Stage Door News

Toronto: Winners of the inaugural Johanna Metcalf performing Arts Prizes announced

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Today, the Metcalf Foundation announced the five winners of the inaugural Johanna Metcalf Performing Arts Prizes/Les Prix Johanna-Metcalf des Arts de la scène; playwright and theatre creator Sunny Drake ; composer and classical pianist Alice Ping Yee Ho ; composer James Rolfe ; multidisciplinary artist Santee Smith ; and world music performer and composer Maryem Tollar. 

On December 12, 2019 , at Toronto’s Artscape Daniels Launchpad, the five prize winners will be recognized and will be awarded $25,000 each; in addition, the winners have selected a protégé, who will receive $5,000. In total, $150,000 in prizes will be awarded. According to the Ontario Arts Council, a 2016 Census revealed the median income of a professional artist in the province is $23,454.  

“It’s a troubling fact that the value of each Johanna Metcalf Performing Arts Prize is more than the average artist in Ontario earns per year,” says Sandy Houston, President and CEO, Metcalf Foundation. “The goal of the Metcalf Prizes is to celebrate, elevate, and recognize performing artists in Ontario, and in part, alleviate some of the financial pressure that artists face, while supporting them in their careers.” 

The Johanna Metcalf Performing Arts Prizes are named in honour of Johanna Metcalf, who was at the centre of the Foundation’s work for over forty years. Throughout her life, she was a tireless advocate for the arts who unconditionally championed the young, the new, and the emerging. These legacy prizes serve to honour artists in Ontario who have made an impact on the field and the public, and show great dedication in the ongoing pursuit of their ambitious and visionary practices. 

The five winners have been chosen from amongst fifteen finalists from across Ontario. The winners include artists in the disciplines of dance, theatre, and music/opera, and have been producing and showing work for at least ten years. The prizes are meritorious and unrestricted. 

The five winners for the inaugural Johanna Metcalf Performing Arts Prizes/Les Prix Johanna-Metcalf des Arts de la scène are:


Sunny Drake is a playwright, theatre creator, and performer. His inventive works have been translated into four languages and presented to a wide range of audiences in 59 cities across the world. His wide range of audiences have spanned international arts festivals, elderly ladies in regional theatres, and queers in underground warehouses. Sunny was born and raised in Australia and has lived in Toronto since 2011. He is currently a playwright-in-residence at the Stratford Festival.


Alice Ping Yee Ho is considered one of the most important composers in Canada today. The Hong Kong-born Canadian composer and pianist is acclaimed for her distinctly individual style as she effortlessly crosses and references many musical genres. Her works have been performed by major ensembles in Canada, and around the world. Ho holds a Bachelor of Music degree in composition with high distinction from Indiana University and a Master of Music degree in composition from the University of Toronto. She makes her home in Toronto.


Toronto composer James Rolfe has been commissioned and performed by ensembles, orchestras, choirs, theatres, and opera companies in Canada, and around the world. Beatrice Chancy , his first opera, played to sold-out houses and rave reviews in 1999; his most recent opera, The Overcoat , was premiered by Tapestry Opera with Canadian Stage and Vancouver Opera in 2018, and was nominated for 10 Dora Awards. Two solo CDs raW , 2011, and Breathe , 2018, nominated for a JUNO Award are available on Centrediscs.


Santee Smith (Tekaronhiáhkhwa) is a multidisciplinary artist and founder of Haudenosaunee company Kaha:wi Dance Theatre from the Kahnyen’kehàka Nation, Turtle Clan, Six Nations of the Grand River, Haldimand Treaty Territory, Ontario. In 2005, Santee founded Kaha:wi Dance Theatre which has grown into an internationally renowned company. Santee’s artistic work speaks about identity and Indigenous narratives. Her body of work includes numerous productions and short works, which tour nationally and internationally. Santee is the Chancellor of McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario.


Maryem Tollar has been an integral part of the development of world music in Canada. She has performed, composed, and worked with artists across a variety of musical traditions and genres in English, French and Arabic. Maryem continues to create and unearth connections that underscore the diversity of the influences that shape us, and the commonalities between us. Currently, Maryem performs regularly with Al Qahwa and Turkwaz.

The five protégés are: Bilal Baig (Sunny Drake); Roydon Tse (Alive Ping Yee Ho); Sophie Dupuis (James Rolfe); Cody Berry (Santee Smith); and Demetrios Petsalakis (Maryem Tollar).


The Johanna Metcalf Performing Arts Prizes/Les Prix Johanna-Metcalf des Arts de la scène will be delivered on a biennial basis in partnership with the Ontario Arts Council (OAC). The nominees were selected through several juried OAC competitions in dance, music/opera, and theatre, with additional focus on creators from the Francophone, Indigenous, and Northern communities.  

Established in 1960, The George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation invests in three principal areas of focus: the performing arts, the environment, and poverty reduction. Through all of its work, the Foundation cultivates, supports, and recognizes those working on the front lines of social change in order to improve the health and vibrancy of our communities, our culture, and the environment. 

The Metcalf Foundation’s Performing Arts program supports innovation and leadership through a series of initiatives targeted at Toronto-based organizations and individuals from across the province of Ontario. Multi-year strategic funding initiatives help organizations build the capacity to adapt in rapidly changing environments and internships match promising leaders with exceptional mentors. The Johanna Metcalf Prizes celebrate individuals who will play a pivotal role in defining the performing arts sector’s future. The Foundation invests approximately $1.67 million each year in the performing arts.

Photo: Johanna Metcalf.