It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of Majdi Bou-Matar, necessity seems also to have sown the seeds of success.
The Lebanese immigrant was a theatre professional back home in Beirut but when he moved to Canada with his wife (she attended the University of Waterloo) and child, Bou-Matar was faced with doing the jobs usually reserved for the “starving artist” (he would work in factories and at retail jobs) or taking matters into his own hands.
He chose the latter.
“In 2004, the idea came to create a space for immigrant professionals to establish a career in the practice of their own art and, at the same time, play a part in shaping the contemporary Canadian culture,” Bou-Matar explains.
Thus was born the MT Space, a multi-cultural theatre company that welcomes professional artists from around the world who immigrated to Canada for family-related reasons (like Bou-Matar) or who were perhaps fleeing a wartorn area. Whatever brings these professionals to Canada, the MT Space provides the venue for them to continue practicing their craft.
Seven years after Bou-Matar’s idea was born, it’s hard to argue with its success. If the MT Space was merely filling a void in its early years, the Impact 09 festival was the launching pad to its maturity as a theatre company.
“In my wildest dreams, I didn’t imagine that within five years (of our opening) we would have been hosting an international theatre festival and touring across the country,” Bou-Matar recalls. “But I understand that growth as a response to the need that was there. It was about responding to a specific gap, or an empty space, if you will.”
The 10-day festival in 2009 brought works from China, Persia, Africa and Colombia to Waterloo Region. It also featured one of Bou-Matar’s original works, “The Last 15 Seconds.” The play, about a Syrian-American film-maker and the imagined interaction between him and the suicide bomber whose blast killed them both, has met with its share of critical success. In the past year, “The Last 15 Seconds” has toured extensively in Canada and the Middle East.
Bou-Matar and the MT Space are now preparing for Impact 11, the line-up for which will be unveiled later today. Yet in a story not at all unfamiliar in the often under-appreciated arts and culture sector, Impact 11 was as close to not happening as it is now to being shared for a second time.
Federal government grant money, announced two weeks ago, was critical in ensuring the survival of the festival. In fact, according to Bou-Matar, the funding was part of the balance between doing or not doing the festival at all.
“If that grant did not come through, it would have been very, very difficult to do the festival,” Bou-Matar concedes. “We were seriously studying the option of cancelling the festival if the funding from the department of Canadian Heritage did not come through.”
With that funding now secured, Impact 11 will happen. Bou-Matar says it’s the latest step in growing the biennial festival “so that it becomes one of the most prominent festivals not just in Canada, but in the world.”
The challenge of meeting that goal is one that Bou-Matar seems to relish. Despite several strong theatre companies at work in the region, the enthusiastic Bou-Matar believes there’s still room for more. It’s also a sector he believes this community will support.
At a news conference later today (4:30 PM at the Walper Terrace Hotel), the MT Space will host representatives from the federal and provincial governments. Kitchener-Centre MP Stephen Woodworth will be present to provide details on the previously announced Heritage Canada funding. Kitchener-Centre MPP John Milloy will also bring “great news,” according to Bou-Matar.
And then there’s the appeal to you.
“We’re working with local experts and launching a new kind of fundraising initiative to try and match the public funding we’re getting,” Bou-Matar says.
This appeal will look to individuals and businesses to demonstrate their support of what the MT Space has been doing for the past seven years.
And, really, without that support, how can we continue to be enriched by the perspectives these other cultures have brought to our own community?