Why not me? Why not now?: Interview with Kelly McAllister, Founder and Artistic Director of Spearhead Theatre

Say hello to Spearhead Theatre, the newest theatre company in Fredericton. The company will stage its inaugural show, Agnes of God by John Pielmeier, in two weeks at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. It’s a dream come true for the company’s founder and artistic director Kelly McAllister, a new face in the local theatre scene.

The 25-year-old theatre artist grew up in the small town of Carleton Place, Ontario. McAllister’s passion for theatre began at the age of four when she watched the 1952 movie musical Singin’ in the Rain.

“You could watch something and not know the people, but you could feel so inspired and transported,” McAllister says. “I thought I have to do that.”

Besides a local theatre group called the Mississippi Mudds and infrequent school plays (due to a lack of funding), there wasn’t a lot of theatre happening in Carleton Place. McAllister had to find opportunities in the surrounding region. In high school, the young theatre artist enrolled in the Shakespeare School, a theatre intensive summer program offered by the Stratford Festival. 

McAllister later studied at the Ottawa Theatre School and graduated from Sheridan College in 2015. The Ottawa Theatre School closed its doors in 2014. “I was part of the last group there.”

Although she never pictured herself living in a big city, McAllister and her husband decided to move to Toronto. Life in the big city was “a lot of fun” but a grind.

“The hustle and bustle is a lot,” McAllister says. “You are a small fish in a big pond. You have to really fight for your time. I had four jobs at one time. It took me about a year after graduation to get my big gig [Rose Nylund in Thank You For Being a Friend]. I did that for three years.”

The grind was not the only thing McAllister had to deal with in Toronto. There was also the competitiveness of the industry.

“Because you are a small fish in a big pond, it can get very feisty quick,” McAllister says. “I’m not here to be cutthroat. I want to tell stories. I want to have a good time. I want to collaborate and be creative. That’s why I got into this.”

McAllister and her husband relocated to Fredericton in 2017. “My husband is from [Fredericton].”

“We thought you know we want a change,” McAllister says. “It’s almost like a blank state for us. He had been gone for so long. Let’s start fresh. Why not? Let’s just do it. You can’t worry about what if it goes wrong. Life always changes. Nothing is permanent. You can do and do not as you please.”

Two years later, what does McAllister think about Fredericton?

“It’s much easier to live here,” McAllister says. “I find the environment here is great for creative people. You can take a breath and relax. I wanted to create, but I wanted to lose the frustrating bits that come with the industry. I don’t think you need those frustrations in order to create.”

McAllister has been busy performing in Fredericton since arriving in 2017. Last summer, McAllister played Imogen in Bard in the Barrack’s production of Cymbeline in Odell Park. And just a couple weeks ago, McAllister performed at the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival in Carlee Calver’s one-woman play A Coward-Bird’s Song.

“I was a little nervous at first because I had never done a one-woman,” McAllister says. “It was very freeing because you don’t have to worry about letting anyone down. If something doesn’t go as planned, you can take a breath, and you can figure it out in your own time. You don’t let anyone down just yourself. Hopefully not. I can let myself down but not others.”

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Spearhead Theatre presents John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God September 4 – 8 at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. Kelly McAllister (above) will play the role of Agnes. Photo Credit: Heather Ogg Photography.

On September 4th, McAllister will introduce Fredericton to Spearhead Theatre, a theatre company born out of her love for classic works.

“I love classic works,” McAllister says. “There isn’t a lot of that out here. It doesn’t tour a lot around here. I thought, why not? Why isn’t it coming here? You shouldn’t have to travel across provinces to see something like that.”

Summoned to a convent, a court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Martha Livingstone (Elizabeth Goodyear), is tasked with assessing the sanity of a novice accused of murdering her newborn baby. Miriam Ruth, the Mother Superior (Adeen Ashton-Fogle), is determined to keep young Agnes (Kelly McAllister) from the doctor, further arousing Livingstone’s suspicions. Who killed the infant and who fathered the innocent child? Livingstone’s questions force all three women to re-examine the meaning of faith and the power of love, leading to a dramatic, compelling climax.

When McAllister first read Agnes of God, she knew immediately that Pielmeier’s play would be Spearhead’s debut production.

