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Q+A: Welcome to Calgary, Stafford Arima


Acclaimed Broadway director Stafford Arima became Theatre Calgary’s new artistic director on April 3, 2017. (Photo by Abigail Alcala.)

In April 2017, Theatre Calgary welcomed a new artistic director into their ranks—acclaimed Broadway director Stafford Arima. Originally from Toronto, Arima flourished as a director both in New York and abroad for the past two decades, with credits like Allegiance, Ragtime, Altar Boyz and Carrie under his belt. Arima has returned home to Canada just in time to oversee Theatre Calgary’s 50th season.

Although he’s still pretty new to Calgary, Arima is no stranger to city living. Six months into his new role, we caught up with Arima to see how he’s settling in here, why he left New York for Calgary and where to go for the best Alberta beef in town.

What surprised you the most about Calgary when you moved here?
Calgary feels very defined and proud of itself. The Canadian way is usually to be apologetic, but I think there’s a kind of exuberant, unabashed pride here in who we are, as Canadians and as Calgarians. Calgary owns its unique identity and it doesn’t apologize for who it is.

What is your favourite thing about the city so far?
There is a peace in this city that I feel is connected to being this close to the mountains. Calgary has an almost spiritual zen at times, and then, during say, the Stampede, there is a kind of tsunami of energy and joy. That polarization of this city is what really attracts me to it, because New York is always at tsunami levels, and I love that this city has figured out a balance.

Where has been your favourite place to dine out in Calgary so far?
Alberta prime beef is, I’m going to say, the best I’ve ever had—better than any New York steakhouse. Hy’s Steakhouse has been really terrific. I’ve also had, surprisingly, some really great sushi here. Zipang and Roku are both quite good and worth checking out.

What sights would you insist visitors to Calgary check out?
I don’t think we’re known here as the “arts city” yet, but having lived in New York and Toronto, that both have very exciting arts communities, I challenge anyone to come here to Calgary and not feel that there is a very strong arts presence here. Come to Calgary, and in addition to all the other great things you can see—like the Tower, the mountains, the Stampede—check out the arts, because our local arts scene is something worth discovering.

Where do you go to get inspired to create your art?
In the mountains. It doesn’t matter where. For me it’s a brand new experience. The concrete jungle I’m used to has very little natural aura, so I find the mountains to be very inspiring. Or, to be honest, I’d say our theatre, the Max Bell. A lot that has happened in that theatre. The walls and the seats and the stage hold the DNA and the hair particles of a lot of people, a lot of history.

Where do you hang out in your down time in Calgary?
Inglewood. It’s very individual, and it has a variety of shopping that is quite eclectic. Recordland is a favourite. I’ve also been hanging out at the Crossroads Farmers’ Market and the Calgary Farmers’ Market. I do love to cook and I love to eat, so discovering the farmers’ market scene here has been a treat. It’s the Dorothy mentality—everything here is new to me!

When you aren’t busy putting together shows at Theatre Calgary, where do you go to catch some great local theatre?
I’m very excited about Storybook right now, because what I saw on that stage when I went to go see West Side Story was young people who have a passion for the arts. And those youth are the ones who are going to become the next director, actor, designer, writer—and if not any of those, the next audience member. Those young people are our future, so I believe in nurturing their productions, so that we can work to grow a city that appreciates and takes care of its arts.

What excites you the most about Calgary’s theatre scene?
What is exciting about Calgary is that the theatre is located not just in one area. It’s not like Broadway or off-Broadway. You can see something amazing in the downtown core, and then you can drive 20 minutes and see an exciting new piece right across from an Arby’s. In this city, because it’s a car town, theatre seems to be more of a destination. It’s intentional, that you drive 15 or 20 minutes to see the show. Arts Commons is self-contained because that’s just the way this building is, but that doesn’t mean the arts only exist here between 9th and Macleod. It exists everywhere.

For more engaging insights from Stafford Arima, and a look at his new role at Theatre Calgary, pick up our November/December 2017 print issue on stands now, or browse our online edition here.

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