When I sat to think about who I wanted to have cocktails with, I took a mental walk through the city. I thought about the cultural pillars in Hamilton and landed at Theatre Aquarius. Lorna Zaremba took the reins there in 2010, and has since become one of Hamilton’s leading ladies. Sounds like the perfect candidate for a cocktail…
I had the opportunity to sit and enjoy a glass of merlot at the Gown and Gavel with Lorna recently and was excited by her love of Hamilton, and her passion for theatre. We talked about what the creative sector needs to thrive, the effect the theatre has on individuals and the city and a whole host of other things. This city has no shortage of amazing people doing wonderful things. Grab a cocktail (or a glass of wine) and be inspired by Lorna. (then go to Theatre Aquarius and see Red; on stage until February 13th, followed by If I Were You in March!!)
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received was as a teenager. A family friend who was an immigrant to Scotland from Italy told me to go out and explore the world. And her advice provided the inspiration for me to eventually immigrate to Canada.
I came in 1979, landed in Toronto, and spent the first ten years living and working in Oakville. I’ve been in Hamilton since 1989, and the city has completely transformed since I came. It’s a funky, cool place with a variety of entertainment, restaurants, and great experiences that were not there in 1989.
I joined Theatre Aquarius in 2003. I started off as the development director and have been the general manager since 2010.
What’s the best thing about what you do?
Being part of the wonderful creative experience of telling and sharing great stories with our audiences without ever having to be on stage and remember lines.
What’s the worst thing about what you do?
The toughest part, as any homeowner will tell you, is the natural inclination for any building, left to its own devices, to fall down around you. Some days, when I walk through our facility, I look around and realize that I’m the person that is supposed to stop that from happening, and that can be a challenge. We recently put on a new roof, and replaced the windows, so you’re raising a lot of capital dollars for that. The upcoming challenge is to be fully accessible under the new legislation. We have a major capitol fundraising campaign of about $800,000. All of that is separate from the job of creating great experiences for our audiences. That’s the fun part: being part of a great team who creates great theatre, and we see audiences enjoying themselves, and kids having a great time, and peoples’ faces lighting up, and that makes everything else worth- while. The work that happens on our stage is a communication between artists and audience members. This is a place where they can connect and belong.
What are you most looking forward to in 2016?
We’re about to release our season for 2016/2017. The Christmas show that is part of that season is a show we can’t name contractually until March. It’s going to be very difficult to keep that under wraps, because we’re all very excited about it. It’s one of those shows that brings families together, and provides a shared experience, much like we did with Sound of Music, and most recently with Mary Poppins. It will be an experience that they will remember all their lives; one of those brilliant family shows that has the power to become a treasured memory. On March 10, when we can finally say the name out loud, you’ll understand why I’m looking forward to it so much, but right now I can’t tell you!
What’s your favourite weather and what’s one of the best memories tied to that weather?
Well, the weather that I love the most seems to be oppo- site of what we’re currently experiencing. But since we’re in winter, I’ll share a memory about winter. The best memory is that I arrived on a flight from Glasgow on April 2, 1979. The very next day, I experienced my first Canadian snowstorm. There was a brilliant blue sky, and soft snow all the way up to my knees, and I thought, “If this is Canada, I’m sold! I’ll stay!” It was so different from our Scottish winters. It was so romantic! How could you not fall in love with Canada?
You have two full days off of work and all work obligations, and the sky is the limit. What are you going to do?
The only time I’m not constantly checking my Blackberry for work is when I’m far enough away that I can’t get any service on it, so I’d need to be on the other side of the world. Two days won’t cut it! I would really like to go to Northern Canada. I don’t need to go where it’s cold, but up there is truly Canada and an amazing experience. I would love to be able to experience the Northern Lights in the Yukon.
If money were no object, what would you do all day?
