Putting Down The Paddle: Kim Dolan’s Farewell to Blue Canoe
In 2023, Blue Canoe Theatrical Productions was recognized with a Creator Award at the City of Kingston’s Mayor’s Arts Awards. This didn’t come out of the blue—the youth theatre company, now in its 17th season, has long played an integral role in Kingston’s arts community. I recently spoke with Kim Dolan, Blue Canoe’s outgoing General Manager, about her time leading the organization, its unique qualities, and her hopes for the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Kim Dolan has a long list of skills on her resume—as well as being an arts administrator, she’s a singer, songwriter, actor, and music therapist. Dolan says she’s been drawn to community-oriented activities for as long as she can remember. “I really thrive in those instances where I can learn with, and from, others. It enhances the way that I see the world. Pulling you out of that self-centric kind of lens and being able to see different perspectives.”
A long-time lover of musical theatre, Dolan first got involved with Blue Canoe as a teenager, performing in their 2007 production of Seussical. “It was phenomenal. To be able to learn and dip my toes into the musical theatre world and understand what it’s all about—I was sold within the first few rehearsals.” Dolan credits the positive experience to Blue Canoe’s warm atmosphere. “We created such a lovely community of people to connect with, where it was okay to take those creative risks and be silly… Everyone was so welcoming, so ready to help me out on stage. That was a really formative experience for me, and what kept me coming back to musical theatre after that experience.”
Blue Canoe bridges the gap between high schoolers and young adults, creating an environment where leadership is less hierarchical and youth can come together to learn. “It makes it a little bit more authentic to real world experiences. [It gives] that lens to the younger participants, like, ‘Oh, this is something that I could do as I continue to grow with the company, I could be in those leadership roles.’” Among the older participants, the passion and eagerness to share is palpable. “It’s collaborative, rather than just top-down teaching. I think it bridges some interesting gaps and gives us different perspectives.”
Making connections across age groups—something that doesn’t happen too often in modern society—offers unique opportunities for personal and creative growth. “There’s so much benefit to being able to see from different lenses and to collaborate with people in different phases of our journeys, regardless of age. And I think we tend to get stuck too much into that box you’re in, this area of your life, therefore hanging out with people who are in that. But in reality, age doesn’t show where you are in your creative journey or your personal journey.”
As Dolan hands her role over to incoming General Manager Cam Watson, she shares some of her dreams for the company’s future. “I hope that Blue Canoe continues to thrive and grow and create this safe and brave space where young people can come together to create, to explore themselves, both as people and artists, and continue to use that shared vision to make really great art. A big part of that comes with the sustainability elements—financial stability, having enough hours to be able to provide good quality and supportive paid staff positions. There’s a lot of work that goes into being able to provide this space in order to keep this organization running. So I hope that the financial stability continues to grow, and the funding continues to diversify, and people see the value in it.”
Dolan also hopes that youth will continue to feel heard by the organization. “One of the things that I love most about Blue Canoe is that the leadership follows the interests and needs of the community. [Most] companies will sit down and plan out their season… With Blue Canoe, it’s curating what the youth are saying [they] want to do. And in order for the company to be successful in that, people need to use their voices and to communicate and stay engaged. So I hope that people feel empowered to be able to take on big leadership roles, no matter what their age is, and to invest, and to just be along for the ride. To keep Blue Canoe a space where creativity flows.”
What’s next for Dolan? “I’ll always be around Blue Canoe. I’m a number one cheerleader on the sidelines—it has too big of a place in my heart right now for me to disappear completely. But a big part of the decision [to leave] was to be able to invest more deeply into my music therapy practice and into my work as an artist myself.”
In 2021, Dolan started a music therapy practice, Synergy Music Therapy and Wellness Services. “We provide music therapy across Kingston and beyond. We’ve expanded really quickly—we have a contractor in Hamilton, Ontario that’s joined us, and my co-founder works in Bermuda, so we have a location there. So there’s lots of growth that I’m really looking forward to continuing to invest in. And I’ve been carving out some time to do some more music-writing and performances, and hopefully a little bit more acting, because I really miss the arts as well.”
As artists who are invested in supporting the community, it can be hard to find time to work on personal projects. “It’s a tricky balance. This is something that I’m learning and continuing to unlearn as I become more aware of myself as an artist and arts in general. When it comes to something creative, whether it’s music, or art, or dance, or anything within the arts industry, unless you know for certain that that is what you are pursuing, I find we have this tendency to put it by the wayside to do ‘real work’—the things that pay the bills at that time.”
But creative work is real work. “And it’s such a risk, and also such a brave thing to be able to say, ‘No, I am working right now.’ I’m creating, and even if the return is not immediate, you have to carve out time to be able to put that in… I’m excited to have more space to be able to do that. And to continue to unlearn that hustle culture way of needing to check everything off the to-do list, and just be able to flow in that a bit. And, gosh, I could go on a whole tangent about how there’s not enough art and creativity in the world. I think it’s so crucial to making sure that we’re a whole person. Focusing on not only the physical, but the mental, and the soul, and all the things that being creative actually gives to us.”
Kim Dolan is the outgoing General Manager of Blue Canoe Theatre Productions. To learn more about her work as a music therapist, visit Synergy Music Therapy and Wellness. Information about more about Blue Canoe’s 2023-2024 season can be found here.