‘There is so much culture here’: Incoming Royal MTC director making history

In the art world, Winnipeg’s Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (Royal MTC) is known for excellence and inspired vision. That record continues with the appointment of its first woman as artistic director.Kelly Thornton will take over as the centre’s new artistic director this coming June, when current director Steven Schipper retires.READ MORE: Royal MTC Artistic Director set to close curtain on 30 year career
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“With Steven’s retirement long-planned for May 2019, Royal MTC’s Board of Trustees wanted to be sure that our search process would be thorough, positive and a reflection of the needs of the theatre and all who support it,” said Tony Fletcher, chair of the search committee.“We set out to be rigorous in finding the best possible person to succeed Steven — no easy task at all — but I firmly believe we have achieved that goal.”Thornton comes to Winnipeg after having been the artistic director of Nightwood Theatre in Toronto since 2001. She is an award-winning director and has been recognized for artistic excellence, advocacy and the mentorship of emerging talent.She told Global News Morning she is delighted to be joining Royal MTC, Canada’s oldest regional theatre.“I think it was a time to take a leap … to be the first woman artistic director in the 60-year history. I am thrilled.”She says one of the things that brought her here is Winnipeg’s incredible cultural climate.“I think one of the most attractive qualities about Winnipeg — it’s a relatively small town compared to Toronto, which is an incredibly congested marketplace — there is so much culture here.”Thornton noted the city’s wealth of theatre companies and festivals, as well as world-class attractions like the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.RELATED: CMHR hopes to spread a message of peace “There’s a national conversation going on about how to really reflect the population of Canada. So, I think that’s a conversation that’s going on in the artistic community, with the people who are leading the theatres and the arts bodies, the funding bodies.”Thornton says her career has grown from feminist theatre and propelling the voice of women, so the active question around how to best connect with the Canadian audience, and more specifically, the Manitoba audience, fits.“It’s how to diversify our stages, how to include Indigenous voices, and diversity includes gender equity as well as cultural diversity,” she says.“It’s a great thing. I think what I’ve accomplished in Toronto, I have a very successful inclusive theatre company that does really socially relevant plays, and I want to bring that to Winnipeg.”“I’m a huge advocate of the new Canadian play, and developing Canadian voices, and developing Manitoban stories, so I’m really excited to come here.”RELATED: Young Indigenous artists plant seeds of change with new exhibitionsThornton says she is excited to breathe new energy into diversifying our stages and to expand on the Royal MTC’s dedicated audience base, strong donorship, and sense of pride.She says the founders of the Royal MTC, John Hirsch and Tom Hendry, laid the groundwork 60 years ago to create the cultural identity of Manitobans, and many inspired individuals through the years have brought the theatre to where it is today. She hopes to continue that tradition.“That’s the legacy of that theatre and I’m really excited to take it into the future.”To find out more about Thornton and the Royal MTC, visit its website.Get daily local headlines and alerts