“I just felt this connection to it,” McAllister says. “It’s very important for me to give women strong dynamic roles because we don’t get a lot of those still. With this show, it’s all dynamic female roles. How could I, as a young woman, start a company and not give that opportunity for other young women to thrive? It just doesn’t make sense. We need to help others thrive, as well.”

McAllister believes actors should receive a “proper wage.”

“I treat this as a craft or a trade,” McAllister says. “If you’re going to hire a carpenter, you are going to pay them their fee.”

In the future, McAllister wants Spearhead to stage plays relevant to high school curriculums. “You are always taught that it’s better to see it but you never get to see it. You watch an outdated movie version.”

On the early stages of Spearhead, McAllister remembers the three questions that motivated her to start the company and begin carving her path in Canadian theatre.

“Why not me? Why not here? Why not now?”


Spearhead Theatre presents John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God September 4 – 8 at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre. 7:30 p.m. showtime. 2 p.m. matinee on September 7 and 8.

For more information about Spearhead Theatre and how to purchase tickets, visit: https://spearheadtheatre.com/

Meet Laura-Beth Bird, Founder and Producer of Grey Rabbit Theatre Co.

In 2018, Laura-Beth Bird left her job at a local restaurant to pursue her dream of starting a theatre company. The 24-year-old theatre artist had a plan and the savings to start her first show. Then, reality hit.

“I ended up having to use that money to live for two months, which kinda threw a wrench in the whole system,” Bird said. “So, I had to go back to the drawing board.”

Born in Shropshire, England, Bird’s family moved to Canada when she was 10-years-old. Her family settled first in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, then later Saint John, New Brunswick. Bird relocated to Fredericton to study at St. Thomas University, where she graduated from in 2017.

When her plans went awry, Bird began to wonder if her theatre company would become something that only happened on weekends.

“I was miserable in the job I was in. Anyone who saw me knew it,” Bird said. “I was panicking thinking that I would have to go back to that. I was going to be forty…doing my art on the weekends because that’s maybe when I could get the days off. I didn’t want that life.”

The “kick in the butt” motivated Bird to apply for Planet Hatch’s ARTtrepenur-in-Residence program. Bird was accepted into the program and started her three-month residency in June. The residency ended with an evening of new play readings. It was the first public event hosted by Fredericton’s newest theatre company, Grey Rabbit Theatre Co.

“Planet Hatch helped me network with larger business communities in the region,” Bird said. “That in turn helped me with strategic funding and planning for five, ten years down the road.”

In the fall, Bird participated in ArtsLink NB’s CATAPULT Arts Accelerator.

Bird has also received support from Fredericton’s theatre community.

“Everyone has been helpful about knowledge and experience,” Bird said. “If they know people, they will put me in contact with them. If we continue to create that sort of practice, it makes people more successful in the region.”

Bird realizes trying to launch a theatre career in Atlantic Canada is somewhat unorthodox.

“Many of the people my age are leaving to Toronto or New York because they feel like they have no opportunities left in Atlantic Canada to be artists,” Bird said. “In the last year, I have been researching ways to make this work. I don’t want to move right now to a big city where I will be a small fish in a big pond. I would rather be a medium fish in a medium pond.”

“That means I take scripts being created here — by emerging and professional artists — and help them reach either stages by myself producing them or matching them with other producers in the area.  If it doesn’t work for mine, it may work for Eastern Front or Neptune Theatre.”

Does Bird agree that Grey Rabbit could be considered both an incubator and a presenter?

“Kind of, yeah,” Bird said. “At this moment, I feel like as I’m learning these things, I am also sharing it with my artistic community, because I want my artistic community to thrive as well.”

In December, Grey Rabbit, in partnership with Theatre St. Thomas, held a workshop for artists seeking to professionalize their artistic practice.

Have all the developments of the past year changed how Bird views herself as an artist?

“I don’t really notice a difference. My friend does. She told me I look healthier and happier, which is hilarious for me. I’m not doing anything different,” Bird said. “I think I am more confident and much more ambitious than I was. I am not willing to let things go. I have to chase after it. If I don’t chase after it, it’s not going to happen. I am more tenacious and cognizant of the way the world views me because what I’m creating is an extension of myself.”

