Ian Maclennan is justifiably proud of the changes he has seen in Thorneloe University’s theatre program.
Thorneloe professor retiring this spring
By Judi Straughan
What an actor, director and theatre professor chooses for their final curtain production is telling. Ian Maclennan, Thorneloe University’s registrar and former chair of the theatre department, is about to take his final bow after 21 years and his choice of swan song is perfect.
Maclennan has been a quiet but significant force on the local theatre scene for over two decades nurturing students while creating a vision for a burgeoning theatre department at Thorneloe.
“When I came to Thorneloe in 1997, the department was very small and in need of development and growth,” says Maclennan, who is justifiably proud that he leaves a much larger department with a wide range of degree offerings.
The number of staff and their qualifications are impressive. Significant changes have led to a re-branding; it’s now the department of theatre and motion picture arts.
The experiences and opportunities Maclennan has offered his students and this community are standing-ovation worthy.
Because there was no physical theatre space when he arrived in 1997, he staged his first play Everyman at the Church of the Epiphany. He took the show on the road to North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, a true learning experience for young actors.
Over the next two decades, his students would travel with productions to Asia and Europe.
“People used to laugh and say, if you want to see the world, take Thorneloe theatre.”
Maclennan is also justifiably proud of many productions.
“In 2000, we took The Glass Menagerie to Quonta, our very first time participating.”
Quonta provides a spring theatre festival in Northern Ontario where several groups compete for honours and are both publicly and privately adjudicated.
“In 2010, I did Shakespeare’s R &J, a play by Joe Calarco which focuses on four male students at a Catholic boarding school. The cast was strong and the production daring.”
One of the highly creative features was a 12-foot piece of red fabric that was used as the main prop as well as suggesting various costumes throughout. The effect was stunning. Working alongside Maclennan was Jenny Hazelton, his former student and current department colleague.
“Working with Jenny all these years has been wonderful. She’s incredibly talented and has been a great support for me,” says Maclennan.
The 2015 production of Drag Queens on Trial was cutting edge for Sudbury at the time.
The play dealt with a variety of LGBTQ issues and was ahead of its time, resulting in many queer-positive and friendly reactions.
“I like to do theatre that challenges and Drag Queens did just that,” says Maclennan.
The Squaddies Shrew, Maclennan’s own adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, played in Tasmania, Australia, in 2006 and has a 2018 Philippine debut with the Asian Shakespeare Association.
Maclennan has been very active with Global Shakespeare, teaching, leading workshops and directing. Locally, Maclennan has performed with Cambrian College’s Black Dog Productions and at the Sudbury Theatre Centre as well as Hawthorne Theatre.
As he looks about his office, he muses about legacy.
“Do what you love, not what you think you should do. That’s the advice I would give to my 21-year-old self and to any student who walks through my door today. When I’m gone, I’ll miss the students. They helped keep me young and on my toes. But I won’t miss the marking (or) the constant grading. I’m just tired of it.”
And his swan song? In true Maclennan fashion, it’s a Shakespeare and a Scottish play ─ after all he’s a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, a society that is interested in “every aspect of the human past in Scotland.”
Yes, he’s doing Macbeth, but don’t ask him to say the M word, considered bad luck in the theatre world.
“I’m doing it post-apocalyptic, taking the cue from the beginning of the play where war has devastated the land. It’ll be anything but traditional even though all of the language will be directly from the play.”
The visual concept will be entrusted to Bob Ivey, scenic designer at Cambrian College while one of Maclennan’s former students, R.J. Comeau, a Toronto fight director, will join Maclennan to ensure the fighting is authentic.
As Maclennan prepares for his move to Victoria, B.C., he has a theatre gig in Manila followed by Laurentian’s spring convocation where he says, “I’ll be graduating with some of my students.”
If Maclennan’s life were a play, retirement is sure to be one of the best acts of all: some teaching in Asia, perhaps something in India and, word has it, Victoria is ready to pounce on his presence in the community.
Say your good-byes to Ian Maclennan at his version of The Scottish Play March 16-18 and 22-24 at Thorneloe. No kilts required.