One of the gifts that we have in life is our time. The question we all have to ask ourselves is how we want to spend that time, and spend it well and meaningfully, and spend it where we’re making a difference. I am very happy to be spending my time with our extraordinary Theatre Aquarius team, being able to tell Hamilton stories, Canadian stories, international stories on our main stage, and allowing people to experience the world of theatre and how it can have an impact on your life. It impacts people individually. It can impact a city because it gets people talking about ideas—ideas generated by what they’ve seen on stage—and ideas change communities and cities.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
85 percent dark chocolate and red wine!
Why or how is Theatre Aquarius important in Ham- ilton, in the context of the revitalization of the city that seems to be focused on visual and musical art, more so than other forms of art?
Theatre is part of the performing arts, and the performing arts are an experience. You come into the theatre with your mind open, and your heart open, and you are affected by what you see on the stage. Sometimes it can entertain you, sometimes it can educate you, and sometimes it can challenge you to think in a different way about a topic, an issue, a world situation. Theatre builds understanding by letting you see the world around you through other eyes, and experience other lives and worlds. You leave the theatre more able to empathize with the world around you, and more open to fresh perspectives. On an individual level, that’s what I believe the role of theatre is.
The theatre as a landmark organization in this city has an enormous impact across the city. 86 percent of our patrons eat out when they come to the show. People get together and share a meal before coming to the theatre together. We know that the impact on the restaurants downtown adds up to $4 million. Our role in the revitalization is our patrons spending money at res- taurants, shops, parking lots. Theatre Aquarius is a landmark tourist attraction in the heart of the city, drawing visitors from across Hamilton and the surrounding regions. We have an economic impact on this city, and that means we have a responsibility to those businesses that have come to depend on us. There’s an impact on an individual level, which you might call the artistic impact, and then there’s an impact on the city as a whole, which is economic. The other important aspect to all of this, is that there’s a growing group of theatre artists moving to Hamilton. They’re coming because they want to be part of this creative culture. Some of them are emerging artists, some are mid-career artists. They’re looking for opportunities to perform the work they’re creating. We are working to find new ways to give them a space and a voice to do that. Our role is also to embrace the next gen- eration of theatre artists and ensure they have an opportunity to tell their stories.
What needs to happen for theatre to thrive in Hamilton?
The current and long-term success of the theatre depends on stability. Stability of funding, stability of our subscription holders, stability of audiences that we draw to Hamilton from regions around us. Ironically, it is when we as administrators have created a stable envi- ronment that the artistic side of the organization has the greatest ability to explore, to create, and to make us rel- evant to new generations of theatre lovers.
BEST GIFT YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
The Royal Canadian Golf Association’s offer of a position with them which motivated my decision to emigrate from St. Andrew’s, Scotland, leaving my family and friends, and leaving the great position I had with The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrew’s, a leader in the world of golf.
David Bowie. Back in the ’70s, a friend who was visiting the States brought me back a copy of his first LP. Then I saw him live in Edinburgh on his Ziggy Stardust Tour. I think the attraction for me was that he was so theatrical. He was a songwriter, a singer, a painter, and an actor. He provided a moving theatrical production. All those years ago, I didn’t realize that’s what I was connecting to!
FAVOURITE SOLO ARTIST?
Edith Piaf. Her music has often been described as autobiographical and so the way she sings communicates her feelings, and it’s authentic.
Hidden to me until about six years ago was that I have a voice and with lessons, I can sing. And singing has led me to play piano!
FIRST THING YOU DO WHEN YOU GET HOME?
I say, “Hi honey, I’m home!” But it’s to my cat—who seems to respond every time I say it—so I’m going to keep doing it!
IF YOUR LIFE WERE A SONG, WHAT WOULD THE TITLE BE?
“Defying Gravity” from Wicked. It’s the ringtone on my phone!
WINDOW OR AISLE?
BEATLES OR STONES?
Stones! You have to get up and dance!
BAGEL OR CROISSANT?
FAVOURITE TV SHOW GROWING UP?
The Lone Ranger! It seems dated now, but it was a stable, trustworthy character who solved crimes.
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