Stage Door News
Toronto: The Theatre Centre announces ambitious plans for 2020/21
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
This year, The Theatre Centre is embarking on what may be the most ambitious year of creation in its history. They will be supporting an unprecedented 16 projects led by 20 artists; creating two new development streams; welcoming new Creative Producers in Training and a new Associate Artistic Director; and inventing the role of Reckless Generosity Dramaturg.
“In a time when we can’t operate normally, we are taking the opportunity to experiment with operating differently,” commented The Theatre Centre’s Artistic Director Aislinn Rose. “We are taking the precious time that this moment is granting us, to consider not only what we do, but how we do it. As a team, we are excited to discover the learnings from these experiments that we can take with us into the future.”
In addition to expanding access to the Residency program, The Theatre Centre has added two new creation streams. The Explorations stream will allow artists to spend a year supported in their pursuit of burning questions that may impact a larger work, or the future shape of their practice. The Finishing stream creates an opportunity for artists to take a work that has been in development for years into an intensive period of design and technical experimentation. “Both of these streams will allow us to see if there are new ways in which we can fill gaps in how our sector supports creation,” said Rose.
The new Residency artists are daniel jelani ellis, Nehal El-Hadi, PJ Prudat & Jonathan Seinen, Prince Amponsah & Viktor Lukawski, and Brandon Ash-Mohammed. They will be joining the four artists currently in Residency: Ian Kamau, Stewart Legere, Jennifer Tarver, and Rimah Jabr. Those artists embarking on Explorations this year will be Adam Lazarus, Anand Rajaram, Lorena Torres Loaiza, Milton Lim & Patrick Blenkarn, Neema Bickersteth & Nikki Shaffeeullah, and Thomas McKechnie. Victoria Mata will be supported in the Finishing stream.
“We may be grieving the lost opportunities we’ve experienced in recent months, and facing a future that feels uncertain, but as an organization we feel empowered by the commitments we’ve made to artists to focus on what we do best,” said Rose. “Residency is based on the principle that we say yes to following an artist's idea without knowing where the journey of that idea will take us, or how long it will take to get there. We are walking into the dark and finding our way forward together. Our future is inventable.”
In addition to the large cohort of new artists, this year will also see the Creative Producer Training Program welcome two new trainees. Earlier this year a call for one Indigenous Creative Producer was announced, but thanks to some emergency funding, the company was able to invite two new artists into the program. Cheyenne Scott and Theresa Cutknife will work closely with the current and incoming artists, many of whom are at various stages of development.
Helping The Theatre Centre navigate the year will be Seika Boye who will be joining the team as their new Reckless Generosity Dramaturg. For the last two years, the company has been involved in Metcalf Foundation’s Staging Change Program with EmcArts. Together with Boye, they’ve developed a role that gives her a bird’s eye view of the organization, where she will be able to see all the various pieces of who they are and what they do. Like any good dramaturg, she’ll be asking challenging questions and suggesting support, while holding onto the context of both the pieces and the big picture. Together, they’ll work toward answering their biggest question: “How can we be more reckless with our generosity?”
Earlier in July, The Theatre Centre also announced that Liza Paul was named the new Associate Artistic Director. In case you missed it, you can find the full story here. In her previous role as Café/Bar Curator & Manager, Paul programmed many comedy nights in the venue; this initiative culminated in her programming the hugely successful Comedy is Art festival last October. Paul played a major role in the selection of the new artists now joining the Theatre Centre’s Residency, Explorations, and Finishing programs.
