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The Questionnaire: Three new performing arts heads on their pandemic pivots

After two tough years, the performing arts are live once more. Here, the leaders of Toronto’s top institutions explain how they plan to get things humming

The Questionnaire: Three new performing arts heads on their pandemic pivots
Perryn Leech

General director, Canadian Opera Company

Dream job as a kid: “Sports journalist.” Best leadership quality: “I’m very fair.” Biggest flaw: “I tend to go with my gut. Sometimes, I need others to help re-evaluate my decisions.” If you could have one superpower: “Invisibility. You could do anything.” Celebrity doppelgänger: “James Gandolfini, from The Sopranos.” Describe your current role in one sentence: “I help produce thrilling operas in a cost-effective way, which is like riding a roller coaster that’s on fire while dousing yourself in petrol.” Starting during the pandemic was… “Challenging. It took seven months before I met my co-workers in person.” One way your institution pivoted successfully: “We launched digital concerts, which will be part of our work moving forward.” Your favourite night out includes... “Going to a Jays game. I fell in love with baseball while working my previous job, at the Houston Grand Opera.” Without culture, Toronto would be… “Less interesting. Great cities need a cultural life. Otherwise, they’re just a collection of people and buildings.” Best way to put more butts in seats: “Reducing ticket prices with government subsidies.”


The Questionnaire: Three new performing arts heads on their pandemic pivots
Gideon Arthurs

Executive director, Soulpepper Theatre Company

Dream job as a kid: “Archaeologist.” Best leadership quality: “Empathy.” Biggest flaw: “Also empathy. My days would be easier if I could make a decision without taking everyone into consideration.” If you could have one superpower: “Telepathy. I’d love to know what people are thinking and feeling.” Celebrity doppelgänger: “David Schwimmer.” Describe your current role in one sentence: “I co-lead everything for about 40 full-time staff members.” Starting during the pandemic was… “Humbling. The performing arts got hit the hardest of any industry. It was also inspiring to see people stay positive during an existential crisis.” One way your institution pivoted successfully: “We commissioned new plays; the creative process never stopped.” Your favourite night out includes… “Excellent food, excellent wine, excellent conversation.” Without culture, Toronto would be… “Empty, literally and figuratively. Culture encourages people to come here, and life is empty without art.” Best way to put more butts in seats: “Create work that tackles questions about everyday life.”


The Questionnaire: Three new performing arts heads on their pandemic pivots
Mark Williams

CEO, Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Dream job as a kid: “Scientist.” Best leadership quality: “I’m relatable.” Biggest flaw: “I really like things done fast, so I can be a little bit impatient.” If you could have one superpower: “Helping people see hidden beauty.” Celebrity doppelgänger: “Denzel Washington.” Describe your current role in one sentence: “I oversee everything from donors to corporate partners, ensuring we have all of the necessary resources.” Starting during the pandemic was… “Challenging. When you come into a new role, you’re looking for patterns. The patterns were non-existent.” One way your institution pivoted successfully: “Our musicians started doing one-on-one Zoom concerts with seniors in care homes.” Your favourite night out includes… “An excellent meal. There are so many options in Toronto.” Without culture, Toronto would be… “Dead. Culture includes restaurants, dance, theatres and museums. What else would you do here?” Best way to put more butts in seats: “Be relevant to today’s audiences by thinking less about what we’re playing and more about why we’re playing it.”

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