Tammy Fox - is creating part of the cultural diet for the city - some broccoli included.

artsorange 100x100By Pepper Parr

November 12th, 2018


Revised: The Gazette frequently tapes interviews – we should have done that this time.  Tammy Fox was very gentle with us when she pointed out that we had mixed up some of the facts.  If she handles all the problems she faces the way she handled us – the Performing Arts Centre is in very good hands. 

Tammy Fox, the Executive Director of the Performing Arts Centre was born in Lindsay, Ontario, close to a rural community that was certainly small town – went to elementary school in Coburg Ontario.

After graduating from the University of Windsor where she focused her studies on psychology and creative arts she spent the next 12 years in theatre administration and management, first at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre and later managing Peterborough’s Showplace Performance Centre.

Tammy Fay smile

Tammy Fox – she went to “the dark side” of the theatre world for a period of time.

In 2006 she moved to Toronto, taking over the role of Executive Director at ShakespeareWorks, which gave her the opportunity to work with Canadian theatre luminaries RH Thomson and Christopher Newton.

And then Tammy Fox went to what she called “the dark side” of the theatre world.

She formed the Fox Entertainment Agency on her own in 2008.  Her husband took it over (after the roster had been reduced dramatically to accommodate his busy schedule as a professional musician) once Tammy joined BPAC in 2017.

Fox Entertainment Agency wqs a full-service interdisciplinary performing arts booking agency which specialized in professional touring theatrical productions, while also representing a select roster of musical artists who are especially suited for soft seat venues.

Her focus at the Agency was to create an artist/audience exchange in which it is recognized that all parties involved are focused on the same goal – to experience and share the wealth of performing arts talent that this country has to offer.

The mission at Fox included

connecting its roster of artists with diverse audiences
supporting and developing the careers of its roster of artists nationally and internationally
obtaining quality performance opportunities for its artists in performing arts centres, festivals and non-traditional venues
managing tours on behalf of its artists, from promoting, booking and routing to post-performance follow-up
fostering and sustaining meaningful long-term relationships with presenters and arts creators
assisting presenters to develop new audiences and enrich the experiences of current audiences.

Fay - head at slight angle

Tammy Fox has been on the job for 18 months.

If you replaced the word artists with the word audiences in that list you had a woman with a set of skills that were a large part of what the Burlington Performing Arts Centre was looking for when they had to find their fourth Executive Director in a seven year time frame.

Fox was at Ontario Contact, the provincial booking conference, held that year in Peterborough, her old venue Showplace Performance Centre, where she bumped into Brian McCurdy. A combination of nostalgia of being in her former theatre, combined with the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a man she admired greatly, that drew her to the Performing Arts Centre.

McCurdy, who told her that Burlington was looking for a new Executive Director, had served as the Executive Director for two terms; he was loved and adored but having tasted a bit of retirement, he became partial to making that his full time occupation.

Tammy Fox has been on the job for 18 months. The trick for her was to come up with programming that will draw audiences that more than cover the cost of bringing in the entertainment and have funds left over to encourage the growth of local talent and give them a place to perform.

She is now developing a program that tries to meet the interests of as many people as possible. “You can’t keep everyone happy all the time” she commented during an exclusive interview with the Gazette.

Fay - hands out

Performing Arts Centre Executive Director Tammy Fox – an actor at heart.

Fox sees her role as being responsible for part of the “cultural diet’ for the city.

The Family Series, Classical Matinees, Holiday programming and the ever-popular Classic Albums Live concerts add protein to the cultural diet.

There are the young audiences that have to be introduced to theatre and grown. The BPAC people have a strong working relationship with the Board of Education that sees a lineup of school buses outside the Elgin street location frequently.

Some of the local productions are superb – as good as you are going to get in Toronto. They usually take place in the Community Studio Theatre and at times draw audiences of less than 50 people. Is the turnout due to the content or poor promotion? Perhaps a bit of both. The work done by Trevor Copp and the Form Community Dance Theatre are drama and dance at its most progressive and moving. The hope is that Tammy Fox won’t give up on this kind of work.

Fox is proud of the “golden ticket” program that assists people with limited means to attend theatre productions.

She is even prouder of the Festival of Trees fundraiser that she developed for ACCOB – Arts and Culture Council of Burlington, to give raise funds to local artists to use the Community Studio Theatre.

BPAC has a stable audience, much of it from the downtown core where people can walk to the theatre.

Here is the Burlington Teen Tour Band opening up the Performing Arts Centre. Imagine them doing the same thing on the pier. Going to be a glorious sight.

