Transformative theatre supported by Cole Foundation grants

Montreal theater-goers are in for some pioneering moments over the next two years as the local professional theatre community benefits from the injection of $375,000 in grants to 25 local companies by the Cole Foundation.

The impetus for creating the foundation’s Intercultural Conversations-Conversations Interculturelles (IC-CI) program was to focus its “other” portfolio, the main mandate being to support research into pediatric leukemia, explained Barry Cole, president of the Cole Foundation.

His uncle Jack Cole, who died in 2004, was an investment banker who established the Penny Cole Laboratory in memory of his daughter who died of the disease at 20.

In 1980, he created The Cole Foundation, which continues to support research into pediatric oncology and various community initiatives in Montreal.

Barry Cole, with 30 years of experience in arts management, had moved to Montreal in 2000 to care for his uncle, eventually taking over the presidency of the foundation. That was 2008, the year the Bouchard-Taylor Commission report on reasonable accommodation was released. “I know the government wants foundations to be more specific in their mandate. We needed a policy, an issue in order to focus philanthropy. The Bouchard Taylor Commission provided us with an idea.”

Cole noticed the report indicated Quebecers are not always welcoming to newcomers and wanted to address the problem.  “I thought, since I come from the arts world, we can use art for social change. If we present stories of immigrants through theatre, people in the audience will experience other cultures without being confronted with it in an aggressive manner.”

Initially the idea was to help produce works reflecting the immigrant experience. But while there was interest, there was also a glaring lack of repertoire. “No one could name anything, there wasn’t one [suitable] play. So I said ‘OK, we will create the literature we will commission. If it is in Italian or Finnish, we will translate it. That is how we started.”

The Cole Foundation offers three types of grants, for commission, production, and translation, sometimes supporting the same idea, from inception to production, to translation, as in Centaur’s Bus Stops, originally Marilyn Perreault’s Ligne de bus, first seen at Théâtre Aux Écuries.

The most recent plays on Montreal stages supported by the Cole Foundation include Centaur’s You Will Remember Me, The Segal Centre’s Kim’s Convenience, and Black Theatre Workshop’s Angélique. Cole sees a growing interest in intercultural dialogue. “The Centre des Auteurs Dramatiques (CEAD), the Conseil Québécois du Théâtre (CQT) and Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec (CALQ) have had programs on racism and diversity. They have recognized these as a critical issues.”

Developing themes cover First Nations, Asian, Black, Jewish, Muslim, Ukrainian, and South American cultures. Upcoming works will examine Islamic youth indoctrination, immigrant parents raising their kids, Japanese internment in Canada during the Second World War, and Residential Schools.

The grants are offered to professional theatres, established or independent. This year’s recipients include Imago Theatre, Talisman Theatre, Lara Kramer Dance, Productions Ondinnok, Teesri Duniya Theatre, and Tashme.

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