Profile: Greg Doran
by Jane Ledwell
When I ask Greg Doran for an interview for The Buzz, it triggers an identity crisis. He writes to me, “In way of clarification: which me is being profiled? Theatre me?” (He’s a multi-talented theatre professional.) “Prof me? Theatre prof me?” (He is the face of the “one-person, public-faced” Theatre Studies program at UPEI.) “Chair of the Arts Council me?” (He’s chairperson of the PEI Council of the Arts.)
When we meet, he is more integrated as a personality. “I joke about many hats,” he says,“but advocacy is part of what I do here,” he says, gesturing around his UPEI office. “I take my act off campus, but one will feed the other, inevitably.” More Islanders in love with arts means more students in theatre studies, more theatre in the community, more literary readings, more gallery exhibits. More of what Greg likes.
“The Arts Council is one of my big hats,” he says. “I was a reluctant chair, knowing the kind of year I would have coming. It felt like the Council was putting out brush fires for a year.” But brushfires past, he says, “I feel like we can do something,” he says, “that we’re moving towards the same goals”—goals set in community consultations.
With his advocacy hat on, Greg says, “You know, the Premier has never made a public statement about the arts…I want to know: where does the Province stand on the arts? Because art lasts…In a province where so much of the provincial economy and identity are tied up in just one work of art, you’d think it would be obvious.”
“I can argue the dollars and cents,” he continues. “The arts are worth over $100 million dollars annually, more than the lobster catch. But if we only talk about the money, we become the ‘Donald Trump’ of the arts.”
What matters more is people experiencing the arts as formative and transformative, the way that Greg experienced art, growing up in Toronto with parents who shared with him their love of theatre, dance, galleries, and museums. He describes himself as “mesmerized” by early exposure. “It influences me in the theatre I do, but in all parts of my life as well,” he says.
“I want students to come out to plays, and I hope they’ll get that experience I had as a kid,” he says. He hears it as success when students say, “Man, that was great. I’m so glad you made me go to that play.” Or “I enjoyed the class readings. I didn’t think I would.”
Greg is an “unabashed nationalist,” committed to Canadian content, but says, “Hockey and beer: that’s not Canada.” Likewise PEI is more than its myths. “There are stories on this Island that are amazing. Because of the central pig-tailed monolith, people sometimes assume it’s all Victoriana…. Where’s the story of hard-scrabble existence? Where’s the narrative of closing of the family farm? In terms of theatre, I don’t see these other stories. We end up with a weird, sepia-toned vision of PEI.”
Greg is definite about two things he would like to see added to the Island theatre and arts repertoire. First, he says, “I would like to see a professional, non-musical theatre company, running counter-season to the [Charlottetown] Festival.”
Second, he says, “I want a cultural centre on [the UPEI] campus, with a gallery and a performance space, and maybe a faculty club upstairs…” The bricks and mortar matter: “Those are the types of messages that say something to students,” Greg says. “We’re not paying attention to those sorts of gestural messages.”
“It’s back to advocacy,” Greg says. “We have an opportunity to transform UPEI to a marquee place for the arts and for liberal arts education.”
Arts, advocacy, education are of a piece in Greg Doran’s world. “It’s very important to me,” he says. “It’s so much of who I am, in the end.”