Fire Exit Theatre strives to produce excellent, innovative art that unlocks the soul of its audience and builds:
- A vibrant, meaningful community engaged in a dialogue about faith, and
- A satisfying creative experience for developed and developing artists.
- Hope - Art, at its foundation, should provide hope. Art can and should reflect the darkness of the world, but we refuse to live in that darkness.
- Challenge - We seek to challenge people wherever they are on their faith journey; to re-examine their traditions, their prejudices, and their preconceived ideas.
- Change - Art should generate change and should not simply be entertainment that is consumed and forgotten.
- Craft - There is power is doing something well. We strive for excellence in all of our endeavours.
- Radical Hospitality - We want people to feel like they are welcome and that they belong.
- Integrity - We will be honest, consistent, fair and just in all of our practices; creative, financial, personal and organizational.
- Generosity – We will operate from a place of “open hands”; holding loosely to our resources and our expertise for the greater good of our community.
A Message from the Artistic Director
A thousand years ago Prince Vladimir the Great, the pagan monarch of Kiev, was looking for a new religion to unify the Russian people. Toward this end the Prince sent out envoys to investigate the great faiths from the neighboring realms. When the delegations returned, they gave the Prince their reports. Some had discovered religions that were sober and bleak. Others found faiths that were abstract and theoretical. But the envoys that investigated Christianity in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople reported finding a faith characterized by such transcendent beauty that they did not know if they were in heaven or on earth.
They reportedly said…
Then we went to Constantinople and they led us to the place where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or earth, for on earth there is no such thing vision nor beauty, and we do not know how to describe it; we only know that God dwells among men. We cannot forget that beauty!
Upon receiving that report of the unearthly beauty they had witnessed in Christian worship, Prince Vladimir adopted Christianity as the new faith for the Russian people. What impressed the envoys and persuaded the Prince to embrace Christianity was not its apologetics or ethics, but it's aesthetics – its beauty. We might say that it was beauty that brought salvation to the Russian people.
Nine hundred years later the great Russian writer, Dostoevsky (duh sto yesky) coined the expression – Beauty Will Save The World.
I rarely go into a place of worship in Canada and am struck by unearthly beauty. The average church is now a brown or beige or taupe box. They are almost completely utilitarian, practical. Its usefulness is measured by seats in the sanctuary, multi-purpose rooms and parking stalls. Rarely are resources designated to make it pretty, let alone beautiful. I understand the reasoning. For an organization that runs on donations it is becoming increasingly difficult to ask people to give to make someone beautiful when there aren’t enough spots in the parking lot, or Sunday School rooms for their kids or space for the food bank.
I’m not sure what changed, though. Because there was a time when the best of the best craftsmen, musicians, stained glass artists, and poets all wanted to work at the church – the cathedral that was, not just the center of town, but the center of culture. And during this time, I imagine there was still people living in poverty, going hungry, needing education…and yet those who could, still felt the need to give towards beauty.
I have spent most of my adult life thinking about what art is and more recently what beauty is.
Art like beauty, is useless. There is no practical use for either. For the pragmatist, what’s the point? When bumped up next to the economic crisis, mental health issues, natural disasters and the #MeToo Movement, art seems fairly inconsequential. And then I stop and look at all of these, and many more, realities of our world I begin to think that maybe, just maybe, art matters more than ever. That we shouldn’t be making art in spite of this, but because of this. Art and beauty just might be what the world actually needs right now.
But what is art?
