Stage Door News

Toronto: Julie McIsaac named the COC’s first Director/Dramaturg-in Residence

Monday, December 2, 2019

Canadian stage director Julie McIsaac has been selected as the inaugural Director/Dramaturg-in-Residence with the Canadian Opera Company. The year-long residency is the newest addition to the COC Academy, the company’s professional development program for young opera artists, creators, and administrators.

McIsaac is a seasoned stage director, dramaturg, playwright/librettist, and multi-instrumentalist, whose projects are inspired by Canada’s complex history. Through her work, McIsaac is reshaping and revitalizing the stories told on stage and, in the process, aims to bring more attention to the diverse composition of the country’s local communities. 

“Julie’s voice as a storyteller is wonderfully textured,” says COC General Director Alexander Neef. “With her background in classical piano, voice, languages, and theatre, she is uniquely equipped for the challenge of staging new opera that shakes up all expectations of the genre for today’s audiences. With the COC Academy, we are providing emerging artists like Julie with comprehensive development opportunities and creating a supportive environment for learning and exploration.”

McIsaac says the residency will be an immersive experience, unlike any other. “I’m delighted to be a part of the COC Academy, and to explore and develop my skills alongside the COC Ensemble Studio,” she says. “I’m also looking forward to spending time in Toronto again and reacquainting myself with the city’s dynamic arts world. This is where I first heard a full orchestra, and where I first experienced the power of storytelling on a large stage; I have memories of being 16 years old and standing in line for hours for student rush tickets – and then being so moved by the music that I wept until the collar of my sweater was soaked.”

“I choose to believe that the best of opera is ahead of us, not behind us,” adds McIsaac. “The apex of our art form doesn’t live in the past; how could it, when there are so many stories that have yet to be told on the opera stage, so many buried narratives and unheard voices? I’m looking forward to building relationships with other Academy artists so that we might, together, create a Canadian opera scene that is dynamic, responsive, and inimitably ours.”

As a resident artist, McIsaac will receive advanced instruction, hands-on experience, and the practical career guidance required for industry success. This season, she serves as assistant director on the COC’s upcoming production of Humperdinck’s Hansel & Gretel, alongside Toronto stage director Joel Ivany and experienced dramaturg Katherine Syer. McIsaac will also play a vital role in adapting the opera into a youth-friendly, English-language, 90-minute version that will be staged as the COC’s Opera for Young Audiences production in February 2020. 

Throughout her residency, McIsaac will collaborate with COC Composer-in-Residence Ian Cusson on staging a new work for young audiences, previously commissioned by the Canadian Opera Company, with libretto by award-winning Canadian playwright Colleen Murphy. 

“From our first meeting with Julie, we immediately recognized an artist with the vision and potential to transform opera creation in Canada, assert its relevance, and inspire conversation,” says Nina Draganić, COC Director of Access and Training and head of the COC Academy. “We knew that her passion for innovation and increased inclusivity would form the basis of an extraordinary artistic partnership with Ian, a composer who shares very similar interests and motivation. We’re excited to see what their imaginations yield and are proud to support the development of young leaders in the field.”

“Ian hails from my hometown,” says McIsaac. “Our grandparents played music together and it’s beautiful to feel that we’re connected to them, through our creative collaboration now. I’m also very excited and grateful that my residency includes working alongside Joel Ivany and Colleen Murphy, whom I consider to be great leaders and paradigm-shapers in the Canadian opera scene.”


Julie McIsaac earned her Master’s degree in Theatre from the University of York (UK) and is also a graduate of Carleton University (Music) and the Canadian College of Performing Arts (Theatre Performance and Playwriting). A four-time Jessie award nominee, she is an Associate Artist with Firepot Performance and a founding member of the Honest Fishmongers. As Artist-in-Residence at Pacific Opera Victoria from 2016 to 2018, McIsaac staged Le nozze di Figaro for Opera Studio (Victoria Conservatory of Music) and created an original series of opera presentations for young audiences, staging excerpts from The Magic Flute, Jenůfa, and La Bohème. She has collaborated with theatre giants Atom Egoyan and Peter Hinton, and was stage director for the world premiere of Beauty’s Beast (East Van Opera). 

Photo: Julie McIsaac.