Ed Mendez has become a fixture of the Saskatoon theatrical community over the last 10 years, doing everything from swordfighting to sketch comedy to administration.
It’s the latter background that has taken him from a long-time position with Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan to Gordon Tootoosis Nikaniwin Theatre, or GTNT.
“I was at Shakespeare for a few years and I was looking for a change of pace, and that’s what drove the move,” said Mendez in an interview. “The change of pace wasn’t related to wanting to be at a different theatre. It was me wanting to get back to the artistic side.”
More on how that’s worked out later, because at GTNT, Mendez has taken on the role of acting general manager.
“I was approached by GTNT to come in and give them some help on the administrative side, so I decided to come on board.”
At Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, Mendez served as operations manager.
“As far as Shakespeare goes, that’s kind of an all-encompassing title. In effect, I was responsible for day-to-day administration of the company, did a fair bit of grant writing, organization of the bar, the box office, the front of the house… setting up all of the tickets for sale — ensuring smooth operation of the festival.
“So the only things I didn’t cover were marketing, development or artistic positions for the company. Anything outside of that kind of fell on my plate, as well,” such as hiring summer staff like bartenders and box office staff.
The GM role at GTNT is quite different from daily administration, he added.
“It’s more the big picture, the financial side of looking at what the numbers are, trying to get budgets across for the upcoming years, trying to figure out what we need to be doing from a financial perspective and an overarching serving the community perspective as well.
“It’s a big leap, I’ll put it that way. It’s more in the planning stages, less active. It’s also a bigger scale position for me.
“One thing I never had to do before — I had to adhere to budgets, now I’m setting the budgets. That’s the big deal. I’m setting the budgets with board approval.”
Mendez dove in at the end of December, but had put in about 14 days at the time of the interview. That’s because, almost immediately after leaving Shakespeare, he was approached by local playwright Logan Martin-Arcand, whose play The Gay Card is going to New York City’s Frigid Festival — rather like a winter-time Fringe. Mendez will be in New York Feb. 14 to 21 with the play.
“He was looking for a director; he used to work for Shakespeare in 2016, in that summer. We got along great, so he approached me to take on that project for him.
“It’s about three gay men in Saskatoon trying to find love and the different obstacles they face while doing so,” Mendez explained. “We are hoping to do a two-day engagement once we’re back.”
Mendez is thrilled to be back directing. He was once involved with a sketch comedy troupe, and recently produced and partly directed a comedy show with The Sketchy Bandits.
“It’s really nice to get back into it. It was something I wanted to pursue out of school, and really didn’t have a huge chance to do that until now. I was approached by GTNT after (the directing job came up) so I’m working my office hours here around my directing schedule, while also being a parent at home.”
Mendez and his wife, Tamara, a neo-natal nurse, have two little ones aged three and one. “If I’m not directing or at GTNT… I’m at home watching Paw Patrol, making meals, changing diapers, that sort of thing.”
Saskatoon born and raised, Mendez is a 2008 graduate of the University of Saskatchewan drama program. Out of the gate, he immediately hit the Shakespeare stage, and has worked with puppetry troupe Wide Open, done voice acting such as radio commercials, and served as a stage combatant, aka stunt guy. He is trained in different sword styles in combat acting.
He has stayed because he loves it here.
“The winters are a little rough… but… everybody in the theatre community is fantastic. The community is always expanding. We’re on the verge of something big,” Mendez said.
“There are so many theatre artists living in the city it’s almost time for another big theatre to come along, like Live Five, for younger people coming out of school to establish in a space.”
As for GTNT, Mendez wants to support the theatre’s goals. He’s still finding his way, but he has an overall vision.
“The goals are to keep on doing what the theatre does best, which is addressing social issues in the community. I’ve always had such a huge respect for the work that comes out of this theatre. The shows that are coming out of here are very much a representation of what’s happening in this community.
“Because we have such a strong First Nations community in Saskatoon, this work has always been deep and meaningful to me… It lives in the now and present.”
The GTNT offices are situated at St. Thomas Wesley Church, but performances still take place at Studio 914. The Circle of Voices program continues to be active, most recently with Dakota Ray Hebert’s play Native Studies 101, also her directorial debut.
“She’s picking up steam like crazy in this country. She started doing standup a few years ago, and she’s performed all over the country, recently in a show with Mary Walsh.”
GTNT is also hoping to expand its programming in the upcoming years. There were four shows last year, but Mendez will be pushing to expand programming on both the professional theatre side and outreach side.
“Just like non-profits, we all have challenges raising funds. They say you give us a nickel and we have to hammer it into a dime. There will be increased challenges that way, but I know this team is up to that challenge.”
That team includes artistic director Jennifer Dawn Bishop, administrative assistant Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte, publicity manager Cory Dallas Standing, and Circle of Voices co-ordinator Cheyanne Lamaigre.
With his busy schedule, Mendez gets little time off, so all of it is dedicated to his family.“Time off to me is any day I’m not here or directing, and then I’m hanging out with the kids.”