Profile: Mary Gallant
by Jane Ledwell
Ever had the feeling you’ve been overheard enjoying an event at the Harbourfront Jubilee Theatre in Summerside? Mary Gallant is the quiet presence who lingers over arriving and departing theatre audiences and monitors moods as they mill about at intermission. Hearing audiences’ appreciative comments is “one of the most gratifying things” about Mary’s job as director of operations at the theatre. She loves her work in the background of the arts scene. “There’re are people who don’t know I exist, even though I’ve been here eleven years,” Mary says, with no hint of complaint. “I’m just Mary that works there.”
Mary works to match artists with audiences. “I think a big part of my passion for this job was that before this job, I played music full-time as a living,” Mary says. For ten years, as part of a duo, Mary did the Island circuit and off-Island shows. “It did give me a good sense of what artists are trying to accomplish in expressing themselves,” she recalls, “and I want to help artists get their message out.”
Now, she is on-stage as a “once-a-year chance,” in the Jubilee’s Christmas variety show: instead she loves her time behind the scenes. To find a career in the arts in her own hometown was more than she had dreamed possible. “I must say I’ve never had a day I didn’t want to go to work,” Mary says. “There have been days with some long hours, but I can say I’ve never had a long day.”
Proudly, Mary says, “We’re known as a hub in this region for nurturing the performing arts.” Even as audiences have grown, Islanders remain a “healthy half” of even summertime audiences at the theatre, and almost seventy percent of those Islanders are from Summerside and West. “I’ve noticed a big shift in the past number of years, hand in hand with increased overall attendance,” Mary says. “What we’re seeing is that the local audience will come back and see a show numerous times and bring along relatives and visitors. While touring acts are appreciated, our core local audience loves to see their own. There’s a real sense of community ownership and pride in the talent we have here.” She notes a special love for Acadian music and performance in the region.
“Once you’ve attended the Jubilee Theatre once,” Mary says, “even though it’s a new, fancy theatre, you’re as comfortable here as a community hall. It still has the ambiance of a community facility.”
Mary hopes the comfortable ambiance makes audiences more open to new genres. An upcoming show will feature three young tenors, “not a mainstream entertainment choice in this region,” Mary laughs. (She herself, admittedly, was “raised on country music, right to the backbone!”). To draw audiences to the theatre, there’s a Valentine’s Day tie-in. “The tenor is the most romantic of the voices, they say,” Mary suggests, her marketing and promotions hat on firmly.
“There are two big myths about my job,” Mary laughs. “One is, oh, you must get to see all the shows. No. If there’s a show I really want to see, I have to take the night off! The other is, oh, you must get to meet all the artists. No. I’m good friends with lots of agents and promoters now, but mostly I see the people who come through the doors. That’s where I see our mission come to life.
“We aren’t saving lives here. We’re not solving all the world’s problems. But what we do is still so essential to life,” Mary says.
For 2008, Mary-who-works-there hopes to see more satisfied audience members enjoying more kinds of shows at the Harbourfront Jubilee Theatre. What she wants to hear from audiences at the door is, “Wow, what a line-up. I have to pick and choose what to come to see.” She says, “People are excited that they can come down the street to see world-class entertainment. They don’t even have to leave town.”