Spotlight Series aims for shows which are unique, world-class, and artistically exciting

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Thursday, September 19 2019

The Port Theatre’s Spotlight Series will begin on September 29, with a performance from Ofra Harnoy, a five-time Juno Award winner and one of canada’s most celebrated cellists.

Bruce Halliday, General Manager of the Port Theatre, is clearly excited to see this year’s season begin.

“The goal of the Spotlight Series is to bring exciting excellent artists that would not come to Nanaimo if we didn’t present them.

“Particularly in that most of the shows are either lesser known or are challenging to bring to a smaller community.”

Every now and then, he says, there is an artist - such as Roseanne Cash, who will be at the Port on October 1 - who is known to play the larger venues.

But this year, Halliday says, there are a number of shows this year that are particularly exciting for him.

Les Ballets Trockadero De Monte Carlo are the first performance he mentions. An all male ballet company from Monte Carlo, the group has been touring for 40 years.

Halliday says, “just to put a perspective on it, this particular tour will include Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Nanaimo.

“That’s what the Spotlight Series tries to do.”

Getting those shows to the Port Theatre is a performance unto it’s own.

Sometimes Halliday and his staff are able to get performances booked early as artists start to plan out their tours.

Such was the case with Ofra Harnoy. Halliday said, “this is one of Canada’s greatest cellists and classical musicians ever. She’s been out of the picture for almost eight years. I’ve loved her work for many many years, and she’s making a comeback.

“So the moment I heard that she was going back on tour, I reached out to her agent and so I was one of the early people to book her on what is now a national and international tour.”

He said the performance  will make the most of the natural acoustics of the Port Theatre.

Halliday says when the performances are chosen, they not only have to be artistically excellent, they need to be interesting, and relevant to the content of diversity of Canada.

“I’d like to think of Spotlight as a mosaic of what it means to be Canadian.”

Sometimes, booking a performance starts with a partnership with other organizations to develop a show.

Halliday said the Port has been working with the Northern Arts and Culture Centre (NACC) in Yellowknife and a group called Les 7 Doigts de la main - who are partners with two Inuit companies - Artcirq, and Taqqut Productions

Together, the three companies have created a show entitled, “Unikkaaqtuat, A Tribute To The Inuit Tale,” which will be at the Port Theatre on January 20, 2020. A cast of three Inuit musicians, four Inuit circus artists, and four Montreal-based circus artists will partner on stage, supported by a team of similarly diverse designers and technicians, all driven by this uniting goal.

Halliday said, “so this is booking a show that hadn’t been produced yet. This project couldn’t have happened without the NACC initiating it, but the tour couldn’t happen if we didn’t pick it up early.

“The Spotlight Series is really about taking people on a little journey that they may not be able to do, without leaving town.

“These are adventures, as well as a bit of a risk. You might not know the artist, you might not understand. 

“But the brand of the series is really to trust this is artistically excellent. These are things that would stand out anywhere in the world.

“And we get to see them here in Nanaimo in the Port Theatre.”

In the 17 years the Port has been running the Spotlight Series, there has been a change in what is brought into the Series.

Halliday says the demographics in the Nanaimo are are changing quickly - with a lot of new people moving in.

Expectations are changing, they might want to see things that they might see in New York.

“Every year is a different opportunity.”

Booking some shows also means patience - sometimes Halliday has to wait for many years.

“There are shows I might want to bring, but the artist is touring Europe that year.”

One such show will be a special Canadian Premiere presentation of Frankenstein by Manual Cinema on March 8, 2020.

This is the story of Frankenstein, told through what Halliday calls a multi-media extravaganza.

The show features a live orchestra, live actors, in live performance, but also combining handmade shadow puppetry, cinematic techniques, and innovative sound and live music to create immersive visual stories for stage and screen. 

Halliday said whenever they are looking at a show for the Port Theatre, the first question to ask is can the Port handle it. Can it fit? Can the technical abilities of the building handle what is required?

“We push the limits on that. The negotiation is we can do it, and the company has to have faith in us.

“So part of this is building a reputation with all the national promoters.

“When we call New York, they can see what we’ve done, they know what we’ve done. They’ve gotten to know us, and they trust if we say we can do it then we can do it.”

Seasonal favourites are making their return as well. Whether it’s the Christmas splendor of Winter Harp; guitar luminaries from around the world at International Guitar Night; or coffee and chamber music on select Tuesday and Thursday mornings with the Classical Coffee Concert Series. Or enjoy a glass of wine and some jazz with the cabaret style of the OFFstage Jazz Series on select Tuesday evenings.

And every performance ends in time for Gabriolans to catch the ferry home. Showtimes vary from performance to performance, all the details are available at