Farewell, Peter Hinton!
What is lost at NAC
by Jim Murchison
As the the capital region says goodbye to Peter Hinton, the trepidation Ottawa had at his arrival after Marti Maraden's departure is a distant memory. Make no mistake when you invest 7 or 8 years of your life in a community, your replacement is looked on with suspicion. At the time that Peter Hinton took over the helm I was an insider on the marketing end of things. Arts Marketing had a contract to sell subscriptions and I was a member of that team. For the most part, we were calling people that already had subscribed and I had to really push my points across to convince them that a Peter Hinton season was worth subscribing to. Peter Hinton made a point of dropping by the subscription office to give us an idea of his direction and his plans. Having said all that, the number of people that didn't want to subscribe, compared to the number of people that felt Ottawa was losing one of the best assets the NAC ever had in Marti Maraden was about 3 to 1 and not in Mr. Hinton's favour.
There were those that thought him to be arrogant or to not care about what the subscribers wanted. It is a difficult balance to try to grow an audience and grow with your audience, especially when you have the burden of being a National showcase for Canadian artists and Canadian theatrical art. He put on a season of solely Canadian theatre and many thought it was too limiting. He did a season solely based on classics and there were those that thought it would be a tedious exercise, not in touch with the current theatrical scene. The bosses in the marketing department would look at the season announcements praying for West Side Story and Death of A Salesman; tried and true and easy to market.
What Peter Hinton didn't want to do was underestimate the intelligence of his audience and he made some bold choices. Not all of them worked or were well received. They never are, but they were honest and well thought and when they worked there were moments of magic. He succeeded in keeping themes for his seasons, in reintroducing a truly National Theatre company made of fine actors from across Canada and in giving a voice to a largely overlooked aboriginal arts community. He created talk-backs and interviews to grow an understanding between the patrons and the artists in the community. As his understanding of his audience grew, so did their understanding of his passion and his humility.
Theatre people are an odd bunch. They are deeply extroverted at times and extremely lonely at others.
I had originally asked Peter Hinton if he would be willing to do a first-person piece for The Charlebois Post and he said he would, but that he isn't really doing anything afterwards and he didn't seem to see the point. I respected that and didn't want to press him too much about it. Theatre people are an odd bunch. They are deeply extroverted at times and extremely lonely at others. With apologies to Irving Berlin not everything about theatre or show people is appealing and they don't always smile when they are low. When you really get down to it they are not any different than anyone else except that they are very privileged to work at something that they truly love, even though it is not always easy. Mr Hinton has a profound understanding of that and in the number of people you need behind you to make it work.
I do not know what backstage battles occurred or what difficulties challenged the collaborations between actors, designers, writers and director. I was not an insider to that, but I know they happened. There is always labour involved in giving birth to anything. But if August Schellenberg can say that Peter Hinton is the finest director I have ever worked with; bar none, then I am convinced that the good outweighed the bad.
So as Jillian Keiley prepares to take over the reins in a season programmed by Peter Hinton that looks as fine as this one, I wish her well. She has large and well worn shoes to fill. On behalf of the Ottawa theatre-goers I just want to say thank you and good luck Peter. Now take your bow and have a well earned rest.