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Meet Tim Carroll

Meet Tim Carroll
The new Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival, or "How I Got That Job"

He prefers to be called, “T.C.” On August 13th, British director Tim Carroll was named to be the next artistic director of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He will succeed Jackie Maxwell, whose leadership was first announced on July 11, 2001. “T.C.” will familiarize himself with the festival, working alongside Maxwell before taking over the reigns on December 1, 2016, at the start of the 2017 season.

The successful theater and opera director is best known in this country for his direction of Shakespeare’s Richard III and Twelfth Night, which started at London’s Globe Theatre, before transferring to the West End for a record breaking run, and then transferring to Broadway where Carroll garnered a Tony Award nomination for his work, last year. This was the all-male Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance as Olivia. Carroll was the associate director of the Globe at the time.

Right out of the gate, this director arguably enjoys a higher profile than his predecessor. He began his career with the English Shakespeare Company in 1990 before becoming the Associate Director at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter. For seven years he was the Artistic Director of Kent Opera, where he oversaw widely praised productions of Benjamin Britten’s The Prodigal Son and Handel’s Acis and Galatea. He is a founding member of the experimental theatre group “The Factory” in London. His work has been seen at Lincoln Center in New York, Sydney Opera House, and Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy. He has directed for the National theaters of Norway, Romania and Portugal, and has worked regularly in Hungary. He has worked several times at Ontario’s Stratford Festival, most recently directing a well-received production of Shakespeare’s King John, which was made into a film and shown throughout the world.

The announcement was first made to the members of the Shaw Festival ensemble and staff in the Festival Theatre on the morning of the 13th, a relaxed and merry event at which the current artistic director gave remarks (and reminded the group of the date when her hiring was announced) and Peter Jewett, chair designate of the board of governors and chair of the artistic director search committee described the process by which Carroll had been chosen. It was an international search with a broad and diverse array of candidates: men and women; Canadians, Americans, and Europeans. (Carroll incidentally, holds an American passport, as his father is from Texas, and he still has family in the Lone Star State).

Carroll spoke with wit, earning the easy approval of the group and laughter when he jokingly began to announce his 2017 season.

In an interview in the administrative offices of the Shaw, I complimented his performance for its charm and asked my first question.

Why did they give you this job?

“My charm,” he quipped, followed by his serious answer.

“I very much got the sense,” he said, “that they were looking for someone who had the same values in terms of ensemble led theater, seriousness, and quality.”

And why did he take the job?

“Just before this [opportunity] serendipitously arose,” said Carroll, “a friend of mine said to me, ‘Everywhere you go, you work with the actors and you develop an ensemble, but then you move onto the next place and that dissipates. You’re only really going to make the difference you could make when you have your own company.’ That’s why I want to come here, to lead and develop this great ensemble.”

What does he think of the current Shaw Festival ensemble?

“My desire to see their work was thwarted,” he explains, “when I came here about a month ago, they were already in the last stages of offering me the job, and I wanted to see some shows, but they decided it was too risky. I would be recognized in the audience and they did not want anyone to know that I was a candidate. I did see When We Were Married last year. And I will now be seeing shows back to back on this trip, and I am really looking forward to that. And I am lucky from working at Stratford that I know a lot of the actors who have [worked at both festivals]. The quality of those actors and the way they talk about theater was very attractive to me.”

His new role will represent a large life change for “T.C.” To begin, he will uproot his life and move to Canada.

“It is sort of a good time for me,” he explains. “My kids are ready for university, so my hope is to come here, plant some roots, and provide a place where my kids will want to come for vacation. My son is going to Leeds and my daughter has not quite finished school but is looking at Trinity College, Dublin. My parents met there. I didn’t go there. I went to Oxford, even though my mother was slightly hoping that I would go to Trinity College Dublin.”

During his remarks at the morning announcement, Jewett had made a cryptic allusion to references for candidates who became candidates themselves.

I was called to be a reference for another candidate,” Carroll reveals. “I was told in the course of that conversation, ‘Of course, you are someone we would also like to talk to.’ At the time, I was more focused on the other person involved, but then when I talked to that person, they said, ‘No, you should go for it. Absolutely.’ This was in January.”

Later, Jewett provided more insight into the process.

“We spent several months talking to people, getting peoples’ ideas about the Shaw, its strengths, the challenges,” said Jewett. “And over that period of time, we came up with a list of 20 to 30 areas that we wanted to talk to candidates about. It was the responses to those areas that we were looking at. We found T.C.’s responses, including why he wanted to give up a freelance career to settle in here, to be convincing and compelling.”

Becoming a candidate was a very big decision for Carroll.

“I think you have to prepare for something like this,” he explains. “It is a very intense experience. You have to gear yourself up for it. You cannot do it half-heartedly. You do a lot of reading, a lot of planning, writing your letter about why you want the job, planning your model season to present in the interview. But the planning is not as hard as the spiritual struggle of really pulling out all the stops and committing to going for the job, in the knowledge that if you then don’t get it, it will really hurt. It is much easier to go for it in a kind of well, ‘If they don’t want me, screw ‘em,’ which they would pick up on immediately and would be the reason you don’t get it!”

This sounds like the voice of experience to me.

“I have been up for jobs before, when I was not sure that I really wanted it,” Carroll confides. “Twice, when the artistic directorship of the Globe came up, I was asked if I was going to go for it, and both times I didn’t go for it. I didn’t want to put myself through all that for something I didn’t want.”

Would he have wanted the National Theatre of Great Britain?

“No, that is a very specific set of challenges that doesn’t interest me. This is really one of the very few places in the world that would interest me. Hungary is another place where I have worked a lot. That is a place I might have ended up in—with an ensemble.”

And so it would seem that this director with the impressive freelance career has not decided to settle down in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He will be settling in. He intends to “make a difference.” He wants to work with and develop a great acting ensemble. Carroll acknowledges that there is a contradiction between the impulses that drive a freelancer and a resident artistic director.

“It’s true,” he says. “I had about 15 or 20 years as a freelance director, making sure I had a new job to jump onto, just as each job finished, to make a living. And then, I take this job, just as I’ve reached a point where I get offered a lot more work than I can do, and I don’t have to push any more. I have found myself in this very blessed position of being able to pick and choose, very nice offers from national theaters throughout the world. There is something very perverse about now, saying, ‘I am going to walk away from that and stay put.’ But I have always had a very perverse streak. I tend to go for things for reasons other than success. I just want to do good work and this feels like a place where I can do something substantial over a long period of time.

The process now will be for Carroll to work with Maxwell and “learn the ropes” while becoming familiar with the ensemble. He agrees that there will probably be some anxiety among the ensemble during a time of change.

“I am a big sports fan,” he says. “I am very passionate about Manchester United. And when a longtime manager leaves, the squad don’t know what the new guy is going to do. Who he is going to like and who he is going to ship out? So I understand the nervousness. I have absolutely no preconceptions. I want to see how we can strengthen and move forward and continue the success of the festival.”

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