END OF THE ROAD
Friday is Katherine Johnston’s last day on the road. She’s handing in her keys and putting away her suitcase for a while.
For the past four seasons, Katherine has been behind the steering wheel as MTYP’s stage manager, when our touring van heads out.
In that time, Katherine has overseen tours for six productions, stage managed 519 school performances and driven more than 30,000 kilometers.
Most recently, she completed a seven week tour with the play Still/Falling. Along with actor Lisa Baran and Apprentice Stage Manager Katie Schmidt, the tour took the play to southwestern Manitoba along with many Winnipeg schools. (It’s set to tour to 40 more, many in Northern Manitoba, this spring).
Still/Falling follows the life of a high school girl named Nina who starts to experience anxiety and depression. Despite being popular at school and having loving parents, Nina’s life starts to come apart. The play was written by Rachel Aberle for Vancouver’s Green Thumb Theatre, who admitted that she experienced much of what she wrote about in this play. Although it’s a tough story to watch, the play is having a big effect on the students who see it, and most educators agree that the topic is long overdue for a discussion.
“The show is difficult but it’s changing young lives. It’s really rewarding in that way,” says Katherine. “There is always at least one student in that audience who this show will deeply affect. After every performance, kids will come up to talk. A couple of weeks ago, we had a young boy ask Lisa if it was normal to feel pain in his chest. Lisa recommended that he talk to someone. The Principal came by and said to the student, ‘Let’s go talk.’ It’s powerful to be a witness to the impact art can have to make a change in someone’s world like that.”
Katherine loves that theatre for young audiences can open the door to having conversations about difficult ideas. She remains in awe of its power to educate and entertain kids. Seeing how engrossed students become in theatre never gets dull. She enjoys the gasps students make when they enter their gymnasiums and see how their familiar world has been transformed.
“One of the best stories I have from touring came when we were on the road with Dib and Dob and the Journey Home to elementary schools. Usually we ask in advance if there are any bells or announcements that go off during the show. This time, it was a kindergarten class whose bell went off. The kids were glued to the stage. They started to get up, en masse, holding hands. But they were so well behaved. They knew they had to walk out of the gym but they wouldn’t stop watching the stage. It truly illustrated the power of theatre. Whatever was going on around them couldn’t pull them away from the story.”
Katherine says she adapted well to life on the road. “It’s not glamorous.” Every day she wakes up in a new hotel. There is a performance to set up for at 10 AM in a school and then she strikes (takes down) the show and travels to another town only to do it all over again. “A lot of times there is only one motel in town and that’s where we stay.”
“My job involves a lot of company management,” she says. “Making sure that everybody on the tour has everything that they need. I’ve initiated a lot of actors into tour life as they are working their first tours. I always advise them to bring a coffee pot, a kettle, slippers and a blanket.”
HERE ARE A FEW OF MANITOBA’S HIDDEN SECRETS
One of the benefits of Katherine’s years on the road is she has gotten to know some of the hidden gems around Manitoba. “I know the best place to get coffee in Neepawa,” she says. “Brews Bros. The owner is super friendly and it’s really cute in there. Even now, I stop there if I’m in Neepawa.”
“The cast almost always visits thrift stores together,” says Katherine. “The best one is the MCC in Altona. It’s huge and the clothes are organized by colour so it’s super easy to find what you want. There’s also a really good tea house there.” One of her favourite places to stay is the Blue Nose B & B in Snow Lake. “We always stay there. You get the whole house to yourself and there’s a great hot tub.”
Katherine admits she loves driving and being on the road. But what will she not miss about touring life? Her least favourite thing is dodging balls as she’s transforming a gymnasium into a stage. “It’s loud and there are balls flying at you while you’re trying to set up. Basketballs, volleyballs, dodge balls,’ she smiles.
Although her life as a touring stage manager is almost over, Katherine will continue to be a part of the MTYP as she was recently hired as our Assistant Production Manager. She’s looking forward to sitting behind a desk for awhile. Some of her responsibilities in her new job will be, in addition to generally supporting the Production Manager, to oversee theatre rentals and studio bookings, as well as – surprise — be involved in planning future tours to many of the communities she has grown to love over the past five years.
Thanks for taking care of our artists and shows on the road for so long. And welcome home, Katherine!