Commitment to Community: Sum Theatre announces new artistic director
“For me, it all comes down to nurturing relationships through theatre.”
Whether in the park, in a pool, on the trail or a rink, Sum Theatre has a reputation for creating free innovative live theatre performances for all ages. The company began in 2011 with a dream of breaking down barriers of traditional theatre and creating a performance for everyone. Now, after more than a decade, founding artistic director Joel Bernbaum is passing the baton to Saskatoon artist Mackenzie Dawson.
“It has been an honour to serve our community as a member of the Sum Theatre team since the beginning.” Bernbaum says, “I’ve received a lot of credit for our work, but Sum has always been a team effort. The Sum truly is greater than any one part.”
“People were welcomed with open arms. It truly was theatre for everyone.”
Dawson is no stranger to Sum Theatre and its performances. He began in 2019 as assistant stage manager for Theatre in the Park (The Young Ones) helping steer the crowd during the performance.
“I had to keep the children from running into the stage area and ‘borrowing’ the props. I thought ‘this is chaos’, it’s stuff you would never see at a regular stage show,” says Dawson. “But that experience really stuck with me. People were welcomed with open arms. It truly was theatre for everyone.”
Thanks to the support of Creative Saskatchewan’s business capacity program, Dawson joined Sum Theatre’s staff as an artistic associate in 2020 and quickly became an invaluable member of the team.
“It felt very much in line with our community focus and values to look internally at the talent we had on our doorstep.”
“Mackenzie Dawson diligently and passionately pursued learning every aspect of Sum Theatre’s values, artistic vision and management,” says board chair Carrie Catherine. “Over the years, Sum Theatre has invested in local talent and provided in-depth training and mentorship opportunities. When it came time to consider hiring a new artistic director, it felt very much in line with our community focus and values to look internally at the talent we had on our doorstep.”
Dawson says he couldn’t have entertained taking on the role if it wasn’t for the steady mentorship of theatre veterans like Bernbaum and company dramaturge Yvette Nolan. He’s inspired by their awareness of community need and how to meet it with innovative theatre.
“The past two years have been the most intense professional development I’ve ever had, and for me it all comes down to nurturing relationships through theatre,” says Dawson. “I’m now in a position where I can take care of people; the ones I work with and the people we can reach with the work.”
Dawson becomes Sum Theatre’s associate artistic director immediately and will co-direct Theatre in the Park with Bernbaum this summer. On August first, Bernbaum will step down knowing he’s leaving the company in good hands.
“To me art is about creativity, and a big part of creativity is change,” says Bernbaum. “I look forward to watching Sum Theatre grow and change with Mackenzie’s capable leadership.”