Hamilton’s only large-scale professional theatre is about to see a brand new chapter.
Theatre Aquarius has been relatively quiet over the last year and a half, with the COVID-19 pandemic rendering the organization mostly inoperable since the theatre was forced to shut its doors back in March 2020.
However, though the stages at this regional theatre have been pretty much dark ever since, plenty of big shifts have been happening at Aquarius behind closed doors; including the retirement of longstanding Artistic Director Ron Ulrich and the search for a brand new leader to shepherd the organization into the future.
That search culminated in the hiring of an exciting new Artistic Director who’s sure to be a breath of fresh air at this local institution: Mary Francis Moore.
Bringing decades of experience as a director, actor, dramaturg, playwright, and arts leader to this new role at Theatre Aquarius, Moore is also noteworthy for being the theatre’s first female-identifying Artistic Director since Nanci Rossov served as Co-Artistic Director alongside founder Peter Mandia back in 1973.
Moore’s designation at Aquarius – which officially began this July – comes on the heels of her prior 5-year role as Associate Artistic Director at the Confederation Centre for the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
We are pleased to announce the appointment of Mary Francis Moore as Artistic Director.
— Theatre Aquarius (@theatreaquarius) April 29, 2021
However, Moore is no stranger to Hamilton or to Theatre Aquarius; as a playwright, her hit show Bittergirl – created in collaboration with Annabel Fitzsimmons and Alison Lawrence – was part of the theatre’s 2010-2011 season, and she directed past Aquarius shows like You Fancy Yourself and, most recently, the theatre’s hit production of the musical Hairspray in 2019.
In speaking with Moore, her excitement about deepening her relationship to Aquarius, and to Hamilton itself, as the theatre’s new leadership is palpable.
“I’ve met some incredible artists since I started last month and I’m really excited to continue getting to know the community better and to build on those relationships,” she says. “We’re already in the works with some pretty cool initiatives.”
One of the most significant actions Moore plans to take at Theatre Aquarius is to increase the venue’s accessibility to audiences, artists, and community members alike. In recent years, Aquarius has been under public scrutiny for its lack of inclusivity – particularly for members of IBPOC (Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour) communities – and its barriers to entry for Hamilton’s theatre artists and audiences in general.
Moore’s work as an arts leader is rooted in inclusivity, and she makes clear her commitment to revisioning Theatre Aquarius as an open, equitable, inclusive, and safe space for the Hamilton community, both onstage and off.
“I look forward to opening the doors wide and welcoming the public back with a new season of shows, new development programming as well as community and artistic partnerships that will reflect the energy and vitality of the city,” she explains.
“I’d like Theatre Aquarius to be a Hamilton proud, creative hub where the entire community feels welcome whether they’re seeing a show, writing their next play in our lobby, taking a class or meeting a friend for coffee.”
“A warm welcome to @moorewall! She arrives in #HamOnt from her latest production at the Charlottetown Festival in PEI with bold & inclusive ideas. We can't wait for you to meet Mary Francis in person!” – @AnnetteHamm, Chair of the Board
📸: The Confederation Centre of the Arts pic.twitter.com/R3ttLPAFDX
— Theatre Aquarius (@theatreaquarius) July 5, 2021
Moore also plans to intensify Aquarius’ commitment to nurturing Hamilton’s theatre creators by meaningfully developing new work in-house and programming plays by local artists on the theatre’s stages.
This is a considerable change for Aquarius which, for the most part, has featured a near-absence of local playwrights in their previous mainstage seasons in favour of largely spotlighting plays and musicals that are known properties from Broadway or London’s West End.
While shows like that can certainly be expected at Theatre Aquarius going forward given the company’s reputation as a large-scale regional theatre, it’s exciting that Hamilton will likely see more homegrown works also sharing the stage in future programming.
“I hope it will be rich, varied and relevant,” says Moore.
When exactly the Hamilton community will get to experience a new season of exciting theatre at Aquarius is still a bit of a question mark; the theatre hasn’t publicly announced any plans as of yet, and the continued impacts of the pandemic mean that live entertainment venues of all sorts are pretty much playing it by ear.
But when the day comes that Aquarius can finally, safely reopen its doors to the community, Mary Francis Moore will undoubtedly be ready to hit the ground running with a new vision for this important cultural institution in Hamilton.
“It’s only been 6 weeks, but we’ve already taken some big steps together.”
Read more about Theatre Aquarius and Mary Francis Moore on their website.
Lead image courtesy of Mary Francis Moore