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Jan. 28, 2020 | Tuesday
Editorials and Opinions
Shaw Talk: With artistic director Tim Carroll
Shaw Festival artistic director Tim Carroll. (David Cooper/Supplied)

People often say to me, “How on earth do you ever get any time away?”

Well, by way of answer, I am writing this sitting on the balcony of a chalet overlooking the Alps in Verbier, Switzerland. Before you write in with your expressions of concern, fear not: I have a cold beer in my hand to help me cope.

How did this come about? And how can I be ditching my company at the height of the season? Well, the first is easy to answer: I have been a teacher at the Verbier Festival for each of the last 10 years.

I give public masterclasses in which I teach opera singers how to act. It’s a fun gig and not too stressful: I teach for three hours a day and spend the rest of the time walking in the mountains and swimming in glacial lakes. It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it.

The answer to the second question – how can I go away now – is perhaps more surprising. When I arrived at the Shaw Festival, one of the pearls of wisdom Jackie Maxwell gave me was the notion that July was actually a pretty good time to sneak away for a week.

“Everyone thinks that you will have more time once the season closes, but, in fact, that is when everything that is behind schedule for the next season comes crashing in and you really have to be at your desk.”

So, that is how I come to have the time to contemplate the beauty of nature in Switzerland. The actors, who are all working their backsides off doing eight shows a week, spent the last few days before I went away trying their best to look pleased for me.

I did my bit by only showing them a few pictures of where I was going to be spending this week.

Of course, no one really begrudges anyone time off; we all know that no one performs to their highest standard when they are exhausted.

That is why it is so important for me to walk and think in the mountains; and that is why we have tried, since I got to Niagara, to find more breathing spaces for the performers.

It is a strange anomaly that, as the rest of the world begins to see the value of the three-day weekend – companies that give their employees the extra day off more or less universally report higher productivity – we are still struggling to find the odd two-day weekend for our stage teams.

I’ve always believed in at least a two-day weekend as something that makes a real life possible; whenever I have been able to make it happen, I have rehearsed that way, for the sake of everyone’s sanity. A day to get one’s personal admin done and then a day to rest.

Here at the Shaw our performers and stage crews are lucky if they get one such weekend every month. I’d love to change this, but the relentless logic of the box office makes it difficult.

Nonetheless, we hope to look at this more as time goes on, to see if we can at least make sure that no one goes too long without two days off. We see it in their faces when they return: it’s as though they’ve had a week in the Swiss Alps.

Too soon?