• After Stage Directions

    March 7, 2014 by Stephen Near

    On Saturday, March 1st, I had the opportunity to participate in the Hamilton Fringe's Stage Directions event to brainstorm and discuss the future of Hamilton theatre alongside a host of theatre artists and organizations. The event took place at the Players Guild, the oldest community theatre in North America, spread out in various rooms within the historic Guild House. As I walked into one of Hamilton's most unique spaces, I was reminded of the statement on the Guild's website:  "theatre is happening in Hamilton and it all happens in the house with the big red doors". It was certainly true for today's event!

    In writing about Stage Directions in a previous blog, I think I went into it with some expectations. That didn't last long. Given that it was to be an Open Space event, many of my expectations were swiftly thrown out the window. One of things I didn't expect was just how wide-spread and far-reaching some of the ideas and proposals discussed would be. Ranging from straightforward plans to organize an "arts-vote" initiative for the upcoming municipal election to concrete strategies on how local amateur theatres could work together to help independent troupes in the area, Stage Directions was a flurry of active and engaging dialogues.

    It helped that the Guild House had several break-out rooms where discussions could take place. Yes, it was close quarters and rooms were often crammed with participants. But that was part of what got people talking to and listening to each other. And I was pleased to see the Fringe folks had organized a "newsroom" where notes made by participants could be collated and posted for the rest of us to read. But the big thing I took away from Stage Directions? Something I rarely see in the Hamilton theatre community... all of us in one space talking with each other about how to get things done.

    Stage Directions was just that: a direction for Hamilton theatre artists to work towards regarding the future. No one left the event believing every issue had been tackled or that every obstacle had been solved. But it was an important first step. And for a theatre community that's seen a lot of change in a short amount of time perhaps that's enough for right now.

    Want to find out more about Stage Directions? I encourage you to contact Claire Calnan at the Hamilton Fringe Festival!

  • Hamilton theatre artists get Stage Directions

    February 21, 2014 by Stephen Near

    In addition to working for the Hamilton Arts Council, I'm also an active playwright and theatre creator in Hamilton. I've written before, most recently in the HAC Theatre Guides, about the changing state of theatre in this city. Much of my focus here has been in emphasizing the great diversity and growing surge of theatre in Hamilton. It's a focus I've often heard echoed in the community and never more so than in the last few years.

    But I remain convinced that if these positive factors are to be capitalized then Hamilton theatre must make some decisions soon. Or at least have a discussion on how to move forward with the abundance of talent and resources we increasingly find in our midst.

    Hamilton stories, and the importance of seeing these stories onstage, go to the heart of the Renaissance we're seeing in this city's arts sector. But it also represents a profound challenge to the theatre scene. How do we build a stronger and better theatre culture here? Who is responsible for the future of theatre and what does it even look like? These are important questions that haven't been asked yet or haven't been discussed in earnest. The Hamilton theatre scene is vibrant but oftentimes the biggest challenge we face is ourselves and our ability to talk to one another.

    That's why I'm very excited about the Hamilton Fringe Festival's upcoming Stage Directions event. Produced by the Festival in partnership with the Hamilton Arts Council, Theatre Aquarius and CoBALT Connects, this event is a unique opportunity for Hamilton theatre creators across the spectrum to gather in one place at one time to ask the questions that need answering. Hosted at the historic Players Guild of Hamilton, Stage Directions will encompass an entire day of discussions and creatively engage participants as much as it informs.

    Hamilton Fringe Festival Director Claire Calnan has modelled the Stage Directions event as an Open Space meeting to address some of the challenges facing the theatre community. Sometimes referred to as unconferences, Open Space meetings have no set agenda and no one person leads or lectures. It's up to those in the room to decide upon and discuss what matters to them. For more information on how Open Space works, I encourage you to check out this LINK or do your own search online. There's a ton of information to be found.

    It is going to be a fun yet busy day. But it's what's needed now more than ever. Personally, I've wanted to participate in a discussion like this since moving to Hamilton four years ago and I can't wait to hear what people have to say. I hope to see you there.

    To get involved in the conversation at Stage Directions, register as a participant on EventBrite.

  • Five Years Later: A Board Member's Journey

    January 21, 2014 by Ilya Pinassi

    I’ve had the privilege of serving on your Hamilton Arts Council for almost five years. That means I’m entering my final year as a Board member. This affords me the opportunity to reflect on what it’s like to be a part of this organization, what Staff and the Board have accomplished and where I see us moving in the near and long term future. I hope to convey how challenging and rewarding it has been to serve on the Board of the Hamilton Arts Council while encouraging the best, brightest and most engaged individuals to consider applying for a position on the Board and help advance our arts service and advocacy in Hamilton.

    At my first two meetings at the HAC I sat quietly, obediently not making a peep so as to soak in what we were all about. Well, that didn’t last long. Three months after joining, our Executive Director took ill and the Board began a difficult year and a half of intense leadership requiring everyone to pitch in. Suddenly we were assisting with daily operations when none of us were arts administrators. It was a pretty crazy year for a Board I was told I would spend about two hours a month participating on. Ha!

    As our Interim Executive Director, Patti Cannon was immensely helpful during that time of need. She gave us much needed stability and the short term guidance to perform a thorough review of the arts council, which at that time was called Arts Hamilton. That was a huge step forward that brought the Board, Staff and the community we serve together to answer the fundamental question of whether Hamilton needed and wanted an arts council. The answer was a resounding yes. We then had to identify how to be better, more relevant. That was tough. It was uncomfortable. It was emotionally draining and I felt like I had no idea what direction we were headed in. However, I don’t think we would be enjoying our relative resurgence in support among artists and the larger community today without all of that hard work.

