Mallary Duncan believes collaboration is the key for all artists—that at the heart of all creative endeavors, a spirit of cooperation and mutual support are more than necessary.
In a town dense with creative activities, from songwriting to composition, to stage actors, directors and costume designers, Duncan dreamt of founding an environment where performers might craft, test, experiment their concepts and ideas which, given the right detailed encouragement, the right opportunity and time, could be developed into world class art worthy of larger venues within Muskoka and beyond.
“It is a magical thing that this heartbeat of Huntsville attracts artists. It’s the fountain of youth or whatever. It’s the fountain of artists—that’s visual artists, performers and all of it,” Duncan says. Until the formation of the Monarch Performing Arts Studio in Huntsville, local artists and creators were limited in their ability to shape and hone fledgling ideas outside of their own personal spaces.
In a recent interview with Doppler, Duncan explained the genesis of her idea to establish an alternative performance space to main theatre, where writers of intellectual property could foster and finesse their works in progress through workshops, rehearsal, and soft openings with audiences more amenable to intimate, low-key, more direct experiences than the usual venues where performing art is not the centre of attraction, or where the acts have enough commercial draw to fill the larger Algonquin Theatre.
“I really wanted people to feel like there was somewhere and someone who could support them in their endeavors,” says Duncan.
As filmmaker for ten years in Toronto, Duncan learned that there are grants and support programs that will allow aspiring writers, especially in musical theatre, to offset financial obligations and allow concentrated work on projects. Moreover, she has often found that mentorship and alignment with peers or more experienced professionals offers the creator a broader base to explore and to define their projects.
In October 2020, Duncan opened the Monarch Performing Arts Studio, only to face restrictions due to the pandemic. Despite the setback, with the help of her talented and supportive husband, Robbie, the plan to open proceeded, perhaps somewhat curtailed, but making the studio a reality has been a lifelong dream. The studio offers several services to creators: two studio spaces and office space are available for rental and technical support for live streaming. Currently, the studio space is utilized primarily for dance students and practices.
As so many have discovered, regardless of the impositions of the pandemic, new opportunities have arisen. The live streaming services at Monarch are perhaps the most innovative currently offered, especially to musicians or professional performing songwriters, and the team at Monarch has forged ahead with an exciting schedule. James Gray will be live streamed May 1, 2021, in episode 1 of ‘The Essentials’, a ticketed series dedicated to local songwriters that is guaranteed to find an enthusiastic audience. ‘In the Key of Frank’ will continue presentations. Monarch’s bourgeoning expertise in live streaming has further enhanced their ability to provide high quality productions and they have moved toward pre-recorded shows.
Mallary Duncan earned her degree in musical theatre from the Randolph College for the Performing Arts in 2004. Right out of school, she stumbled into a role as an event planner for a film company that was launching a production called “Toronto Stories” and needed a production accountant, which began her career in film. She has worked as an associate producer, and full-fledged producer. Before her marriage, she produced several films including The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship (2015), In Return (2012), and I’m Yours (2011).
Duncan met her husband during the production of The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship, and subsequently decided to raise their family in Huntsville. Once settled into family life, Duncan responded and succeeded in winning the open competition for the director of the Huntsville Festival of the Arts production of Oliver in 2018. She has continued to work in various roles with the HFA, most notably for the upcoming 2022 production of Sister Act, and with community theatre.
Throughout all of her career in both film and theatre, Duncan has preserved her dream to one day own and manage a studio space capable of fulfilling a role akin to and equal with the Shaw Festival or Stratford Festival, supporting a thriving artistic community, and providing resources, space, time, coaching, and mentorship in all the varied creative enterprises in Huntsville. Although the times have prevented the full realization of her goals and dreams, Monarch Performing Arts Studio is operating and will continue to do so.
Correction: An earlier version of this post noted that James Gray will be live streamed on April 24 rather than May 1.
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