When Emily Martin oversaw what was then the Peterborough Festival of Lights (now Peterborough Musicfest), she acquired and honed a skill set that would serve her in very good stead down the road.
In 2002, at just 24 years old, Martin began a 10-year tenure at the Del Crary Park concert series, with her last four years there as general manager, learning quickly that working closely with others opened the door wide to new opportunities for all.
Fast forward to 2018. Now the general manager of the Showplace Performance Centre, Martin is satisfying her thirst for collaboration on a whole other level — to the great benefit of the 640-seat performing arts centre in downtown Peterborough and those who fill many or all of its seats on any given night.
“My door is always open for new ideas and opportunities — we’re stronger as a team than in our own silos,” Martin says.
“It’s not always about money. It’s about getting people in the seats. Take the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra, for example. It has an audience we love to see at Showplace. It’s in our best interest to work with the PSO to do that. That’s just one example though — there are so many amazing organizations in this city we could work with.”
Showplace’s most publicized and mutually beneficial ongoing working relationship is with the Market Hall Performing Arts Centre, another not-for-profit charitable organization that shares a mission to promote a diversity of arts and music in Peterborough. Martin and Market Hall general manager Chad Hogan regularly share information and ideas with one another.
“People are a little surprised by that relationship because we are competition for each other in a sense,” Martin explains.
Martin also points to this past March’s Letterkenny show as a prime example of how one-off collaborations can also make all the difference. For that show, Martin arranged for Sudbury-based Puppers Beer — the beer of choice for the TV program’s characters — to ship cases of their product to Showplace for sale that evening.
“Audiences are looking for an experience,” she explains. “They don’t want to simply come and sit and watch a show. It’s exciting to give them a little unexpected thing they weren’t prepared for.”
Moving forward, Martin sees partnership opportunities with the Peterborough Downtown Business Improvement Area and downtown restaurants.
And the opportunities for partnerships aren’t only limited to Peterborough. The slower summer season sees Showplace, via its social media channels, promote other venues such as Westben in Campbellford and 4th Line Theatre near Millbrook. Martin is also in regular contact with the general managers of venues outside Peterborough, such as those in Orillia and Brantford, exchanging ideas on how they can make their respective spaces more efficient.
One could say that, when it comes to the performing arts community, a rising tide lifts all boats.
As Showplace prepares for its busy fall and winter season, another major focus of Martin’s is reflected in the programming schedule: diversity.
“Theatres across the province are struggling with how to attract different pieces that speak to their diverse communities,” says Martin, noting diversity isn’t limited to simply presenting varied music genres but also diverse forms of art.
“We’re presenting Roch Voisine, so there’s a French Canadian element. We’ve got The Nutcracker, so there’s dance. We have Soldiers of Song coming, so that’s theatre. And we’re doing the Golden Girls puppet show, so we’re even presenting puppetry.”
Martin says that, while Showplace has presented different genres in the past, there wasn’t the same focus there is now.
“We have an entertainment committee that we work with,” she explains. “Diversity of presentation is a starting point in our discussions as opposed to an afterthought.”
Martin admits the presentation of culturally diverse programming can sometimes be a gamble when it comes to ticket sales, but it remains a mandate of the organization. Rentals of the facilities to promoters give Showplace some flexibility to meet that mandate.
“We should, as Showplace Presents, be presenting the things that challenge us more. We have the rentals that pay for building and our HVAC system and our roof and everything else. That gives us a really good opportunity to be able to present The Nutcracker and bring in Ballet Jorgen.
“We do try to do shows that will benefit our members, but also give them something new and unique. Stratford is doing The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Whoever thought that would be on the stage at Stratford?”
Martin points out that diversity of programming can also attract new audiences, as well as those who’ve never been to Showplace before, by appealing to a wider demographic.
“Look at the work the New Canadians’ Centre is doing. Look at the work the government is doing with Truth and Reconciliation. There’s so much opportunity to present diverse programming and I think the door has opened to that. Twenty years ago, this conversation wouldn’t have happened. There was a handful of Canadian artists presented every year.
“I was at Peterborough Musicfest on Canada Day for The Jerry Cans. I knew nothing about them. Unbelievable! We need to encourage people to come and see these artists. You may not know who they are, but they are amazing.”
With three children of her own — she and husband Scott met in a theatre setting, of course — Martin is particularly passionate about young people being exposed to the performing arts.
“That’s a huge focus. There is no real performing arts programming in the schools anymore. There’s a responsibility to provide that exposure.
“I think back on my son. He was having trouble with bullies in school and it was one teacher, Dawn Berry — she’s incredible. She would bring her guitar in from home and hold music classes. She suggested Isaac get in touch with the Peterborough Theatre Guild, so he went and did The Sound of Music and met a whole group of people there just like him. There’s room for these kids and it’s really important that be provided. Not everybody is a hockey player.”
Whether it be forging new relationships or working to expose Showplace audiences to varied programming that’s outside the box, there’s a common denominator at the foundation of Martin’s efforts. It’s one she makes no secret of being very proud of: her team of both staff and volunteers.
“It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here one hundred times or it’s the first time — everybody is treated like family. They’re coming into our house. We have almost 250 volunteers and they all love it just as much as we do. They’re our ambassadors. They go out and talk about Showplace.
“We were facing a little bit of a financial struggle last year but our entire team pulled together. We’re a really tight team, and we’ve been able to expand that team with the addition of Bill Porter, Susan Oliver, and Bill Batten. I’m so proud of the work this team has done. We all really love this place and it’s genuine.”
Reflecting on the route she took to arrive at 290 George Street North, Martin says everything she’s done career-wise led to her current role.
“I started in the box office at the Georgian Theatre Festival when I was a teenager. From there I went to the Sudbury Theatre Centre. I was offered a job to work at Walt Disney World at the same time I was offered a job as a box office manager, and I turned it down.
“I think I was first person in the history of Disney to turn down a job there. My kids don’t let me live that one down. But it was a personal goal of mine to run a theatre.”