by Jane Ledwell
I am so privileged to get to come home—really home,” says Haley (Batchilder) Zavo, eyes alight but brimming with emotion. Not only has she come home to PEI, but to her hometown of Georgetown, where she has joined her young family to her parents’ household and is running the King’s Playhouse she grew up in.
“It’s nice to come to your hometown because you chose it, and it’s a place I think is the most beautiful place in the world,” she enthuses. She is staggered at the welcome in the community, and afire with the possibilities the Playhouse and Georgetown share.
“The King’s Playhouse meant so much to me in my formation,” she says. “It was always part of my life.”
She remembers, “When you’re from Georgetown, (the Playhouse) is the first place you perform.” As a youth, after training in Triple Threats, Haley spent a first summer in summer stock theatre at that King’s Playhouse—and “that’s when the theatre bug hit, and all bets were off.”
Haley says, “When I was fourteen and fifteen years old, I could propose shows and they would happen in a real theatre… That exposure and opportunity and support were such a privilege. It taught me about directing and producing and performing, but it also taught me all the other things theatre does: confidence and social skills and awareness of the world around me and empathy and, most of all, the power of a supportive community.”
Community building was what Haley was doing before her return to her hometown, working with a L’Arche community in Cape Breton. When the ad came out for an executive director for the King’s Playhouse, “I loved what I was doing, and it was important work.”
But… A retreat in France, and a visit with friends in London, gave Haley new insight. She couldn’t stop talking about side projects at L’Arche, like the Christmas pageant that brought together community members, a church choir, elementary school kids, and a Zumba class. “The job I was doing was human resources, essentially, but what I was so fired up about was this community art project….”
So, when the job at the Playhouse came up, Haley says, “I interviewed for the role and was offered the job—and offered everything I would need for it to be sustainable.
“I’m incredibly grateful,” she says. “I’ve had so much support from everyone: the Board of Directors, the town, the town Council. The support makes it possible to continue to be passionate about what I do… What makes it sustainable is that the community is behind it.”
Haley says, “The theatre in Georgetown has the opportunity to be a real centre for the town. Absolutely, we want to run a successful theatre, but we also want people to feel they can walk in off the street and feel like they’re at home.”
The Playhouse she imagines will be first for Islanders but also welcome visitors. “If we’re building community together, we want to build it in a way that other people want to come, too,” Haley says. “What everyone likes is when we’re telling our stories.” This summer season at the King’s Playhouse will try out new ways of telling Georgetown stories, with dinner theatre and an art exhibit as well as children’s programming—in addition to the usual concerts and a summer musical.
“I’m not one to turn down anything,” Haley smiles. “When I started in this role, I felt like I would throw all these balls in the air and see what came down that I could juggle month to month,” she laughs. “Now, with summer approaching, I feel more like I’m doing that circus trick, spinning poles with plates on the top.”
Keeping the plates spinning, making that inclusive, welcoming community accessible to all is Haley’s vision for the Playhouse and for Georgetown. And, as important as the Playhouse was to her formation, “the physical surroundings were just as important,” and she wants to raise her family with that, with “cousins you get to play with and the big space ahead…
“It’s good to be home,” she concludes.