Ask artistic director Kathryn Shaw about her favourite memory at Studio 58, which is currently celebrating its 50th season, and she is hard pressed to choose just one. Ask her about what she hopes the next fifty years will look like, and she has no shortage of vision and hope for the future.
“I hope it still exists, and that public education still exists so programs will be funded publically,” she says, worrying that government cutbacks will continue to mean that the training at Studio 58 will become less affordable.
“I worry about the trend in higher education where less and less money is being given by the provinces,” she continues. “For example, in 2001 or 2002 84% of the Langara budget came from provincial government and it is now something like 40%. The rest of the money has to be made up by continuing studies and international students. And it is not just Langara, but across the country where less and less money is coming from government and more raised needs to be raised by the institutions themselves.”
Shaw is worried by a trend she fears will lead to a privatization of education, making it increasingly unaffordable for students. “I hope that I am wrong, I really hope that there is a political will to keep it public.”
Finances aside, Shaw also sees an urgent need for theatre to reflect Canadian society in a two-prong approach that targets both the diversity of the students and the diversity of audiences coming through Studio 58’s doors.
“We need to make a much more concerted effort to reach students from diverse backgrounds,” she says.
Pointing to the recent initiative from the National Arts Centre that provides free coaching for students who self-identify as under-represented, Shaw says it needs be coupled with the material presented on stage.
“The other thing we need to do is reflect more diversity in the selection of the material the students work on,” she says. “This year we did that by bringing in directors that are more diverse, but we still have a long way to go.”
The other big imperative has even bigger consequences, with the very future of Canadian performing arts at stake.
“We need to do a better job in reflecting the diversity of Canada than we do now,” she says. “If people don’t see themselves reflected in the arts, then the support for the arts will decline because people will not see the need for their tax dollars to go to something where they don’t see themselves.”
While no one can argue the importance of these issues tomorrow, today it is all about celebrating Studio 58’s golden anniversary. And what better way than with a play written by Canadian playwright George F Walker for the occasion.
In The Crowd, which was commissioned in partnership with Vancouver’s Green Thumb Theatre who are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, Walker revisits two characters from previous works Tough! and Moss Park.
“We said we needed a play that is going to have good parts for a certain number of students and I think George has been wanting to write more about Bobby and Tina,” says Shaw of the contemporary comedy about young people from the lower middle class looking to fulfill their aspirations.
The Studio 58 50th anniversary season ends with George F Walker’s The Crowd playing March 17 – April 3. Visit http://studio58.ca for tickets and information.