Production Process​

  • We will prioritize the hiring of female, LGBTQ2+, Mad/Disabled and BIPOC production artists*​

  • We will prioritize businesses run by women, LGBTQ2+, Mad/Disabled and BIPOC folks when purchasing items for our company or productions

  • We will research the companies that we patronize to ensure they have values consistent with our own

*At the time of writing Bygone Theatre is without any consistent funding, and so our productions rely heavily on the support of volunteers. When we achieve a status that allows us regular operating funding we will re-address this and make a more concrete commitment to diversity numbers, but at the moment many roles are filled by our Artistic Executive Director (who often produces, directs and designs our shows) and whomever chooses to volunteer.

OUR COMMITMENT TO ACCESSIBILITY

Auditions & Casting

  • We will provide accessible auditions by prioritizing accessible spaces, and, when not available, allowing self-tapes or other opportunities for audition submission

  • We will clearly state the accessibility issues with any space we use, and will provide accommodation whenever necessary

  • We will clearly state all accessibility issues and potential solutions on all casting and production calls – for example, roles that can be fulfilled from home or that can be completed on a flexible schedule​ will be stated clearly so as to encourage those with accessibility issues to apply

  • We will continue to hold rehearsals in spaces that are accessible by the TTC

  • We will continue to create flexible rehearsal schedules that value actor’s time

Rehearsal & Production Process​

  • We will continue to encourage open communication especially around issues of accessibility, and will provide accommodation as necessary

  • We will continue to provide a judgement-free zone and will consult with cast and crew privately to ensure all of their needs are being met

  • We will provide all cast and crew with a clear breakdown of roles, responsibilities and hierarchy in order to ensure clear communication, and will include protocols for submitting concerns or complaints

Audience & Community

  • We will continue to prioritize accessible performance spaces and advertise possible accommodations

  • We will continue to provide ticket discounts to disadvantaged groups

  • We will continue to offer Relaxed Performances (dependent on show)