Here is the Burlington Teen Tour Band opening up the Performing Arts Centre.

The Performing Arts Centre is “home base” to the Burlington Teen Tour Band

The big name headliners are important – Buffy St. Marie and the Bare Naked Ladies do well. Others are a tough sell and at times Fox has to settle for a production that is available and she has a time slot to fill.

Early in her career Fox talks of a lesson she learned. A community group rented a venue for a performance of  Oklahoma that did astounding well – they sold out the 650 available seats.  That led Fox thinking that the community wanted more of this type of program. What Fox learned was that a community audience isn’t necessarily a theatre audience.

Royal Wood 2018Later this month Royal Wood returns to Burlington. He was the first performer to take to the stage and eight years later he is back. During that first event there were two older woman who walked out of the performance – they didn’t see Royal Wood as what the Performing Arts Centre was built to present.

When Fox came aboard she had to work with a program that was already in place – some scheduling is done years ahead of time.

In May of 2019 she will present the 2019-2020 program that will be all hers. Her focus is to come up with more ways to engage the community, bring in productions that appeal to the various audiences she needs to serve.

Coming up with programs that appeals to families with several children is a challenge; “I need to come up with something a family can afford” she said – The Nutcracker Suite is part of that offering – but she wants more.

Expect to see more on Truth and Reconciliation.

The biggest part of the job is to shape the program offering that meets the pure entertainment needs and desires of the public and at the same time offer content and experiences that grow the cultural appetites.

Fay - slight smile

Finding the vision and then creating a mission her Board will live with.

This isn’t something that is easily done. It takes time to formulate a vision based on what you ave learned about a community and turn that vision into a mission and convince a Board to support you – hoping that along the way the budget gives you the room to do that.

Where are the gaps in the program?

Is there more the Performing Arts Centre can do to improve that “cultural diet” Fox will tell you that there has to be some broccoli in that diet; some protein as well.

Is a tighter relationship with Sound of Music possible? Peter W. Van Dyk, an insurance executive  sits on the BPAC Board.  His father is co-executive director of Sound of Music Festival.  Fox has been working on that connection and trying to work with them.  she hopes that something can happen happen in 2019.

Ilene Elkaim BPAC

Ilene Elkaim, vice chair, then chair then vice chair again – the other part of the BPAC Board tag team.

Rick Burgess 2

Rick Burgess – Chair – then vice chair and chair again – part of a BPAC Board tag team.

A number of people wonder why the Chairmanship of the BPAC Board looks a little like a wrestling tag team with Rick Burgess and Ilene Elkaim taking turns at the head of the Board room table.

The theatre is operated as a separate legal entity; the building is owned by the city and the city has representation on the Board.  The organization doesn’t hold annual public meetings – the Art Gallery does – if you look hard enough you will find financial statement.  Use  https://burlingtonpac.ca/annual-reports/

Could some of the incredibly good work that comes out of the Hamilton Fringe be imported to Burlington ?

Running a “performing theatre” is a challenge; the operation is not a production theatre. The city pumps more than half a million dollars into the Centre and adds a small amount to the ticket price for the capital fund needed to keep the facility modern.

The search for funding sources, looking at what the federal and provincial governments can provide is part of the Executive Director’s job. Provincial funds are likely to be smaller with the Ford government in place.

There was a time when the theatre was dark far too often.  Fox reports they “We are only dark for seven days during the Festive Season. It will be even less than that in 2019.

The Festival of Trees which runs from November 23rd to December  20th gets people into the building which has one of the biggest bars in the city.

Fox adds that “We had quite a bit of use last summer. Student Theatre is in the venue for the entire month of July.  In August BPAC presents the free Jazz on the Plaza series, and this year Lights Up! Theatre Co sold out a run of Run For Your Wife. Next August we will be extending that with a community theatre festival.

The concerns city council used to have are far less then they were three years ago.

Fox works with what she has to keep most of the people happy. One thing that did stun us was that Fox wasn’t aware of Hamilton’s James Street Crawl.

BPAC at night

Now in its eighth year of operation under four Executive Directors – is the public getting value for the $500,000 plus annual subsidy?

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1 comment to Tammy Fox – is creating part of the cultural diet for the city – some broccoli included.

  • Carol Victor

    Why doesn’t the Performing Arts Centre hire a band for New Year’s Eve and put on a party for all of us who go out to dinner on this occasion and would enjoy some entertainment and dancing to usher in the New Year? Seems like a no-brainer to me, yet I have been asking about this for the past 3-4 years to no avail…. holding off for private events has not always materialized as the place has often been in darkness on New Year’s Eve.