It takes a community to raise a theatre – by Kevin Magee

If you’ve ever wondered who the guy is that is accountable for everything that happens at the Sanderson Centre, it’s me. My name is Kevin Magee and I’m the current Chairman of the Management Board of the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts. It’s a volunteer gig so the pay is lousy, the hours are long, the workload is over- whelming, the challenges sometime seem i n s u r mountable, the accolades are wanting and yet, to me, it’s the best job I’ve ever had.

There are few places in this world more important to me than the Sanderson Centre. I grew up there. Many of you reading this probably did too. To those of us that did, it’s not just a majestic old building, it’s a time machine. It’s a place where dreams come true; where memories live and stories come to life. It’s an integral part of our past and an essential part of our future. And for those of us who love her, it’s our responsibility to both ensure and enable that future.

I can tell you first hand it’s a big responsibility. Making a 1,125 seat historic theatre work in a city the size of Brantford is not easy. Yet when I stand in the darkness at the side of the theatre and watch an audience enjoy a performance, greet patrons in the lobby and see they are just as swept up in the experience as I am, meet the volunteers and staff who truly make the magic happen and they smile because they thoroughly enjoy their work, and see my own children catching the theatre bug and growing up there too, I know that my time and energy is well invested, not spent.

There are, of course, plenty of naysayers. As

Chairman I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard “no” many more times than “yes”. I’ve heard the word “impossible” more times than “let’s do it”, and I’ve heard every imaginable permutation of why and how we can’t be successful. How I respond is always the same: I listen and learn first, and then I place the onus on fixing the problem squarely where it belongs; on all of us. Here is a small sample of the most common objections I hear, and also how I generally respond:

“No one at the Sanderson Centre will ever listen!” – I’m listening right now. I want to hear what you have to say; uncensored, unvarnished. Give it to me straight up. I can handle it.

“There’s never anything good to see there.”
– So let’s create something awesome and go see it together.

“It’s too big and expensive for local groups to perform there.”
– Then let’s seek partnerships and collaborations that will overcome these obstacles together.

“They only put on the shows that they want to see.”
– We need to stop thinking in terms of them and us. Anything can happen if WE work together. So what’s my vision for success? We need to create it. Together. And it’s working…

A great friend of both the theatre and mine, Bob MacLean, defined what many of us have been trying to express for quite some time now. At a Board meeting last year he summed it up when he said:

“It’s our theatre. It belongs to every one of us.” In the spirit of our newly adopted motto of “Our theatre”, we have taken steps over the past year to make the Sanderson Centre a more open, transparent, collaborative and inviting organization. We are focused on creating a culture of innovation, co-operation and inclusiveness. We’ve thrown open the doors and invited in individuals and groups, from all walks of life, to share their dreams, visions and also grievances. Why? Because I believe that trust is earned over time. Partnerships are not just created. they evolve through commitment and that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Those are the values with which I lead by and that I hope become my legacy as Chair.

Yet values only become real when we live them. To that end, this month the Sanderson Centre announced a pilot program that I feel best e x presses and demonstrates these core values in action. With a generous donation from the private sector, we are announcing a pilot grant program for our upcoming season that will enable local performing arts groups to successfully mount

productions in the Sanderson Centre. Derek Bond, Bob Wyatt and Bob MacLean from our board led this initiative and I could not be more appreciative and proud of their efforts in doing so.

The problem we seek to solve with this program is that often for local groups it’s only a few thousand dollars that stand in the way of developing and presenting performances on our stage. With this pilot grant program we have an opportunity to demonstrate the power of partnerships to solve problems, and also to create opportunities. In this case, the private sector, not-for-profits and the theatre partnered together to overcome these obstacles and enable local performances that otherwise would not be possible.

And the timing could not be better. As the Sanderson Centre approaches its 100th anniversary, this mile- stone represents a great opportunity to think long term. I’m excited at the prospect of what we can learn from this project and how it can be applied to create a permanent and lasting fund, organization or further partnerships to continue this work well into our next hundred years. That’s right, we’re almost a hundred years old and we’re only just getting started!

So come visit and let’s talk. Online or in person, whatever works best for you is fine. It’s our theatre. It’s our responsibility. It’s our future to create together. Your ideas and opinions do matter and your voice will be heard. You have my word on it.

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