Howard R. Jang, executive director of the Arts Club, Vancouver's largest theatre company, has announced he will leave his post after 14 years. Mr. Jang will depart at the end of June for a new position as director of the SFU Woodward's Cultural Unit and will also teach a class in the university's contemporary arts program. In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, Mr. Jang discussed his favourite and least favourite productions, as well as the financial stability the theatre company found under his watch.
Is it tough to leave the Arts Club after 14 years?
Oh gosh, yeah. But there's clearly something that I'm moving toward. And I think this is something that's extremely exciting for the Arts Club, given where we're at right now. And where we're at, I think, is we are one of the strongest companies in Canada in terms of stability and financial position.
Which Arts Club production was your favourite?
We actually play this game at the Arts Club. We always ask an outgoing person, "What's your favourite and what's your least favourite?" There's one in particular that goes back to my early years when we did a Timothy Findley play and it was – sorry, I'm getting emotional as I think about it. It was the first time that I really saw the chance to engage a community. When we did the play [Elizabeth Rex] Timothy Findley actually came out for it. It had the sense of what theatre can do. For some reason everything about it just clicked for me personally. I've been trying to replicate that feeling ever since, just making that intrinsic connection.
You said you always ask an outgoing person for their least favourite production. What was yours?
[Laughs] I knew I opened myself up for that one! There's actually one play that we have a standing rule, that we don't ever actually name. It was kind of a disaster. But what it did do for us, interestingly, was we said, "You know what? We don't do new plays very well. We've got to figure out how to do it." And from that moment on we began to truly invest in our new play development program. It brought forward a deeper strategy in developing new plays. We created a literary manager position right after that to say, "We're doing this wrong, how do we do it right?" And so that play – which can't be named – actually resulted in the success we experience today with developing new playwrights, new work, new voices, new artists. It really was the impetus for all of that.
What other accomplishments would you point to?
One of the big accomplishments was reopening the Revue Stage [on Granville Island] and using it as an incubator stage to develop new plays. My role is really on the business side of it. When we opened the Stanley Theatre we still had a $2-million mortgage that was a real albatross around our neck and so getting rid of that in a really tough environment was an amazing feat. And that led us to some decisions that were game-changers for us. We took control of our own box office and database – up until that point we were with Ticketmaster and it was just a disaster. When we brought in our own integrated ticketing and database system in 2006-07 it was a game-changer for us. It allowed us to control our information, know our information, really have an understanding of history with our community, and we began to develop stronger relationships from that.
When will your successor be named? Will there be a shift in vision?
There might be a shift in focus that will strengthen the Arts Club, maybe a different skill set than what I'm bringing right now. The board will embark upon a national search, and the timing of that will be revealed soon. [Bill Millerd, who has been artistic managing director for the Arts Club since 1972, remains with the theatre company.]
This interview has been edited and condensed.