I don’t think that art is some sort of tool to make people feel better about themselves. It is not a soothing distraction…it is a challenging call. It is not a time to “turn off your brain”, but rather to fully engage. You’ll often hear me say at the beginning of a show to not sit back and enjoy but to lean in and enjoy. Participate. Pay attention. You see art is often used to simply ‘fill the space’ – muzak in elevators to prevent you from making small talk with a stranger and an instrumental number while the offering plate is being passed to distract you from letting go of your money. I want art to help you talk to strangers and to give your money away. – More on that later…
What is art for anyway? I’m not sure it’s “for” anything. It’s useless, except as a vehicle for beauty. They are connected. We are driven to art as a natural response to the cosmos. We make things to express ineffable emotions – when we see a sunset or watch a child being born or see a humpback breach. Every generation since the beginning of time has created art to make sense of the world. From the senseless of nature – The Grand Canyon; to the senseless of war - 30 million dying in wars since WW II. No one can logically, mathematically, sensibly, in a linear fashion, makes sense of either of these.
Author Madeline L’Engle said -
“Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.”
We create to make sense.
The very first descriptor we get of God is that He is a Creator – In the beginning God created…first five words of the bible. He didn’t introduce himself to us as a king, as the messiah, or even a savior, but as a creator.
There are few things that convince me that not only there is a God but that He is an artist, more than nature – animals, in particular.
Two million species. Hedgehogs, duck-billed platypus, Mexican walking fish, camels, Tasmanian Devils, Zebra’s, road runners, wombats, teddy bear hamsters, hummingbirds and armadillos. Seriously?! Basically, this is just God just showing off!
We don’t need all these animals.
We did not need to be able to experience taste.
We did not need to be able to see in colour (they say the human eye can distinguish around a million colours)– this is not pivotal to our survival as a species.
Why did He do this?
He’s an artist. He loves beauty.
Annie Dillard says, “We are here to witness the creation and to abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.”
So, will beauty or art save the world? I’m not sure, but I do believe they will make our world worth saving.
That is why we create. Not simply to put another benign, “safe” story out into the world that is full of entertainment and empty of purpose. We create to nudge people toward wholeness, toward true community, toward a Creator. We create because we were created and we are compelled to bear witness to one another.
We create because for many of us, it is our calling and really all we know how to do.
For an organization that depends donations it is becoming increasingly difficult to ask people to give to make someone beautiful. But it is what we are asking you tonight.
It is because of people like you, some who have been with us from the beginning, that we keep creating. You continually convince us to keep going, keep dreaming, keep planning and keep telling stories that matter.
You keep showing up. And we are grateful.
Our hope for you tonight is that you will also keep creating.
Creating a life full of wonder.
Creating time to hear still small voices.
Creating memories that are worth everything.
Creating relationships that last a lifetime.
Let’s make art and beauty and memories this season.
Susan Erion – President
Susan works for the City of Calgary in the area of Affordable Housing. She has been a fan of Fire Exit Theatre for many years and is passionate about its mission. She has experience serving on other faith-based board of directors and has also worked in the Calgary music community for a not-for-profit organization. She volunteers with the Centre Street Choir enjoys playing the piano and is currently taking cello lessons as her next musical outlet. Susan believes that the fine arts are what define the legacy of each culture and generation (next to Biblical beliefs, of course) and wants to share what Fire Exit is doing in Calgary.
Michael Wing – Treasurer
Michael is passionate about the local arts and culture scene, from theatre to film, live music, festivals and everything in between. He currently works in strategy and corporate development, and has over 15 years of experience in the financial and energy sectors. Michael also enjoys volunteering with other organizations around the city including Commons Church (where he met his wife, Christi), Calgary International Film Festival, and the local community association.
Shannon Gugyel – Chaplain
Shannon’s claim to fame is she is Frank’s wife. She is passionate about spiritual care, currently working at Alberta Bible College as Student Development Chaplain, and volunteering with Calgary Police Service as District Chaplain. She is a licensed minister and is completing her Master of Arts Counselling Psychology degree, integrating spirituality and psychology to provide holistic support for the community.
Glen Hoare – Director at Large
Glen has discovered a new passion in providing behind the scenes support for the arts community in Calgary through Fire Exit Theatre. A graduate of Canadian Bible College with a Bachelor of Religious Education in 2000, he currently works with the Government of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Glen volunteers his time and talents in a variety of avenues recently including set construction for "Absence".
