Olivia Robinson is the summer reporter with the Haliburton Echo and Minden Times papers. /Photo by Natalie McMullen

Summer Festival’s new president delivers message of appreciation

By Darren Lum

Published March 19 2019

Highlands Summer Festival will have a new president as it embarks on its 20th year.

Brian Kipping of Haliburton said he will draw on his skills and experience including executive management in the dairy industry and 30 years performing and eight years leading the Stage Centre Productions in Toronto.

Kipping who performed as an actor and worked backstage for the festival for the past 12 years also earned formal education from a two-year intensive director’s education course offered by the Institute of Corporate Directors prompted by his work with the dairy co-operative Fonterra (Canada) Inc. This course is conducted through the Rotman School of Business at U of T.

His love of acting along with his business experience puts him in a good position to lead the non-profit festival board.

“You need somebody who has an appreciation for the arts and so on. You also need people like David Zilstra here [at the Haliburton Echo] strong business people in the community help manage the business affairs as well” he said.

Although the basics of theatre management are universal the festival offers an intimacy between the company and the community unlike what you’d find in the city.

The president with the support of the board is charged with leading meetings pertaining to duty of care promotion and fiscal decisions about the overall operations of the festival.

Past-president Jack Brezina formally stepped down recently. Following this announcement Kipping was elected by the board. Brezina has been president for the past 12 years. Prior to that he shared the management responsibilities with festival founders Brezina said.

“While I certainly enjoyed the role and watching the company evolve I felt it was time for someone new to take over someone with a fresh perspective. As I said when I announced my intentions I was just stepping back not stepping away and would continue to be supportive in any way I can” he wrote in an email.

“Brian Kipping has been a part of Highlands Summer Festival for many years taking leading roles on stage helping with set construction and being an overall supporter of our efforts. He brings years of experience in community theatre to the role and an extensive business background both in for profit and not for profit companies. I am delighted he has accepted the position and look forward to working with him as the Highlands Summer Festival continues to grow.”

Brezina will remain part of the board as a director.

Kipping felt a responsibility to step up to take the helm.

“I’ve done this once before. It’s a very rewarding experience. When you have a volunteer organization if you have the skills you have to step up and do the job when it is needed. And so I’m really happy to have the chance to keep moving the organization forward. I’m not sure if we’ll have any radical shifts but I’ve got the theatre business experience to help it and I have got an engaged board. That’s a good start” he said.

With the season already underway Kipping said he’s looking for ways to do more promotion of the festival and to interact with the public to find out what they want to see. He has considered doing a survey. It could provide additional information from which performances could be decided.

“We’re always searching to have the clearest picture of what our patrons would like to see” he said.

He adds preferences can change over time as people age so it’s important to know.

When Kipping’s daughters went to university it freed him and his wife Beth to move to Haliburton in 2006. Beth worked as a music teacher and he worked for Fonterra Canada’s executive manager until 2017. He remains a consultant.

Even before he moved to the Highlands full time he had already been visiting as a child with his family ever since he was seven years old. He said his father starting coming here to cottage in the 1960s.

The Kippings have been active with the festival for years whether on the stage as actors and/or behind the scenes performing duties backstage.

This season features in-house productions of the family friendly Mary Poppins and Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks which is “funny and provocative” and centres on a gay dance instructor and an elderly wife of a Baptist minister in a Florida setting.

“Again we’ve got a very interesting balance of family and children involved some more dramatic moments … and there are a lot of golfers in this community” he said referencing The Ladies Foursome. “… It’s lighter fare and it will be very popular. It’s a nice balance.”

The lineup also includes Trudeau Stories a one woman show written and performed by Brooke Johnson that is a “remarkable story of surprising friendship” between Johnson a theatre student and former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and TorQ Percussion Ensemble.

The first time Kipping performed on the stage for the festival was as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks in Annie several years ago. It reminded him of how much the public values being able to see people they know perform on the stage.

“Those children [from the play] who are all now in university almost all of them have performed with us since in a more adult role. Last year the girl who played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet was one of the children in Annie. So that’s a gift. And so the people in the community know her. Lots of them teachers … [have]  seen her grow up. People have seen her skill her craft increase over the years. That’s a unique and special treat I think the community-based theatre has” he said.

Kipping didn’t see any roles in the line-up that interested him this year but he hasn’t ruled out acting again while being president. That said he isn’t sure he’ll have enough time to ensure he is fulfilling his duties.

His first message as president is one of appreciation for everyone who are responsible for the longevity of the festival.

“Thank you to everyone who has supported us for the past 20 years. We hope to continue to enjoy their support and grow their numbers by finding entertainment that they are looking forward to seeing. It’s a big thank you. And certainly to the people who dedicate all their time and effort. I mean building sets moving things. People just have to physically get up and move stuff in the theatre and move it back out. You know the relationship with the theatre is quite good here. So there’s a big thank you to all the people that contribute in other ways than on the stage” he said.

For information on purchasing tickets or other inquiries related to the festival see www.highlandssummerfestival.ca or call 1-855-457-9933.