Nightwood Theatre didn’t have to look far for its new artistic director.
Andrea Donaldson, who has run the Toronto theatre company’s emerging-playwrights program Write from the Hip since 2014, will take over from long-time leader Kelly Thornton when the latter makes the jump to the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in May.
Donaldson, an indie theatre director and frequent collaborator of Governor-General’s Award-winning playwright Erin Shields, definitely has the bona fides to run the company that bills itself as Canada’s foremost feminist theatre.
“Since I was a kid, I’ve been making feminist work,” says Donaldson, a born-and-raised Torontonian who as a child was in the theatre stream at Claude Watson School for the Arts. “Back in high school, even, the types of stuff I was interested in making – the type of art I was interested in – put stories at the centre that I felt were missing.”
Her direct history with Nightwood is almost as long – in fact, Donaldson got her very first $100 honorarium from the theatre company back when she was a creator-performer freshly returned from studying at Simon Fraser University in the early 2000s.
Donaldson, who had four years of leadership training as assistant and associate artistic director at Tarragon Theatre, now inherits an independent theatre company that is in a solid financial position and has punched above its weight in recent years, producing or presenting plays that have made waves nationally or internationally such as Diane Flacks’s Unholy and Quote Unquote Collective’s Mouthpiece.
Running the Write from the Hip program, Donaldson has developed and directed some of Nightwood’s recent notable new work, including Rose Napoli’s Lo (or Dear Mr. Wells), which premiered at the feminist theatre company last season and will soon see new productions at Halifax’s Neptune Theatre and Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company.
Despite her closeness to Nightwood, however, Donaldson’s appointment was hardly a sure thing. It’s always tempting for search committees to go with a fresh outsider over the reliable stalwart.
“From the vision she expressed for the company, I think she ‘gets’ our DNA, but will balance legacy with boldness,” says Barbara Moses, a career-management consultant who sits on the board at Nightwood. “This means continuing to provoke important, if uncomfortable, conversations on critical social issues and taking us to new places.”
The search committee that selected Donaldson was, refreshingly, packed with artists, including playwrights Diane Flacks, Audrey Dwyer and Andrew Moodie. “Times call for a decisive feminist and artistic voice, and Andrea has both," says Flacks, who was also on the committee that hired Thornton as artistic director back in 2001.
Donaldson’s plans for the future are difficult to articulate in concrete terms at the moment – her first programming will be for the 2020-2021 season – but she professes a desire to expand Nightwood’s collaborations with other bigger and smaller theatre companies.
“Especially, I’m interested in Nightwood as Canada’s national feminist company and creating more relationships from east to west to north,” she says.