Kelly Straughan’s interest in theatre emerged at an early age. Her mother took her to see “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” at the tender age of three. “I sobbed all the way home,” Straughan recalls. “I want to do that!” she told her mom on the way home from the play. Her mother hoped to placate Straughan’s dreams of the stage by telling her, “You have to be six.”
Growing up in Sudbury Ontario, Straughan bide her time until she finally turned ‘of age’ (her mom thought she’d have forgotten all about theatre by then.) At just six-years-old, Straughan auditioned—successfully—for a role in “Music Man”. “You will do theatre beyond reason and better judgement,” Straughan tells me. It’s that sort of tenacity and passion that has likely lead her to her current role as the new Executive Director of Fringe Toronto.
Straughan’s varied career took her out of Sudbury and in 2000 was performing in the original Mirvish production of “Mama Mia”, cast alongside Camilla Scott. From there she soon found herself landing roles in musical theatre. Looking to take a different direction, Straughan went back to school and gained her Masters in Theatre Directing at UBC which, she says, really got her into her passion for directing.
Straughan went on to become an accomplished playwright and director, with a successful history with Fringe Toronto. Richard Rose, Artistic Director of Tarragon, was in the audience of her 2007 Fringe show, “Timebomb”. Rose had been thinking of creating a new position of Associate Artistic Director and called Straughan soon after to offer her the gig. Straughan tells me, “At the time I had a one-month old baby.” Straughan worked around her new family and took the role as Tarragon Theatre’s inaugural Associate Artistic Director, a position she held for three years. She then went on to become Associate Artistic Director at Nightwood theatre, where Straughan continued to develop her artistic leadership.
In her new role as Executive Director, Straughan combines her artistic sensibility with sensible administrative skills. (Honed, she says, during a stint as a legal assistant.) Straughan calls the Fringe “a big ol’ summer festival” and is excited to be in a role that affords her the ability to affect audiences and the theatre climate. Fringe is also a leading off point for so many artists and their careers. “The Fringe is unjuried and uncensored.” says Straughan. “It is vital to the health of art and gives people a place to test an idea, without going bankrupt trying to stage it themselves.” In addition to the 10-day event, Straughan explains Next Stage festival and Creation Lab, a place the theatre community can call their own, are some of the ways Fringe Toronto helps empower local artists.
Q: ‘In your life how are you ‘on the Fringe?’
(Laughs) “I have a very strong internal compass,” says Straughan, citing the decision to have a child in her late 20’s, when her peers were still considering that kind of life change, as an example. “Regardless of what happens outside of me, I can gauge really quickly what is right for me. I feel with each move I get closer and closer.”