Heather McDonald is a theatre guru, fundraising aficianado and lover of all things Scottish. She agreed to be the guinea pig for the ARTS 9-5 page and in doing so gave the me the scoop on her life at Canadian Stage.
1. Where do you work? Can you sum up your job in 3 sentences or less?
I am the Associate Director of Development at Canadian Stage. Through donations from generous individuals, sponsorships by a variety of companies, gifts from foundations and a fabulous gala, the Theatre Ball, we do our part to make sure theatre can thrive. In short, I ask people for money… and thank them!
2. Why the arts? What’s made you focus your energy on theatre?
I always loved the arts but I didn’t fall into any of the actor/director/playwright/tech categories; and I didn’t know there was this fascinating administrative side. I was doing film PR and marketing when I fell into a fundrasing job at the Edinburgh Film Festival and caught the bug! 9 years later I consider myself an arts fundraiser through and through. I often wonder if I am a fundraiser or arts lover first, but I think it’s actually both. I feel very blessed to have found a profession that combines my passion for arts with my professional skills. It is incredibly fulfilling to sit in the theatre on opening night, surrounded by our supporters, knowing I had a small part in making it happen.
3. The arts have a reputation of being lots of work with little pay; true or false?
I have always struggled with this question. On one hand, yes, it’s a lot of work – I’m writing this in the lobby of the Bluma as our Director of Production gives a backstage tour to a group of our donors, and I’ve been at the theatre every night this week for similar events. There are times when the hours are long, like when we’re in production. However, I am here by choice. I’m sure there are people who think they deserve more money, but to me it’s not just about the paycheque. I can call board members directly. I have a close working relationship with Matthew Jocelyn. I would not have this kind of access if I fundraised for a university or a hospital, where the process is very different. I suppose I could make more money if I fundraised in another sector, but I wouldn’t be as passionate about the cause.
4. What’s the best thing about working in theatre in Toronto?
The people! My colleagues at Canadian Stage, our donors, and my peers in the broader arts community. This may sound cheesy, but I’m surrounded by people who are enthusiastic about theatre and the arts. I speak to donors every day who love what we’re doing. It’s exceptionally gratifying.
5. What’s the worst thing about working in theatre in Toronto?
I don’t have enough time to go to theatre outside of Canadian Stage! I have a couple of subscriptions to other arts orgs but it’s not enough. There’s so much to see.
6. What’s an adjective that can describe most of your days at your job?
Every day brings a new challenge. Intense? Eventful? Gratifying? All of the above.
7. Describe (in 3 sentences or less) what your favourite memory is from your current job.
We received a call in the summer from the daughter of a donor who had passed away. This donor asked that all donations at her funeral service be directed to Canadian Stage, a cause and company that gave her a great deal of joy in her life. She had contributed, for years, in her own modest way by donating to our Partnership program and subscribing, and then left a lasting legacy to our company.
8. What’s the last play that you saw that really made an impression on you?
The Test, a Company Theatre production in co-production with Canadian Stage. And no, this isn’t a biased answer. Philip Riccio’s performace took my breath away.
Of course, I wouldn’t be a good fundraiser if I didn’t mention Kim Collier’s inspired direction of our current production, Red, and the buzz that’s already building about our upcoming production of Atom Egoyan’s Cruel & Tender by Martin Crimp in January.
9. If you could do any other job, arts professional or not, what would it be?
I’ve always dreamed of heading up sponsorship for one of Britain’s big music festivals like Glastonbury or Reading and Leeds.
10. If the Toronto theatre scene was a woman, what advice would you offer her?
Be proud of who you are.
Be confident in your choices.
Don’t whine about things you can change.
Accept the things you can’t.
Be part of the solution.