It was announced today that Canada's largest not-for-profit theatre company will lose its artistic director in June. Bob Baker, at the helm of Canadian Stage Company for eight years, has decided not to renew his contract when it expires on June 30, stating as his reason his desire to "explore new and different challenges".
Baker has been a fiscally successful, but artistically controversial, leader of the company that was formed in 1988 as a result of the merger of CentreStage Company and Toronto Free Theatre. Baker took over after the board fired Guy Sprung, one of the two founding artistic directors of the joint venture (the other was Bill Glassco) and from the first his more mainstream style was a thorn in the side of those who wanted Canadian Stage to retain the funky atmosphere and new-work mandate of the Free.
The debate as to whether that place should be a subsidized theatre or a commercial, profit-driven venue, continues. There can be no argument with the numbers, however, and subscriptions are up from 8,000 to 19,900.
Other achievements over the past eight years include a $3 million debt that has been reduced to $700,00; the launch of a Directors Training Program and a New Play program, and the premieres of 17 Canadian plays. The latest is Tom Wood's Claptrap, under Baker's direction, which opened at Ottawa's National Arts Centre this month to less than enthusiastic notices and will have its official premiere in a reworked form at Canadian Stage Company in April.
There's no official word on what Baker plans to do next or who might be wooed for the job.
By Mira Friedlander