Two of Prince George's leading theatre lights are drifting over the horizon.
Jack Grinhaus and partner Lauren Brotman have been anchor-points for Theatre Northwest (TNW) the past five years, Grinhaus as the artistic director and Brotman as the associate artist.
A family health issue has necessitated they move back to their hometown of Toronto.
"This has nothing to do with Prince George, we love Prince George deeply, Prince George took us in and made us a home and a life we love. Our son has spent almost his entire life here and that is going to be forever imbedded in him," said Grinhaus. "We got opportunities here that we could never have gotten in Toronto, and I hope that we gave some things to Theatre Northwest and this city that were also special and unique."
It was an effort that went beyond the natural challenges of mounting successful professional plays.
Grinhaus inherited a theatre that had already served about 20 years of theatrical life, so physical upgrades were needed like a complete set of new theatre seats, a full foyer renovation, an online digital box office system, inroads with local visual artists for complementary displays coinciding with plays and increased public support from all levels of government.
Upon their arrival, there was also a preexisting court case involving TNW not of Grinhaus's making that was successfully concluded but cost significant personal energy and stress, plus theatre resources.
Grinhaus said he is proud to have been there to steer the not-for-profit company through the challenges and the others that faced the company right from his start in TNW management.
"We know he leaves behind a legacy that will never be forgotten and the theatre is better because of his time here," said Hans Suhr, chair of the TNW board. "We are saddened to see Jack leave us after his five-year tenure at the theatre."
Brotman, too, made artist contributions that wowed TNW audiences, earned high praise from her co-stars from here and across Canada, and also worked behind the local cultural scenes to write, teach, create events and mentor others in the creative field.
Some of her roles included The Secret Mask, The Girl In The Goldfish Bowl, Drowning Girls, Half Life, and the first actor to inhabit the eponymous lead role in Hedda Noir.
This original script was written by Grinhaus especially for her to debut, based on the 19th century classic play Hedda Gabbler. If post-production buzz on the street is a gauge, Hedda Noir was one of TNW's definitive triumphs over the past five seasons.
Brotman was also the leading force behind an outdoor summer spectacle on the steps of city hall she entitled Shakespeare Unfolded, which she presented for the city's 100th anniversary.
She produced and assistant directed Isitwendam (An Understanding), a coproduction between her company B2C Theatre and TNW along with Grinhaus and principal creator Meegwun Fairbrother. It was a world premiere and it isn't finished its development to full play just yet so they urge local audiences to be ready for more Isitwendam one day.
Brotman also created a program that mentored and created new performance work with the youth of Fort St. James.
Along with Amy Blanding, Brotman was well into the act of codeveloping a Prince George-set play called Painting The Streets.
That project is still underway, she pledged, with her intention to see it through to performance.
Together, Brotman and Grinhaus "brought a period of renewal to the theatre," said Suhr. The fortunes of the company were at a generational crossroads when they arrived and "Grinhaus brought exciting new works, community engagement initiatives, and a fresh, vibrant energy and appeal to the theatre."
Everyone who made regular visits to see TNW shows has their own list of favourites, but particular buzz was generated for Drowning Girls, Art, the casting and set appointment of Alice In Wonderland, It's a Wonderful Life: Radio Play, bringing in Cariboo actor/writer Julia Mackey's original play Jake's Gift, and the box office record breaker Million Dollar Quartet that made this past season the highest fan watermark in the 25-year history of Theatre NorthWest.
He and Brotman were also influential in partnerships and associations with UNBC, the Prince George Public Library, the local Pride community and much more.
"I have had such an amazing time while here," Grinhaus said. "I watched my son grow up, my partner Lauren thrive in remarkable roles, and the theatre come through a transition. I feel so much was achieved during my time here, and it is the right time to hand the reins over to a new voice and energy. I feel a great sense of accomplishment from my work at the theatre. That, along with recent family health issues has meant it is time for me to hand over the reins. It has been a difficult decision, but I know it is right for me, and my family. We will miss this theatre, its audiences whom I've come to know personally, its incredible staff and board, and this community. I thank every one of them for the opportunity to be a part it all."
He does not close the door on returning, should circumstances unfold favourably in the future, and he will still be a helpful hand in the upcoming season that he has already arranged and has set to go. He also promised to be an ally as needed for whomever comes next to the post of TNW's artistic director and an active ambassador for Prince George wherever he goes.
"We know his family needs him now and we also know he will continue to do great things wherever he goes in his career," said Suhr. "We wish Jack all the best."
A search for TNW's new artistic director is underway with a national search to begin in the coming weeks.