Why he’s a 2019 Top 40 Under 40: He uses a rapid-fire response to improve diversity in Edmonton’s improv community.
When Matt Shuurman became artistic director of Edmonton’s longest running improv theatre company in 2015, he expected challenges. But what awaited him was more than just mere theatre. The company lacked diversity; most cast members were young, white cis males.
Schuurman developed programming that allowed diverse performers to tell their stories including Sphinxes, a show featuring female and non-binary performers and stories. As well, he implemented new casting practices and now the ensemble that was mostly young white males is made up of 20 women, two non-binary performers and 22 men.
For Schuurman, being the AD doesn’t mean dictating exactly how a season will play out; he believes it’s important to bring in diverse performers and then allow them some form of control. His job is to support the efforts — so he’s more the shoulders of the organization than the head.
“Being diverse is about a lot more than ticking off a box. It’s about giving these artists the space to create, and then they can challenge or change things.”
Obviously, as a white male, Schuurman does understand that there’s an irony in being a champion of diversity. But, in his mind “these are things that all white males in leadership positions need to concentrate on.”
The previous season was the most successful one in Rapid Fire’s history; proof that performances that better mirror the diversity of the audience, connect with the audience.
This article appears in the November 2019 issue of Avenue Edmonton.