By Mabell, Dave on January 11, 2019.
Alberta is one of the leaders in Canada’s drama scene.
And Lethbridge is playing a role in keeping Alberta’s theatre groups innovative and exciting.
That’s the news from Kelly Reay, the new general manager at New West Theatre after 20 years of experience in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton.
Reay says he’s already learned how supportive southern Albertans are about New West Theatre and the other mainstays of Lethbridge’s arts and entertainment community.
“It’s very refreshing to see how much the general community supports the arts in Lethbridge,” after working in cities with so much competition for audience support.
And so is the interaction between the community groups – the drama groups, the art galleries, the symphony orchestra – and the University of Lethbridge.
Over the years U of L drama students have gained additional experience by taking part in community productions, Reay learned. And now New West and the drama department are collaborating on a production this spring.
The U of L program has built an impressive reputation, attracting many students from Calgary and beyond.
“It makes Lethbridge a centre for young, talented artists.”
Some prefer to stay here after graduation, he adds – and many are happy to return if there’s an opportunity to join one of New West’s casts.
Reay has worked with U of L grads during his many roles in Alberta’s larger centres. Prior to producing Calgary’s famous High Performance Rodeo for the One Yellow Rabbit organization, he spent 10 years as artistic director for that city’s bold Sage Theatre company.
Since graduating from the drama program at Red Deer College, he’s served as a producer, director or administrator for such Alberta groups as Theatre Calgary, Lunchbox Theatre, Vertigo Theatre, Shadow Theatre and Theatre North West, as well as taking on assignments for the Banff Centre, the University of Calgary and the National Arts Centre.
Depending historically on grants from the energy sector, he says, Calgary’s theatre companies have been hurt by that city’s economic downturn.
“It’s been really difficult for arts organizations to flourish.”
But they’re finding ways to adapt and continue offering new and challenging material.
“It speaks to the Alberta entrepreneurial spirit,” with playwrights, directors and performers among the best in Canada.
“The work out of Alberta stands shoulder to shoulder with anywhere across the country,” Reay says, certainly including Vancouver and Toronto.
And there’s a healthy cross-Canada exchange, he adds, with Alberta actors winning roles on major Canadian stages and performers from Toronto pleased to head west for a role in Calgary – or with New West in Lethbridge.
As southern Alberta’s only professional theatre organization, New West meets a variety of needs. It stages recent Canadian works, in addition to its musical comedy reviews in summer and winter.
And it continues to bring theatre to young audiences, both here in the city and then at schools across the region.
But the challenge for theatre groups is to keep abreast of their audiences’ interests, Reay says. They need to offer shows you won’t be seeing on Netflix – so you’ve got to head to the theatre.
“It’s easy to take your audiences for granted,” at your peril.
While preparing for its next shows – “Rockers Gone Country” in early February and “Girls Like That” in May – New West artistic director Sharon Peat will also be making plans for its next season.
Though naming no shows under consideration, Reay makes one safe prediction about the lineup:
“It may be different from year to year.”
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