“This new role is a dream, an honour, and a privilege in one glorious package, and the thrill and the gratitude run deeper than words can possibly express” Paul commented. “I am so lucky to work with this team and to have this magical opportunity to support art and art making in all its shapes and sizes. I am really looking forward to working alongside Aislinn. We’ve already had lots of opportunities to collaborate, and while we see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, we also aren’t afraid to challenge one another and I think that’s a really special combination. I really hope to see you all in the building again one day soon. But until that time comes, please know that I will be hard at work scheming and dreaming on a future that serves us all.“
New Residency Artists
daniel jelani ellis – Iris Malcolm Housing Co-op
Iris Malcolm Housing Co-op is a trilogy exploring ambition, currency, and community; featuring the plays Rosie, Kwik Pick, and i-and-i. Set within a housing co-op in the east end of Scarborough, the works speak to the ingenuity of Black dreaming. What happens to a dream deferred? A question posed in the poem Harlem by Langston Hughes. Hughes asked in 1951 when limitations on Black living, much less dreaming, were extremely unyielding and often physically violent. IMHC is asking in a context where the limitations manifest more covertly but with the same potent searing of the soul.
daniel jelani ellis (he/him) is a Toronto-based artist raised in Jamaica by a village of theatre artists, poets, and educators. His art practice is driven by his commitment to celebrate those of us who live within the margins. danjelani has performed on stages across Canada and the Caribbean. Recipient of The Theatre Centre's Emerging Artist Award, Merritt Award Nomination and five Dora Award Nominations. Graduate of National Theatre School of Canada and alumnus of the Playwrights Unit at Obsidian Theatre Company and Emerging Creators Unit at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. ellis is proud parent to plenty plants..
“In this residency, I am working towards live arts events that challenge the audience to consider their relationships with technology, and to explore both positive and negative implications for racialised groups. The narrative focuses on a pair of young Black children in Toronto witnessing these changes. I invite audiences to consider near and distant futures, imagine new ways of being while combatting the anxiety that is a by-product of change, and work towards producing more just futures.”
Nehal El-Hadi is a writer, researcher, and editor. She is the Culture + Society and Science + Technology Editor at The Conversation Canada, an academic news site, and Editor-in-Chief of Studio, a magazine dedicated to Canadian craft and design. Her work explores the relations(hips) that render us human; these include the interplays between us and technologies, objects, and spaces/places, focusing on the professional fields of design, planning, journalism, and healthcare.
PJ Prudat & Jonathan Seinen – À la façon du pays
For PJ Prudat and Jonathan Seinen, this piece will be a time-travelling, multidisciplinary public performance of the very private. An exploration of their relationship, imagining what it may have been five hundred years ago, meeting under that time’s Fur Trade/colonial reality, and what has really changed since then between Indigenous women and white men on this land.
PJ Prudat and Jonathan Seinen have been friends since meeting at the University of Alberta in the early 2000s. Since then, PJ has worked primarily as a writer and actor, Jonathan as a director and actor. They have collaborated twice, on Architect Theatre’s 2015 Like There’s No Tomorrow (SummerWorks) and Saga Collectif’s 2019 Iphigenia and the Furies (On Taurian Land), nominated for seven Dora Awards. PJ is currently Creator-In-Residence at Nightswimming Theatre and a member of the Canadian Stage RBC Artist Residence Program. She has acted on stages across the country, most recently at the National Arts Centre (Indigenous Theatre), the Belfry Theatre and the Shaw Festival. Jonathan also directed Black Boys (Saga Collectif/Buddies), and in 2020 earned an MFA from Columbia University in New York City and was awarded the John Hirsch Prize for Directing from the Canada Council for the Arts.
Prince Amponsah & Viktor Lukawski – LIMBS
LIMBS is a project that is the beginning of important research: to redefine puppetry through a differently-abled body, and what it means to manipulate without the use of one’s hands. It is a collaboration between two theatre artists, Prince Amponsah and Viktor Lukawski, who are trying to develop a project that they have yet to experience in the world of puppetry and visual theatre.
Prince Amponsah is a performer currently residing in Toronto. Since graduating from the George Brown Theatre program, he has gone on to garner credits for performance on the stage and screen. Some of which include: KILLJOYS (SYFY); The Things You Think I’m Thinking (Meraki Moving Pictures); The Threepenny Opera (Sick+Twisted and AA Battery Theatre) and SHEETS (Veritas Theatre) here at The Theatre Centre.