Joy Robinson – Director at Large
Joy is passionate about spreading hope by way of the arts, whether through spoken word or song. She is a Newfoundland-born, Calgary-based artist performing as an actor and most recently as a singer/songwriter. She has performed on stage as an actor with Fire Exit Theatre and off stage in an Assistant Stage Manager role and is now delighted to sit on the company's board. When Joy isn't creating or performing, she can be found at Centre Street Church where she has worked for the last four years as a worship leader and assistant to worship and live video departments.
Brenda Jonsson – Director at Large
As a child, Brenda dreamed of acting in, directing and producing Nancy Drew movies. But she ended up pursuing, instead of theatre arts, the practical field of business (of all things)! God, in His wisdom, has used that to enable Brenda to become a patron of the arts, including theatre, ballet, opera and symphony. After a two year hiatus, Brenda rejoined the Board and is glad to once again know what goes on behind the scenes at Fire Exit. Brenda considers herself an avid supporter of the arts and Fire Exit Theatre in particular, is near and dear to her heart.
Michael Heaney – Director at Large
Michael grew up in Montreal where, as a high schooler, he fell in love with drama, public speaking and debating. He acted in several plays, won an award in public speaking, and debated both sides of some issues of the day in the 60s. When his family moved West, it was time to look at an alternate reality. He became an accountant after graduating from the UoA. Michael has two adult sons, and is now retired after spending most of his career in oil and gas. Michael has been an Inglewoodian for over 15 years where he spends much of his time volunteering. He has been on several n-f-p boards as bookkeeper and/or treasurer, and, when he found out Fire Exit was looking for a new Treasurer, he jumped at the chance!
Shelia Bettin – Secretary
Sheila is a graduate of the College of New Caledonia’s Legal Secretarial Program and has had many years of administrative experience with various companies and educational institutions in Alberta and BC. She currently works with Calgary Christian School on their Elementary Campus and volunteers with Inn From The Cold as the Lead Dinner Coordinator and is part of a worship team with Centre Street Church. Sheila has been married for 32 years and is a mother to two adult children. Her favourite activities include attending theatre and music performances with family and friends.
Val Lieske – Managing Artistic Director
Val is the founder and Artistic Director of Fire Exit Theatre as well the Director of Theatre Arts with Centre Street Church, instructor with Alberta Bible College and the Associate Director of the Theatre Program at Ambrose Univeristy. She has a BA in Theatre & Speech from Trinity Guild University (UK) and has worked with numerous churches and theatre companies. Val also works as a freelance, writer, educator, performer, and public speaker. Her writing credits include DUTY TO WARN, COFFEE TALK, GOD’S ATTENTION, BRUISED NOT BROKEN, PAST TENSE, FLESH & BONES and ABSENCE winner of 2006 CAT Best Original Script. Directing credits include THE DISEASED VIGNETTE’S, BIBLE LIBEL, WRAPPINGS, INSIDE GALILEE, and Neil Simon’s GOD’S FAVORITE. This season she’ll be directing NATIVITY IN THE CITY. Her book CROSSROADS CAFÉ enjoyed some time on the Calgary Herald’s best-seller list.
Colin Lowe – Technical Director
Colin Lowe has been part of the Calgary Arts and Performance community for over 12 years, it is both profession and a personal passion. He graduated from the Cinema, Television, Stage and Radio program at SAIT in 2001, and immediately immersed himself in film and theatre. Colin has worked as a film and video editor, media relations director, sound designer (both film and theatrical), lighting designer, stage manager, tech operator, technical coordinator, technical director, instrumental musician, vocalist, actor, choral and orchestral director, and musical composer and arranger. This will be the 4th season of Fire Exit that Colin has been involved with since 2005; Fire Exit design credits include Under A Bridge, Along A River, Halo, and Craving. Colin is thrilled to be able to return to Fire Exit Theatre in a professional capacity and looks forward to what is in store for it's patrons, and new theatre-goers alike.