Co-creator wins Siminovitch, the largest prize in Canadian theatre

Vancouver Sun
Originally published 2 November 2010
By Peter Birnie
Sun Theatre Critic

The largest theatre award in Canada has been handed to one of Vancouver’s most innovative directors. Kim Collier, cofounder of the Electric Company Theatre, has won the 10th-anniversary edition of the Elinore and Lou Siminovitch Prize in Theatre, BMO Financial Group announced Monday.

The award is worth $100,000 but a unique provision calls on the winner to give $25,000 of that to a deserving protege. Collier selected Vancouver’s Anita Rochon as that lucky recipient.

“In choosing Kim Collier as the winner of the prize,” says jury chair Maureen Labonte, “the jury wanted to recognize Kim’s leadership and spirit of innovation in the theatre world. As a director, she encourages artistic risk and excellence, is a believer in the power of community and is an impressive mentor for emerging artists.”

Collier says she chose Rochon, who has assisted Electric Company on a couple of productions and now creates her own works, because Collier saw someone who was “a theatre-maker and not just an interpreter.”
“She’s trying to do the real thing, working really hard trying to originate something,” Collier said. “I see a reflection of myself in that, and I respect that she’s a female, and female leaders in our profession — or any profession — are super-important.”

Typically, Collier is so busy that accepting the Siminovitch Prize on Monday evening in Toronto began that day with a 5 a.m. flight from Edmonton, where she and her Electric Company colleagues are about to open a production on the Citadel Theatre’s main stage of Studies in Motion: The Haunting of Eadweard Muybridge.

After returning to Alberta, she’ll travel to Montreal for three weeks of work with emerging directors at the National Theatre School before it’s back to Toronto for a Canadian Stage mounting of Studies in Motion. Life on the road is nothing new to Collier, born in Kitimat.

“We moved to Kamloops when I was four,” she says, “and you could say I was raised at Shuswap Lake, because I spent all my weekends and summers there.”

After high school, with two years of studies at the University of Victoria under her belt, “I started gallivanting all through my 20s. I really was on the move, every four months I was somewhere else, across Canada and America, a year in Africa, three times to Central America.”

In Nigeria she toured the markets of Lagos in a theatrical presentation about proper health during pregnancy, and helped found a theatre company for children that’s still in existence 20 years on.

“I ended up getting deported out of Nigeria,” Collier said, “because they considered me to be working in theatre. I was so passionate and young, and didn’t know how to play by the rules, and they sent me away.”

Up the Dempster Highway in Yukon, Collier was a guide at the interpretive centre. One summer, with her longtime partner Jonathan Young, she created The Great Caribou Migration Play.

“It was site-specific,” she says with a laugh, “taking place on the tundra and in the woods around the centre.”

The laugh comes because, when she and Young and fellow graduates Kevin Kerr and David Hudgins later finished their studies at Studio 58 in Langara College, they went on to found a company that would become famous for its site-specific works. The Electric Company never fails to find ways to play with time and space, as seen in productions of The One That Got Away (in and around a swimming pool), The Fall (an abandoned factory) and No Exit (a warehouse where the company’s equal abilities with film and live performance were much in evidence).

No Exit will reappear next spring at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Before then, however, Collier is looking forward to taking January, February and most of March to recharge her batteries.

“The Siminovitch has come as a beautiful, divine gift,” she says. “With No Exit, Studies in Motion and Tear the Curtain! [a landmark mix of film and theatre built specifically for the Arts Club Theatre’s Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage], I’ll have completed a cycle of work, and I knew that I wanted to slow down, recalibrate, think and learn.”

Collier and Young are still reeling from the death of their 14-year-old daughter Azra in 2009. One way for the couple to cope has been in founding a scholarship at Arts Umbrella.

“Azra was such a beautiful girl, and had such strong citizenship,” her mother recalls, “so we are supporting emerging dancers through the Azra Young Scholarship Award. We asked for it to have a special focus, to go to somebody who’s a really generous and kind and inspired person.”

Like mother, like daughter.

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