Viktor Lukawski is a theatre director, actor, and puppeteer who was born in Poland and raised in Canada. He is the Artistic Director of ZOU theatre company in Toronto and is a member of French-Norwegian company, Plexus Polaire. He is a graduate of École Jacques Lecoq in Paris, France, and Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada.
“My idea is a one-person show based on my life that explores the breakdown I had 6 years ago that caused me to stop performing. It’s what I call a ‘one person Hip-Hopera’ and in it are a series of monologues and songs that tell the story of the buildup, breakdown, and comeback I had that led me to my current life of being a successful comedian.”
Brandon Ash-Mohammed is an award-winning comedian & writer based in Toronto. His credits include being a writer on CBC’s Tall Boyz, being one of CBC’s Comics To Watch, and most recently releasing his #1 comedy album Capricornication which is the first comedy album ever released by a Gay Black Canadian.
Current Residency Artists
Ian Kamau – Loss
Ian is developing Loss, a Live-Arts Multi-Media performance that explores mental health in Afro-Caribbean communities through a personal narrative co-written by himself and his father Roger McTair.
Ian Kamau is an artist, writer, and designer from Toronto. He has released seven music projects including the self-produced album One Day Soon (2011) and has published articles, short stories, and poems in publications by Vice, Coach House Press, and Book Thug. The son of pioneering filmmakers, he was the founding executive director of Nia Centre for the Arts, has a Bachelor in Design and a Masters in Environmental Studies from York University, and a Masters in Strategic Foresight and Innovation from OCAD University. His research includes cultural production, storytelling, and critical city building with a focus on mental health and actualization.
Jennifer Tarver – Bear Witness
Created in collaboration with director Jennifer Tarver, conductor Christine Duncan (The Element Choir), performer and choreographer Susanna Hood, and choreographer and writer Sara Porter.
Bear Witness is a large-scale choreographed theatrical narrative embedded in the body of a choir. Part auto-biography and part fairy tale, Bear Witness uses a multi-voiced choir as a metaphor for the human body. The work explores a common human tendency to bury or hide stories deep within our bodies. Touching on events of both trauma and joy, the work follows a journey of excavation and re-interpretation of a personal history.
Stewart Legere – The Unfamiliar Everything
A conversation and collaborative performance project between The Accidental Mechanics Group and queer artists working in different media from every major region of Canada. This extraordinary meeting of LGBTQ2+ artists is an experiment in collaboration across genres over massive distances, an exploration of the pains and beauties of queer loneliness, queer spirituality, and a celebration of the chosen family.
The artistic team includes choreographers, musicians, poets, light artists, actors, writers, video/projection designers, dancers, spoken word and performance artists.
Rimah Jabr – Broken Shapes
Rimah Jabr is a Brussels and Palestine-based playwright now working in Toronto. Jabr, along with visual artist Dareen Abbas, is creating a new performance piece (Broken Shapes) investigating what happens to humanity in the context of borders, surveillance and fear.
A young woman in a city that has been occupied for decades. On the day of her father’s funeral, she discovers his architectural drawings. Overcome with sadness, she slips into the dream worlds and imagined places that he created. What is the influence of our environment on our imagination? Is such influence hereditary? Are our actions and dreams coloured by the environment where our ancestors lived, be they an open field, the ocean or a prison cell?
Broken Shapes is a hybrid theatrical and audio-visual experience in which live performance, installation and video explore how physical surroundings affect us mentally.
Neema Bickersteth & Nikki Shaffeeullah – Black Paris: The Notion of Song
Black Paris: The Notion of Song is an interdisciplinary performance piece that fuses music, installation, and theatrical storytelling. It draws from Alice Walker's seminal essay In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens; and other themes relating to the nature of art forms and 'artists', race and culture, moms, flowers, and beauty.
