Theatre Erindale is in the midst of a new chapter. On May 2, 2016, David Matheson, a well-educated actor, teacher, and director, took over as artistic director of Theatre Erindale and Sheridan coordinator of the theatre and drama studies program. Entering his fifth year of teaching at Sheridan College, Matheson is looking forward to his new roles at UTM, which involve working closely with faculty and students of the TDS program. In anticipation for the theatre’s new season, Matheson discusses Shakespeare, gender-bending, goals for UTM, sexism in the industry, and his relationship with the TDS students.
The Medium: Theatre Erindale’s 2016/2017 season was released not long ago. Is there any production you’ve been working closely with or one you’re particularly looking forward to?
David Matheson: Well, there’s Hamlet. What I’m doing differently with this production is making it a gender-bending Hamlet. We’re taking a lot of roles, like Hamlet, and casting a woman one night and a man the next. Every night the actors will be playing either a main role or a chorus part. Each night will be a different experience because there will be different actors, different genders, and different relationships on stage. One night, it will be a lesbian Hamlet and then the next night, it won’t be.
TM: You directed a very successful production of Macbeth in 2013. Do you think Hamlet will achieve a similar success?
DM: People love Shakespeare here. It’s always going to be on the menu for us because it’s perfect for university. With the big plays—we did Comedy of Errors and Pericles last year —there’s a lot of interest. They always sell out. Everyone always wants to see them because they meld the artistic and the academic. So yeah, it’ll hopefully be a hit. Get your tickets now.
TM: You’ve directed quite a few successful plays, such as Occupy Verona (2015) and Macbeth (2013). Do you feel that these successes have humbled you?
DM: There’s no perfect version of anything. There’s always room to improve. There’s always something else to think about, especially with Shakespeare. It’s such a deep well that there’s no getting to the bottom of it. I never have. Dealing with Shakespeare, even though I take a strong hand with it, I’m always humbled by his work.
TM: I read that you’re also the artistic director at Wordsmyth Theatre. Can you elaborate more on that role?
DM: [Wordsmyth] is a company that I founded about 12 years ago. 2005 was the year of our first production. It was basically a venue for myself and my colleagues to do the kind of work that we’re really passionate about. We started with an adaptation of Julius Caesar. It had four actors in it, with a female Antony. That production was one of the earlier cases where I started to do gender-bends with Shakespeare. Since then, it has become really important to me. I change the pronouns and the character role instead of the actor. So instead of having a woman play a man, I change the role so that it’s a female part. This always makes the play more interesting.
TM: Can you discuss your ideas about “gender-bending” in greater detail?
DM: In Comedy of Errors, the play we did last year, there’s a lot of misogyny and it’s really difficult to get out of. There is in Hamlet too; it’s all over. I’m hoping that with this approach, we can attempt to bust open [misogyny in theatre] by tackling it head-on. With this new season, we’re doing smaller-cast plays that can be modern. The roles for women get better and better as you get into the 20th century. This year we’re still in the 19th century, but the plans for the future will be more contemporary.
[Gender-bending] is great because it gives you a new relationship with Shakespeare and also sheds light on the text in a different way. I think it’s actually the way we’re moving in the future. In this industry, sexism is one of the biggest things we have to fight. The way we talk about things, our language—it all has to change.
We have to acknowledge the fact that we have more women than men in the theatre and drama studies program, and we have to change our season to accommodate that.
TM: As the artistic director of Theatre Erindale, do you have any overarching goals for the theatre or the theatre and drama studies program?
DM: I want to keep moving in the direction of diversity and inclusion. I want to make sure that people know [Theatre Erindale] isn’t all just people of the same background. We have a diverse student population and we need to promote that.
Also, one of the directions I really want to go in is a focus on the UTM campus. [At Theatre Erindale], our base of support is subscribers from Mississauga. But we would really love this campus to turn out for our shows. And by doing things that are more contemporary and having new visuals, we’re hoping that young people will respond. We’re an exciting corner of the campus that people can visit.
TM: How do you hope to increase the number of UTM and/or Sheridan students who attend performances at Theatre Erindale?
DM: Well, we’ve already changed the visuals [of our posters and brochures] and we think this will really help. The change is to create a more stylized look to things. And for recruitment, these new visuals will be huge. When they go out into the high schools, we think they’re really going to get people talking, saying things like, “What is this place? It looks like a professional theatre.”
The other thing is, as we shift our season, we want to introduce modern, contemporary approaches to classic plays. We’ve switched Hedda Gabler, adapted it, so that there’s a female Lovborg, which is Hedda Gabler’s love interest. We’re trying to bring contemporary issues into classic plays, and then next year, we’re just going to do contemporary plays. I think when young people start seeing themselves reflected in our stage, we’re going to get more people out to our shows.
TM: So are you thinking of discontinuing Shakespeare plays from future seasons?
DM: There will always be Shakespeare, especially in the studio. But we’re going to balance it out with some contemporary work that reflects some of the issues that are being talked about today. We want to make sure the students have some experience with contemporary work as well.
TM: As the artistic director, you have added responsibilities. Do you think the extra authority will jeopardize your relationship with your students or bring you closer to them?
DM: Things come to my desk—questions of balance, questions of fairness—and I have to make tougher choices than I did before. But I try to treat the students the way I would like to be treated. And I’ve had some good mentors along the way so I think we’re going to be okay. It’s a family here. With the same group of people, I’ll spend 27 hours a week for eight weeks out of the year. And that’s really awesome. We get really close. Every year I’ve had that experience; it’s phenomenal. [In the theatre and drama studies program], you get that thing they say universities lack these days, which is human connection.
Theatre Erindale’s 2016/2017 season begins on October 27th with the opening of The Caucasian Chalk Circle.