Bird’s idea of what it means to live as an artist has changed since starting on this path with Grey Rabbit. 

“I’m going to go work on my art which is my business,” Bird said. “ If I have a consistent income, I have more freedom to practice my art. Having a stable business gives me freedom to create. I don’t have to worry about if my power is going to be shut off.”

So far, Bird sees her time divided 60/40 between the business operations of Grey Rabbit and its artistic end. “I spend a lot more time filling out grant applications and writing than I do creating. It’s just the season that I’m in.”

This year, Grey Rabbit is launching The Vardi Puppet House. The children’s puppet theatre will tour Atlantic Canada in the summer.

A Vardi is a gypsy caravan that is pulled by horses. They were things I came across as a child, and I’ve always loved them,” Bird said. “The puppet house is designed to look like a gypsy caravan. It will be bright red, with wagon wheels. There will be windows that open on the side for the performance. It will have that classic painting technique used on most caravans, and I will use Punch and Judy stylized puppets.”

Bird describes the puppet house as a platform that “lends itself well to public events” and is ideal for helping grow a viewership base. 

Grey Rabbit is currently accepting new scripts for The Vardi Puppet House. The submission deadline is February 28th, 2019.  

Joyful Magpies’ Best of Fredericton Theatre 2018

Arrivals and Departures

In February, Theatre New Brunswick announced the departure of Artistic Director Thomas Morgan Jones. Natasha MacLellan was named TNB’s new artistic director in July. MacLellan is the former Artistic Producer of Ship’s Company Theatre.

Next Folding Theatre Company staged its final production in March, bringing an end to the company after eight years.

Grey Rabbit Theatre Co. is Fredericton’s newest theatre company. Theatre artist Laura-Beth Bird is the company’s founder and producer. Grey Rabbit held its first public event in August. The public was invited to an evening of play readings at Planet Hatch, where Bird was the ARTrepreneur-in-Residence.

Stay tuned for Joyful Magpies’ interview with Laura-Beth Bird.

Drumroll

Well, here we are. The end of 2018. Creating this list wasn’t easy. It was, however, really fun to write. What a blast to look back on the past year, and remember everyone who shared their talents with audiences in Fredericton.

See you in the new year!

Note: My review of Theatre St. Thomas’ A Life of Galileo is available here.



JOYFUL MAGPIES’ BEST OF FREDERICTON THEATRE 2018

Best Actor

Hannah Blizzard – No Exit – Theatre UNB

Honorable Mentions:
Claudia Gutierrez-Perez – Any Given Moment – Theatre New Brunswick
Kira Chisholm – The Dangers of Geothermal Heating – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Best Supporting Actor

Allison Basha – The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:
Jane Marney – The Real Inspector Hound – Theatre UNB
Sage Chisholm – A Life of Galileo – Theatre St. Thomas

Best Ensemble

The Dangers of Geothermal Heating – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Honorable Mentions:
A Life of Galileo – Theatre St. Thomas
No Exit – Theatre UNB

Best Set Design

Andy Moro – Finding Wolastoq Voice – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:
Mike Johnston – The Dangers of Geothermal Heating – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Robin Whittaker & Chris Saad – A Life of Galileo – Theatre St. Thomas

Best Lighting Design

Ingrid Risk – Any Given Moment – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:
Chris Saad – The Dangers of Geothermal Heating – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival
Trent Logan  – A Record of Us – Solo Chicken Productions

Best Sound Design

Deanna H. Choi – The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:
Mike Johnston – The Dangers of Geothermal Heating – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival
Aaron Collier – Any Given Moment – Theatre New Brunswick

Best Costume Design

Cathleen McCormack – Any Given Moment – Theatre New Brunswick

Honorable Mentions:
Kat Hall – Songs of the Seer – The Next Folding Theatre Company
Laura-Beth Bird – The Dangers of Geothermal Heating – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival

Best Direction

Lisa Anne Ross – The Dangers of Geothermal Heating – Notable Acts Theatre Festival

Honorable Mentions:
Jean-Michel Cliche – Casualties – NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival
Len Falkenstein – No Exit – Theatre UNB