Stage Door News

Ottawa: Eric Coates steps down as Artistic Director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

After nine seasons at Ottawa’s Great Canadian Theatre Company, artistic director Eric Coates will leave the position at the end of May. 

In a farewell video, he said he was wrapping up his career as an artistic director in order to pursue other interests. Exploring his connection to the Samish Nation of the West Coast will be one of those pursuits. 

“In recent years, I’ve been able to travel to the Salish Sea and spend time on the water with my cousins in the Samish Nation,” Coates said in a statement. “My fondest desire is to build my Straits Salish language skills and to make a meaningful contribution to the Samish Nation.” 

During his tenure at the GCTC, Coates demonstrated his commitment to thought-provoking work, often with political or feminist messages, as well as pieces that tackled racial issues. Some of the highlights of his programming in recent years included What a Young Wife Ought to Know by Hannah Mosovitch, How Black Mothers Say I Love You by Trey Anthony, and The Drowning Girls by Beth Graham, Charlie Tomlinson & Daniela Vlaskalic.

Raised in Guelph, Coates began his acting career with the Stratford Festival before moving to a job at nearby Blyth Festival, where he spent nineteen consecutive seasons as an actor, playwright, and, eventually, artistic director (2003-2012). He came to the GCTC in 2012, keen to bring his experience to an urban setting. 

While at the Wellington Street company, he forged partnerships between the GCTC and many other organizations, including  the Shaw Festival, Belfry Theatre, Tarragon Theatre, Black Theatre Workshop, Neptune Theatre, Arts Club and Persephone, along with local alliances with Horseshoes & Hand Grenades and the NAC Indigenous Theatre. He also created ongoing residencies for Propeller Dance and the Ottawa School of Art.

The chair of the GCTC’s board of directors, Sharon Peake, praised the balance he brought to each season. “His commitment to artistic integrity while pushing the envelope in various ways has made his time at the GCTC an entertaining and exciting one,” she wrote in a statement. “He leaves the company in a strong and vibrant place.” 

During his time at the helm, the organization retired a capital debt of over $1 million, though Coates doesn’t take credit for that, instead pointing to the work of a “motivated” board of directors. 

In the video, he describes his departure as “bittersweet,” but makes it clear he’s looking forward to the future. 

“I want you to see how happy I am,” he said, pausing for a broad smile. “This is the right choice. Right now. It’s time for me to make space for others. It’s time for me to pursue the things that have really eclipsed my interest in making theatre today.” 

The GCTC plans to launch a national search for a new artistic director.

By Lynn Saxberg for

Photo: Eric Coates. © 2014 Andrew Alexander.