Annual Fund Letter

Photo of Matthew by Sergey Gavrishkvish

Our thanks to playwright Matthew MacKenzie who wrote this year’s Annual Fund Letter.

Dear Belfry Volunteer,

Visits to my grandparents Nikki and Bruce MacKenzie in Victoria always involved walks along the beach, stopping in at farmer-markets and attending what was playing at the Belfry. After these performances, my grandparents would engage me in conversations about what we’d seen. It was clear that they saw theatre as something worth attending, something worth supporting. While my grandparents had strong opinions on a myriad of subjects, they were constantly seeking out different perspectives from their own. The conversations I had with my grandparents after attending Belfry performances, helped shape me as an artist.

“I’m proud of my grandparents for their vision to make a transformative gift to a company that they had championed for decades.”

Making a go of it as a playwright is challenging, to put it mildly. But my grandparents were always extremely supportive, making me feel that no matter how bonkers the life of a would-be playwright was, a career in the theatre was a worthy pursuit. Every couple of months I would receive a letter with a program from a Belfry production, or with a review of a Belfry show. My grandparents would let me know what they’d enjoyed and would identify any artists that had caught their interest. I, in turn, would send programs and reviews of my own shows that were going up, in the hopes of impressing my grandparents. Memorably, I got a great review for one of my shows from the New York Times, to which my grandparents responded, “Have you pitched the show out here?” It was clear that no amount of success would match having a show up at the Belfry.

Nikki & Bruce MacKenzie, June 2014 / Photo by Jo-Ann Richards, Works Photography

So needless to say, I was over the moon when it was announced my play Bears would be playing at the Belfry. Unfortunately, my grandpa Bruce had passed a year before the announcement, predeceased by my grandma Nikki two years before that. But regardless, I was very excited to be having a play going up at the theatre my grandparents had loved so much.

When my team and I touched down in Victoria, we found the staff at the Belfry incredibly welcoming. Before even arriving, Ivan Habel had gone to bat for the emerging Indigenous artists in our cast, by changing the actors union’s position of fining our dancers for not joining it. After getting a tour of the theatre, where for the first time I saw the new atrium in the lobby that holds my grandparents’ names, Michael Shamata greeted everyone—remembering the names of all fifteen members of our team, even though he had just been introduced to most of them. The only thing that topped the first rate hospitality of the staff was the Belfry audiences themselves, who came out to Bears in droves. Audiences engaged our team in conversations about the play at the Fernwood Inn, on beaches, in parks and even in public washrooms on a couple of occasions.

Sheldon Elter and Company (Shammy Belmore, Karina Cox, Skye Demas, Lara Ebata, Zoë Glassman, Kendra Shorter and Gianna Vacirca) in Bears (by Matthew MacKenzie) / Photo by Alexis McKeown

Artists I had spoken to across the country had described wonderful experiences working at the Belfry and our team very much experienced this magic. Many who attend the Belfry seem well aware of the theatre being one of the cultural jewels of the city, but after touring a few plays in the past couple of years nationally, I believe the Belfry to be one of the cultural treasures of the country. Its commitment to top Canadian programming, to meaningfully engaging with Indigenous artists and Indigenous-run theatre companies and to taking real risks with the plays it programs, makes the Belfry incredibly unique. That all of these undertakings are done to such successful effect, makes it clear to me why my grandparents were so passionate about the Belfry.

With the pandemic having shut down theatres for over a year, many companies are struggling. We must rally to support companies like the Belfry, which are critical to the health of our national theatre ecology. I’m proud of my grandparents for their vision to make a transformative gift to a company that they had championed for decades. They didn’t see this gift as charity, but as a way of investing in a community and the cultural health of a country that they loved deeply. Since that time, my father and his siblings collaborate each year to maintain the MacKenzie tradition of contributing to the Belfry. My hope is that you too recognize the jewel that is the Belfry and will give generously to the company at this most critical time.

Matthew MacKenzie – Playwright