    The review, conducted by the well respected Janis Barlow, resulted in our necessary shift away from programming and working instead to amplify the voice of the arts community of the Greater Hamilton Area. Responding to all of this soul searching, we changed our mission to communicate, advocate and mediate for the arts in the community of Hamilton. Since then, the HAC has hired Stephanie Vegh as our Executive Director, rebranded, restructured, launched a new website to benefit members, placed arts service at the centre of our strategic plan, and become a vocal presence at City Hall and in local media to convey our perspective as an umbrella organization for the arts in Hamilton.

    So now what? We continue to work on providing improved services to our membership base and to growing that base. This will be done through our amazing new website, an improved membership affinity program and a new annual print publication that will expand on all the best features of our current Theatre and Gallery Guides. We have a lot of work to do in 2014, and for this current Board that also means finding some great new people to join the team at our Annual General Meeting later this year. We’re already thinking ahead to recruiting new Board members in June so we would love to hear from you if you think you would be a good fit to join us in serving on the Board of the Hamilton Arts Council.

  • Home-ilton

    December 20, 2013 by Petra Matar

    Downtown Hamilton, what a great place to be right now. I am ecstatic I found a home here. The heavily creative un-pompous burgeoning art scene, the amazing music, the good theatre, and this strong sense of connection and community you experience downtown are absolute gold. I didn’t come from Hamilton, I didn’t grow up here, but this is what I call home. Being a “third culture kid," I never considered a place “home," but Hamilton I definitely would. Now, I don’t consider this city home because it is perfect, but because it has a potential that I would love to be a small part of realizing. I have a vested interest in this city.

    I see now, non-Hamiltonians, like myself, are starting to see the potential in this city, and the city is beginning to understand that too. My only hope is that the outcome of all of this doesn’t drive Hamilton to be like this city or that city, but instead to continue to grow organically like it has been, and just realizing the potential it already has. Due to my architectural background, my stance tends to be more about the built environment in this city, and currently I am both excited and worried about the development in the city.

    Downtown Hamilton doesn’t need that much work in establishing character, because it has some great bones that all the empty lots can learn from. I often look at old architecture in this city (and old pictures in the Library’s Archives), and the first thought that comes to mind is there was a time in this city when people put up structures that had character. Buildings spoke to the street a la the Lister Block, the Right House, Treble Hall, the Bank of Montreal, and all the great old storefronts in its downtown streets to name a few. Public space was understood to be important, which is why Hamilton boasts a public park in the middle of its busy core. That’s some “prime real estate” invested on some grass there. The old homes are gorgeous, and they weave so perfectly with the urban fabric, maintaining their privacy, but not existing in isolation (totally trashing the development up the hill in this statement). So it hurts when I see mundane buildings being built here, or even buildings that exist in towering isolation not even speaking to their surroundings. That isn’t the character of this city, but let enough of these get built and it soon will be. If someone from a 100 years ago in Hamilton saw some of the developments happening today, I promise you they would weep, and I have spoken to many old Hamiltonians who feel that way.

    Hamilton, the ambitious city, deserves even more ambition in its built environment, and I am making this my mission in the city.



  • The 20th Hamilton Literary Awards: The Kerry Schooley Award Shortlist

    November 8, 2013 by Stephen Near

    Making its debut at the 20th Annual Hamilton Literary Awards is the Kerry Schooley Book Award. Named in honor of the late Kerry Schooley, the Award recognizes those books that celebrate and are most evocative of the city of Hamilton. Schooley was himself a well-known Hamilton poet, teacher, publisher, editor and noir-fiction writer but passed away in 2010. Born in this city, he was heartened by the growth of the arts community and was a cornerstone of the Hamilton Literary scene. This year, the Hamilton Arts Council is pleased to feature three intriguing stories that capture the spirit of this great city.

    A Private Man, by Chris Laing, is an smart novel about the adventures of a former RCMP officer and army veteran turned private detective in post-war Hamilton. Laing's hard boiled story leads the reader to the upper echelons of Hamilton's high society and then back through the gritty streets of steeltown as our "medium-boiled gumshoe" tackles a complex conspiracy of arson, art theft, murder and money laundering. Given how much A Private Man embraces the genre of noir, it is an appropriate finalist for this Award given Schooley's own love of the mystery thriller.

    Jeffrey Luscombe's remarkable debut novel, Shirts and Skins, shows the reader Hamilton through the ever-changing perspective of a young man coming-of-age. In a series of compelling  stories, the books tells the tale of a boy who yearns to escape the city for a better life far from the steel mills. But Josh eventually learns that you can never truly leave your hometown behind. Both charming and realistic, Shirts and Skins is a unique take on the ‘coming out’ novel set amid the sometimes gritty environment of industrial Hamilton.

    The Fishers of Paradise, by Rachael Preston, tackles one of Hamilton's forgotten chapters in history and breathes new life into the literary character of the city. Set amid the 1930s boathouse community of Cootes Paradise, Preston's story follows the Fisher family in a story about about choices, relationships and how we allow such factors to define us. A finely drawn work of historical fiction, The Fishers of Paradise shows readers the currents of civic conflicts running beneath the more intimate human drama of crime, passion and intrigue that are set centre stage in the book.

    The 20th Annual Hamilton Literary Awards take place on November 12th, 2013 at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, ON.