She isn’t quite finished with the Grand Theatre yet, but one of Susan Ferley’s favourite projects offered her the chance to take a look back at her 15-year career as artistic director.
Ferley launched the Playwrights Cabaret 14 years ago with the intention of offering local writers the opportunity to bring their artistic visions to reality.
This year’s cabaret, which took place Jan. 22-23 in the Grand’s smaller and more intimate McManus Studio Theatre, offered up 16 shows covering a variety of topics and styles. Six shows were also featured that had appeared in the past, which was a first for the program.
That gesture, according to cabaret director Jeff Culbert, was done to give Ferley the opportunity to reflect a little on days gone by.
“She never really takes credit for it, but she started the cabaret; it’s her thing,” he said. “We asked some previous writers if we could do their plays again. That was partly done for Susan to look back. We wanted her to have that.”
Ferley appreciated the opportunity saying it felt great getting a chance to revisit those performances.
That excitement comes, in no small part, with the comfort she feels in her decision to step down.
Ultimately, she added, looking back at those older shows was somewhat bittersweet, but the hope is the cabaret will continue and perhaps even get better.
“You hope it will become something else, something more when someone else comes in,” said Ferley, who will remain in her position until mid-summer. “Maybe they find a way to do this more effectively, have a greater impact, or reach a larger audience. Someone is going to have those conversations with themselves, with other people, and I’m just fine with that.”
Culbert said one of the reasons the cabaret has become so popular is that it allows people from other disciplines, such as poets and musicians, to contribute to the city’s theatrical landscape.
The idea is to open it up for writers to present a script, but they don’t have to do the work of finding the actors, or a space, or work to attract the audience.
In fact, they typically come to one rehearsal and leave all the other work to the actors and directors who contribute their time to the cabaret.
This scenario has played out 225 times over the years through the efforts of the 94 distinct playwrights who’ve participated.
Suggesting most people would be “surprised” to learn there were 94 people writing plays in the Forest City at all, Culbert said when Londoners are given an opportunity, they turn out.
“When you hang out the flag and say we’re doing this, all of the sudden everyone is there to write,” she said. “The creativity is out there; you just need the institutional support and opportunities. That is one of the great things the Grand has done.”
What Ferley has enjoyed in looking back this year is taking note of how so many people have used the cabaret as a springboard to other things. But one thing she is really looking forward to is being able to just sit back and enjoy some live theatre — and hopes everyone else will as well.
“I do look forward to being just a fan again. It’s a pretty different mindset. I can just sit back and enjoy the offerings as it is,” Ferley said.
“But I look forward to coming back and seeing what it is in the future. I hope people come away with the richness of talent and potential that is here in London. And has been for a long time.”