Banff Centre is transformation through creative risk.
For Marcus Youssef, creating a work of theatre is anything but easy. And that’s exactly the way he likes it because Marcus believes that for a play to be truly new and meaningful it has to take risks. It has to venture into uncharted territory – territory that society is often afraid to go. And Marcus has made a career out of doing just that.
As longtime artistic director of Vancouver’s Neworld Theatre, Marcus has written and performed in a huge array of productions, amassing plenty of awards for them along the way, including the prestigious Siminovitch Prize in Theatre. While typically comedic in nature, they also raise serious questions about otherness and the differences – both real and perceived – between people and cultures. One of his most recent works that does so is King Arthur’s Night, a play he co-wrote with Niall McNeil – a longtime friend with Down syndrome. In fact, much of the cast is mixed ability, featuring actors from the Down Syndrome Research Foundation in Burnaby, BC. It also features a live band and a sixteen-person choir. The result is a powerful commentary on isolation and inclusion that completely reimagines King Arthur’s tale. Unsurprisingly, everything from writing to rehearsing it required an extraordinary commitment to transformation and is one of the few Canadian theatre productions to feature an entirely mixed company of neuro-divergent and neuro-typical creators and performers.
That’s why Banff Centre has become an integral part of Marcus’ creative process -- it provides him and other artists with something incredibly rare - not just the freedom to take risks, but the encouragement and resources to do so. Over the past decade, Marcus has kept coming back to Banff Centre for this very reason -- because it demands the best of him and pushes him out of his comfort zone. The other key ingredient it provides him with? Time. Whether it’s writing in one of the Leighton studios or rehearsing on stage with full audio and lighting crews, Marcus recognizes this exclusive time and space to focus on a project is crucial. In fact, he says that without the ability to workshop King Arthur’s Night at Banff Centre and figure out all the kinks it very well could have fallen to pieces on stage.
Never one to sit still for long, Marcus is already working on his next productions - including a play about the generation growing up in the era of Internet pornography and how it’s affecting them. With two kids of his own, it’s a subject that’s been on his mind for a while but isn’t something he often talked openly about. Marcus is confident it’s on other people’s minds too though. He believes that’s what good art does - it raises questions people are afraid to ask. And with Banff Centre’s help, Marcus will be asking these questions for years to come.