Neema Bickersteth is a creator and performer working in music and theatre. Nikki Shaffeeullah is a director and creator working in theatre and community-based arts. Moveable Beast is a collective of artists, led by Neema Bickersteth, examining culturally diverse and hybrid identities through performance, with projects including Century Song and Treemonisha.
Adam Lazarus – Bouffon
Swiss photographer Ander Petersen knows how to capture humanity. In this way, I’ve always thought of him as a master Bouffon Artist, who can highlight the deep lines of experience, and show us that we are all beautiful, grotesque, and oh just so terribly alive.
Bouffon is very alive theatre. It’s vicious. It’s visceral. It laughs at the hypocrisies of the human experience. It walks the razor’s edge of offense and necessity: we’re ugly, now watch, laugh, and admit complicity.
Bouffon is a creation lab, where a group of diverse artists will muck around in the bouffon form and create something epic.
Hailed as “Toronto’s favourite twisted clown”, and “the bouffon king”, Adam Lazarus brings a dark and comic sensibility to all of his work. He has acted as a creation director and collaborator with countless artists, and is known for dynamic and implicating solo performances, including Daughter; The Art of Building a Bunker, and Wonderland. Adam is an award-winning theatre artist and instructor whose work has been showcased nationally and around the world. He lives in Toronto with his wife Sarah, and their two children, Josephine and Oliver.
Anand Rajaram – The Monster from Inside the Third Dimension
The Monster From Inside the Third Dimension is an immersive choose-your-own-adventure 50s-horror/sci-fi-inspired project presented in a VR video game-style setting with escape room puzzles and wandering interactive characters that may be friends or foes. It’s a family-fun sto—oh no! Look out behind you! AHHH IT’S THE MONSTER FROM INSIDE THE THIRD DIMENSION!!!
Anand is an award-winning improviser, actor, playwright, director, musician, teacher & puppeteer. He is an accomplished theatre performer and creator, film and tv performer as well as voiceover artist for video games and cartoons. He is artistic director of @N@f@N@, currently creating AR digital content for live streams under the banner of his company, Cardboard Dreams.
Lorena Torres Loaiza – Pandora in the Box
“We’re building a giant comic people can walk through, moving the rules of comics page layout to a 3D space. For the story, we’ll explore how hope is preserved, lost, and how it can be created anew. To begin, we’ll explore the Pandora’s box myth. She’s let evil out. The world is ruined. But unlike evil, hope won’t come out of the box by itself. Perhaps she goes in the box to find it. Or perhaps the box itself is a safe place to hide, if she can ignore hope’s naïve, pesky attitude in there.”
Lorena Torres Loaiza grew up in Colombia, and then in Canada. She works in comics, illustration, and fiction, often in a quirky visual style using fantasy elements. She likes flawed people solving problems, not heroes. Lorena has a handful of short stories and comics published, and helps with projections for local theatre sometimes. She’s a 2020 Writing Excuses Retreat Scholarship winner. Right now she's just finished a graphic novel and is working on this Pandora comic and a new fantasy novel.
Milton Lim & Patrick Blenkarn – asses.masses
asses.masses is a solo videogame performance for multiple players about sharing the load of revolution. The narratives of multiple asses collide in a journey through the obsolescence of the manual labourer, political idealism, digital labour, and virtual revolution. In each show, audience members step forward one at a time from the herd to seize the means of production (a video game controller) and to lead us through a world of asses (donkeys) in pursuit of a life worth living.
Patrick Blenkarn and Milton Lim’s ongoing collaborations constitute a framework for investigating labour and value, utilizing game mechanics in performance, and manifesting alternative modes of discourse. Their projects are heavily informed by their respective trainings in performance making, critical thinking, and game creation. They are the co-creators of the performing arts economy trading card game culturecapital, and the archivists behind the performance archive videocan.ca.
Thomas McKechnie – Anticapitalist Ritual Magic
We’re not going to make it through the death triangle of Climate Change, Forced Migration, and Fascism without a reconnection to the spiritual.
