Stage Door News

Stratford: New appointments in the Stratford Festival’s Director’s Office will broaden the range of artistic voices

Monday, May 17, 2021

Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino is pleased to announce some changes in the Stratford Festival’s Directors’ Office, which will open the Festival to a broader range of artistic voices and influences as it prepares to mark its 70th season in 2022.

Cimolino is introducing a number of roles advising on key aspects of new play development, casting, research and development, and artistic planning. At the same time, he is announcing new leadership for the Festival’s artistic training programs. 

“As we come into our eighth decade, the Stratford Festival will continue to evolve and grow, building on a solid foundation of excellence while expanding our viewpoint to take in new and different ways of working,” says Cimolino. “This will create even more exciting variety, the true mark of a festival.”

Janine Pearson becomes Director of the Birmingham Conservatory. She was formerly Head of Coaching for the Festival. 

Esther Jun joins the Festival as the Director of the Langham Directors’ Workshop and Artistic Associate, Planning. 

ted witzel becomes the Director of the Laboratory and Artistic Associate, Research and Development. He had previously been serving as Associate Producer of the Laboratory.

“The remarkable leaders of these programs are committed to helping us find new ways to explore what a classic is today,” says Cimolino. “They will usher in a generational change in terms of how we are going to go about our work.”

Carmen Aguirre, Kamana Ntibarikure and Mũkonzi Mũsyoki are joining the Festival on a part-time basis as New Play Development Associates. Marcel Stewart joins as Casting Associate.

“These artists bring with them vast and varied experience in theatre creation. Their insights will be invaluable and I look forward to working closely with them in the time ahead,” says Cimolino. “These positions were highly prized. We received more than 90 applications from an amazing group of talented individuals. We give our thanks to each one of them for their interest in the Stratford Festival. While it was a real challenge to select the associates, we are excited to have met so many incredible artists from across Canada and look forward to cultivating relationships for the future.”

The Festival is grateful to the many generous donors and sponsors whose commitment makes this work possible, including the Birmingham Family, Daniel Bernstein & Claire Foerster, The Marilyn & Charles Baillie Fund, The Philip and Berthe Morton Foundation, The Dalio Foundation, the Department of Canadian Heritage, RBC and Emera Inc.

“We are fortunate to have the financial support that allows us to do this crucial work,” says Cimolino. “Too often we can allow fiscal constraints to get in the way of the essential exploration and development that must happen off stage to advance the Festival’s work on stage and keep it vital to our society.”  


The Langham Workshop seeks the most promising directing talent and provides them with fertile ground to explore, play, and hone their craft. The Workshop endeavours to help cultivate the directors’ interests, refine their aesthetics, and enable them in creating inspired and boundary-pushing work – not only for the Stratford Festival’s stages, but across the globe.

Under Esther Jun’s direction, the Workshop will be committed to finding directors working in all types of theatre who wish to share their knowledge and skills at the Festival.

The program offers emerging and mid-career directors the opportunity to explore directing innovative Shakespeare and classical works, birthing new plays with Canada’s finest playwrights, helming large-scale productions and working in a large institution. Throughout these explorations, directors will be offered mentorship opportunities, and opportunities to grow networks, hone artistic skills and provide space for authentic creative exploration.



The Birmingham Conservatory is a two-year paid intensive in which 10 artists (eight actors, two non-actors) are invited to further develop their craft and strengthen their artistic voice alongside and within the professional environment of the Festival’s repertory company. It is designed for artists who have acquired a foundational training (either from a theatre school, or a non-conventional, experiential learning process) and have two to five years of professional experience.

The program is devoted to the development of craft required to tackle text and language-based plays through material rich in character, storytelling, song, dance, fights and challenging themes. 

Under Janine Pearson’s direction, Shakespeare will be at the centre of the exploration, but not to the exclusion of other culturally rich material. And there will be an open engagement with both traditional and non-conventional approaches to the work.

Pearson will introduce a number of changes to the Birmingham Conservatory, most notably the implementation of several circles of leadership, which build, guide and support the pedagogy of the program. A group of Artistic Advisors – Walter Borden, David Latham and Yvette Nolan – will be invaluable resources in teaching, directing and leading conversations about the work.

A group of Associate Artists – Raoul Bhaneja, Esther Jun, Thomas Olajide, Lucy Peacock, Steve Ross, Michaela Washburn – and two non-actor associates will advise, teach and mentor in the coming session. They will be joined by two developing teachers and coaches – Lisa Cromarty and Martha Farrell – who will have the opportunity to develop their pedagogical skills with a mentor, while sharing their work in the program.

It total, a group of about 30 directors, actors, master teachers and coaches will support and guide the work of the program.



The Laboratory is the Festival’s research and development wing, comprising a suite of experiments and investigations that drive organizational evolution in an era of exciting cultural change. 

Under ted witzel’s leadership, it plays a crucial role in opening dialogue, internally and externally, by creating spaces to reflect on the Festival’s role as a heritage institution and the growth and change necessary to ensure that it remains a vital asset to Canada’s cultural ecology.

The Lab advances inclusive and innovative practice by incubating new works and supporting long-term and unconventional development processes. It conducts experiments through the resident Lab Ensemble to build capacity to support other forms and cultural protocols, and to create new relationships with artists from across Canada and beyond. It fosters ensemble by offering full-company sessions to encourage horizontal learning and build a shared spirit among all of the artists working on a Festival season.

The Lab also builds connections with the national artistic community by hosting and supporting gatherings of makers to share practices, questions, challenges and strategies. 



The Foerster Bernstein New Play Development Program commissions new plays, with a current focus on ambitious large-cast plays that articulate the great themes of timeless theatre, plays that feature a female point of view and those that reflect the cultural diversity of Canadian life.

Carmen Aguirre, Kamana Ntibarikure and Mũkonzi Mũsyoki will work with Bob White the Director of the Foerster Bernstein New Play Development Program.

While specific projects attached to each of the new associates will develop over the course of their residencies, both Mũsyoki and Ntibarikure will function as dramaturges this season, with Mũsyoki working on Serving Elizabeth and Ntibarikure on I Am William

All three artists will audit and participate in workshops conducted by New Play Development and the Lab, and they will each develop a project that supports the Festival’s commitment to amplifying underrepresented voices. 

At any given time, about 25 works are in active development. Current works include Ransacking Troy by Erin Shields, Every Little Nookie by Sunny Drake, Trouble by Rosa Laborde, 1939 by Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan, and Casey and Diana by Nick Green

The Program also offers an annual Playwrights Retreat, in which invited writers from across Canada are given a home away from home in Stratford, a place to write both in solitude and in the company of other writers and theatrical artists who can provide support and dramaturgical feedback.



Marcel Stewart will work alongside Casting Director Beth Russell to cast all of the Festival’s programming, including new work development and the Birmingham Conservatory, with an emphasis on amplifying voices of IBPOC and other equity-seeking groups. 

Stewart will also participate in education, training, research and development initiatives with a focus on outreach to identities and communities underrepresented at the Festival. 

All four of these new associates – Aguirre, Mũsyoki, Ntibarikure and Stewart – will help to develop and assist in applying the Festival’s evolving development protocols, which are designed to cultivate appropriate and respectful approaches to representation in all of the Festival’s work. They will work in a culture of mutual exchange and collaboration within their departments, sharing their expertise and also learning from seasoned professionals.