Haley Zavo always dreamed of creating a vibrant arts space in her home of Georgetown, P.E.I.
Growing up in the small town, Zavo would perform on stage at Kings Playhouse, the local theatre and arts venue.
Her dream came true in 2015 when she became executive director of the playhouse. Since then, Zavo and her team have organized events ranging from art exhibitions and workshops to tea parties and theatre productions.
"We found a way to build the Kings Playhouse into a really thriving arts and culture hub that has so much going on all the time, for youth and for seniors and for everyone," Zavo said.
At the end of December, Zavo announced she'd be stepping down after an eight-year run.
Challenges throughout the pandemic
There were many factors involved in Zavo's decision.
She has a young family and she thought it was a good time for fresh leadership at Kings Playhouse. The challenges the theatre faced throughout the pandemic also took their toll.
"I think in many ways arts organizations were really hit hard because our whole mission is to gather people together to enjoy live arts and entertainment and culture," Zavo said.
"And for a long time we weren't able to do that or we were only able to do it in limited ways."
Zavo said the pandemic pushed the theatre's staff to find creative ways to engage remotely with the community. That included a photo series called Front Porch Portraits, where a local photographer went to people's homes to take pictures of them from a distance.
The playhouse also ran a phone call program early in the pandemic where staff would simply call community members to see how they were doing.
Catherine O'Brien, artistic producer of Young at Heart Musical Theatre for Seniors, is temporarily filling in as executive director.
O'Brien said Zavo always took on the many challenges the organization faced over the years with the community in mind, like when she organized a free community Thanksgiving dinner after post-tropical storm Fiona.
"She really, really is passionate and caring about her community and the environment around Kings Playhouse, around Georgetown," O'Brien said.
Zavo always lent a helping hand when needed, according to O'Brien. At a recent Christmas play put on at the playhouse, she filled in when an actor couldn't make it to a performance.
Zavo already had a role in the show playing piano, O'Brien said.
"She played Santa Claus for part of this show and then ran … back to the piano in her Santa Claus suit and continued on. So, that's Haley in a nutshell. Just saying, 'OK, what needs to be done? I'll do it.'"
Community hub for generations to come
Zavo said she's proud of the organizing she's done at the theatre.
That includes a series called the Legacy Projects, where the playhouse staff researched and preserved stories from war veterans through music and theatre.
In 2021, the venue also presented Inuk poet Julie Bull's first art exhibition. Settle Down, Settlers! opened the day before the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
"I'm really proud of that Truth and Reconciliation work that we've done at the playhouse, and that we continue to do," Zavo said.
All Zavo hopes for the future of the playhouse is that it continues to be a space where the community can come together and discover art.
Whether it was through performing on stage, sewing costumes or setting up lighting at the theatre, Zavo said the playhouse always gave her joy and a sense of belonging. She hopes that will also be the case for others in her community.
"It taught me so much about myself and how I can contribute to the world and that's what I want for future generations," she said.
Ultimately, Zavo said she's grateful for the support her community has given the theatre over the past eight years. And though she's stepping down as executive director, it doesn't mean she's saying goodbye.
"I've been connected to the playhouse my entire life, and so I'm sure that I will still be around the place from time to time."