Weird communist and erratic prophet, Thomas McKechnie is creating new rituals for a new world that’s coming. Prayers to prevent burnout. Funerals for the bosses in our heads. Renaming rituals for queers and criminals, blessing for burning cop cars, all the magic we’ll need to overthrow capitalism.
Thomas McKechnie is a playwright, bike courier, union organizer and student. His writing credits include The Jungle with Anthony MacMahon, Remembering the Winnipeg General, and 4 ½ (ig)noble truths. He was part of the paradigm-shifting union campaign to win collective bargaining rights for app-based food couriers at Foodora. He also helped found Artists for Climate and Migrant Justice and Indigenous Sovereignty. He does this with multiple overlapping mood and cognitive disorders so fuck the haters.
Victoria Mata – Cacao | A Venezuelan Lament
Cacao | A Venezuelan Lament, is a multi-sensorial interactive dance installation, that explores the socio-cultural-historic-political traces of Venezuela’s cacao industry through the story of two cousins reuniting. Inspired by creator and choreographer Victoria Mata’s childhood memories of playing in Venezuela’s cacao farms, cracking open cacao pods and sucking on the cotton-soft fruit. This installation is an homage to Venezuela’s cacao farmers and their resilience to preserve their way of life in the face of national crisis and the pressures of neoliberal industrialization.
Victoria Mata is a Venezuelan-Canadian settler in T’Koronto and a poly-lingual choreographer, dance artist, and activist with a background in expressive arts therapy. Mata’s career was first sculpted by pedagogic, self-directed training, which proceeded with training under internationally renowned choreographers. Mata’s sensibility to inclusion and border stories is due to her eclectic upbringing in three continents before the age of fifteen. Intersectional, multi-framed community-arts and the abolishment of violence against women are some of Mata’s passions. She has intricately woven these themes in her MFA in Contemporary Choreography and they are the foundation for some of her recognitions such as being a grant recipient of the Metcalf Foundation, a finalist of the Toronto Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award, and 7 Dora nominations.
In early March, The Theatre Centre put out a call for an Indigenous artist to join Sascha Cole and Rachel Penny in its ongoing Creative Producer Training Program. In partnership with Leslie McCue & Central Fire, and Judy Harquail, they decided to push forward with the call, and thanks to some of the emergency funds the company received, they were able to create a second training opportunity.
“We are grateful to be welcoming Theresa Cutknife and Cheyenne Scott into our team,” said Rose. “Creative Producers work closely with artists from idea to production, so this ambitious period of creation is the perfect time for them to start.”
Cheyenne Scott is Straits Salish of the Saanich Nation/Norwegian settler descent and a theatre artist with a focus on new works. Having learned theatre through a colonial lens, she is working to Indigenize her process through personal expression and storytelling. She is passionate about supporting diverse voices and work that is challenging structures and is conscious of its relevance to today’s audiences. Cheyenne produced her play SPAWN at the rEvolver Festival and SummerWorks Festival in 2017. She is a Dora Mavor Moore nominee for co-creating Now You See Her (Quote Unquote/Why Not/Nightwood).
Theresa Cutknife (She/her) is a mixed queer Nehiyaw and Puerto Rican actor, writer, curator, storyteller, and director from Maskwacîs, Alberta located on Treaty 6 Territory and is a member of the Samson Cree Nation. Previous acting credits include: Father Penible – A Canadian Adventure of Tartuffian Proportions (Centre for Indigenous Theatre) and Tipi Confessions (Buddies in Bad Times). Theresa has worked as an assistant director for The Election (Common Boots Theatre) directed by Jennifer Brewin and After the Fire (Punctuate Theatre) directed by Brendan McMurty-Howlett. She continues her work as a curator for the 2021 Rhubarb Festival and has joined a new curatorial project with Briane Nasimok for Storytelling Toronto’s: Story Fusion Cabaret. Theresa is currently researching, developing, and co-writing her next project in and for her homelands of Treaty 6.
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