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Centre stage

Ask Kim Selody what it takes to make successful theatre, and the 33-year veteran of the Canadian stage will make one thing very clear: it's not about the building. "You can actually do theatre anywhere," he says.

Ask Kim Selody what it takes to make successful theatre, and the 33-year veteran of the Canadian stage will make one thing very clear: it's not about the building.

"You can actually do theatre anywhere," he says. "You just need a space where you can see and hear the human beings. That's what makes live theatre interesting. So you don't need a lot, you just need to remove the obstacles . . . the basis is the human being."

Nevertheless, Selody joins North Vancouver's Presentation House Theatre as its new artistic director at a time when the company is hoping to move from its current ramshackle building into a new facility -- likely in the next five to 10 years. It's can be an "extremely chaotic and challenging" experience, Selody says, and he should know.

"I seem to have ended up working with a lot of theatres just as they were opening buildings," he says. "I stage-managed the very first show at the Waterfront Theatre. I worked backstage and onstage when the Arts Club opened on Granville Island. I worked on the design at Performance Works. I've had a long relationship with Manitoba Theatre for Young People. I've directed a show there every year for almost 22 years and I acted and directed in the first shows in their new $60-million theatre. Strangely enough I also directed the first show in Prairie Theatre's new building.

"Theatre has a reputation for on-time delivery," Selody says. "If we say it's going to open on Tuesday at 8 p.m., it opens on Tuesday at 8 p.m. When you're interfacing that with the construction industry, it's really interesting because they're not used to on-time delivery, usually."

But his long track record of producing shows as the building is being finished around him -- "or not being finished," he laughed -- has forced Selody to really think about what is essential to good theatre and what can wait.

Seeing as it's a few years at least until Presentation House Theatre might be on the move, Selody's focus is on the building he's got.

"I quite like the space," he says. "My biggest fear is that people get so interested in us being in a new space that they won't come and see us in the space we're in right now. The building is just an enabler for the art. We can do our work anywhere."

Born in Vancouver and raised in Prince George, Selody has worked in theatre right across the country and boasts a lengthy resume featuring dozens of shows he has acted in, produced, directed or wrote. He is trained in everything from clowning to miming to stage fighting, and has taught everywhere from Langara to London, UBC to Rotterdam. Selody also holds a half-dozen awards for his work, primarily for staging theatre for young people. His most recent gig was as the theatre officer for the Canada Council.

"Kim is a visionary," says Shelley MacDonald, a member of Presentation House Theatre's board. "I felt so excited by what he envisioned for 2012, I felt like leaping out of my seat and applauding. I'm really excited by where Presentation House Theatre is going."

MacDonald said the company received dozens of applicants for the artistic director position.

"We received a lot of stellar resumes from some real heavy hitters from across Canada," she says.

Selody says he intends to build on the work of his predecessor Brenda Leadlay, who moved the company away from community theatre and closer to professional productions. But theatre-goers can also expect to see programming influenced by Selody's varied career across Canada.

"First of all, what's really interesting to me about Presentation House is its connection to the community. This is something I find really exciting, and not as common across the country as you might think. My vision is to have a theatre company and a venue that relates to all aspects of the community. There are elements of the community that are in conflict, that are banging into each other. The theatre should be a place to house those contradictions and tensions. For example, I want to continue to explore the work we're doing with youth, with aboriginal youth, and for young children. So in any given week we'd have two- to five-year-olds come through the building, teenagers, youth at risk, also yuppies and senior citizens. They may not all come to see the same work, but they all come through the building."

Selody also plans to stage forum discussions at Presentation House Theatre to explore some of the issues raised in productions.

"We can find two people who have opposing views on an issue and use the theatre as a platform for them. It's not that we're trying to stir up the muck, but we're trying to bring forth that discourse for the community and using theatre as a catalyst. I think what you're also going to see is the expansion of programs that the public isn't directly aware of, like classes. We are developing a relationship with an organization that deals with inner-city youth and enhancing the lives of youth at-risk. That's something I have a personal interest in. I also have a long background working in what I call theatre beyond adults, which is theatre for the very young and for various age groups. I try to think first of all about the full human being, from a child to my parent. A big factor is also what's out there, what's available and what's going to work within our budget. Within that, my esthetic kicks in -- do I like it? I like the kind of theatre that entertains and engages, and that can be tricky. I try not to have work that is boring."