YPT Artistic Director
Herbie Barnes is an accomplished playwright, performer, director and arts educator whose 30-year-career spans stages across North America. He was among the generation of young Indigenous artists in the 1990s breaking down barriers to forge professional careers in Canadian theatre. Herbie officially began his tenure at YPT in October 2021.
In January 2022, CTV National News sat down with Herbie to learn about his inspiring journey to become YPT’s artistic director and his plans for the future. Wearing hard hats and safety boots, Executive Director Nancy Webster and Herbie gave CTV a tour of the theatre so they could see first hand the progress of YPT’s $13.5 million expansion project and all the historic changes underway (video below).
Click here to watch an extended cut of Herbie’s interview, in which he shares insights into his upbringing and plans for inspiring a new generation.
“To become AD in this time – not only as we move through the pandemic, but also through a time of great evolution with BIPOC, #MeToo and other powerful societal change – is extremely exciting. We are finally hearing voices from communities who have been silenced. As Artistic Director, I cannot sit back in a ‘business as usual’ position or relax with the notion that ‘this is how it’s always been done’. With change comes discomfort, and for the next few years, there must be discomfort – in the world, in the theatre, and for me. This is how we begin.”
Herbie is excited to be starting full time at YPT, having worked with former Artistic Director Allen MacInnis to craft an exciting fall 2021 season with innovative programming for the virtual world.
“Over the past year, our Search Committee interviewed candidates from across Canada for one of this country’s most unique artistic leadership roles. We are thrilled that Herbie, one of the theatre community’s most eclectic and beloved artists, will carry YPT forward into a very bright future. He is a visionary leader, with the heart of an 8-year-old — a perfect fit for the country’s largest and oldest theatre for young people.” – Board Co-Chairs Jenine Krause and David Scandiffio
Looking ahead to the world of theatre post-pandemic, Herbie believes it will be Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) at the forefront of change. “The purest form of theatre is theatre for young people. TYA has led the charge in BIPOC casting and hiring. It has led the charge in LGBTQ2S and BIPOC education and understanding. And it is often the first to help dramatize and contextualize events in a rapidly changing and complex world,” he said.
An Anishinaabe theatre artist from Aundeck Omni Kaning First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Herbie Barnes was raised in Toronto. His theatre career began in 1989 with Debajehmujig Theatre Group, touring Ontario with the first run of Drew Hayden Taylor’s Toronto at Dreamer’s Rock. Since then he has collaborated with some of North America’s largest theatre companies and was nominated for a John Hirsch Director’s Award. His new play, Bent Boy, was workshopped at YPT and shortlisted for the Sharon Enkin Plays for Young People Award in 2020.
Herbie has a long and storied association with YPT, where as a young audience member, he had his first theatre experience. “My first taste of what would be a life-long passion for theatre started in the old streetcar barn on Front Street,” said Herbie of YPT’s 123-year-old heritage theatre. Years later, he began his professional association with YPT when he appeared in The Secret of Shhh in 1993. He has been making an impact at YPT ever since, both on stage and in classrooms as a playwright, performer, director and artist educator.
As Artistic Director, Herbie aims to build on the successes of the past and to move the theatre into a new era; one of continued inclusion and innovation. “Allen MacInnis’s legacy as YPT’s Artistic Director has made it possible to give space to someone such as me. Not only furthering inclusion, but true representation — to have a strong voice in the circle.”
“The Search Committee was very excited by Herbie’s intercultural, inter-generational programming ideas, both in show selection and educational activities. I personally am really looking forward to partnering with him for the next phase of our company’s development. I know Herbie’s positive leadership style will inspire YPT’s staff and Board well into the future,” said Executive Director Nancy Webster.
Herbie brings extensive experience to his new position with North America’s oldest professional producer and presenter of TYA. “I have always found my place in children’s theatre,” he said, having longstanding relationships with YPT and Manitoba Theatre for Young People (MTYP).
Herbie is associated with some of North America’s most prestigious stages – whether appearing in productions such as Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing (Mirvish – Royal Alexandra Theatre) or collaborating with the Stratford Festival on development workshops. His accomplishments include:
- Directing: Munschtime! (YPT); Mno Bimaadiziwin (Orillia Opera House); Tales of an Urban Indian (Public Theater, New York City/Autry Theatre, LA); Music Man (Talk Is Free Theatre); Oliver! (Bluff City Theatre); Inheritance (Alley and Touchstone Theatre); The Rememberer (MTYP); Someday and Dinky (Native Earth Performing Arts). Film/TV directing credits include RepREZentin’ in Fort Chip and The Rez.
- Countless stage roles: Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit (YPT, Carousel Players, MTYP); Wickersham Brother in Seussical The Musical (MTYP); Norval Morrisseau in Copper Thunderbird (National Arts Centre).
- Film/TV credits: The Rez, Murdoch Mysteries, Tipi Tales, Buffalo Tracks, Guilt Free Zone and Dance Me Outside.
- Script development and dramaturgy with YPT, Native Earth Performing Arts, Debajehmujig Theatre Group and MTYP. His play Russell’s World, which he wrote and performed in, was part of YPT’s 40th Anniversary Season. It was also honoured to be the first world premiere ever selected by the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.
- Facilitating programs as an artist educator for elementary to university-aged students at various schools and companies, including YPT, Centennial College, Centre for Indigenous Theatre, Humber College, The Second City and MTYP. A technique he developed called “Dropping the Mask” has been used at many treatment centres in North America in work with Survivors of abuse.