Stage Door News

Stratford: The Stratford Festival names Keith Barker as Head of New Play Development

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Keith Barker will be joining the Stratford Festival as the Director of the Foerster Bernstein New Play Development Program, as Bob White steps back from the position later this month.

A playwright, actor and director, Barker recently announced his departure from Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto, where he served as Artistic Director.

“Over time Keith has become a valued colleague whose advice I have sought out on a number of occasions,” says Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino. “His generosity of spirit and national perspective have made him a trusted friend to many in the Canadian theatre community. His artistic sensibilities, experienced leadership and extensive professional networks will be invaluable assets as he guides the development of new work at the Stratford Festival. I am excited to begin work with Keith in this vitally important part of our mission.”

Barker’s work was a key part of the Stratfest@Home offerings, with his zoom play, in a little plastic bag, in a tiny little jar, on a mantel in the house premièring as part of the Viral Transmissions Series in the spring of 2021.

Winner of the Dora Mavor Moore Award and the Carol Bolt Award for best new play, Barker was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for English Drama in 2018 for his play This Is How We Got Here, which opens at the Shaw Festival next week.

He received a Saskatchewan and Area Theatre Award for Excellence in Playwriting for The Hours That Remain, as well as a Yukon Arts Award for Best Art for Social Change. His audio play Every Minute of Every Day premiered as part of Factory Theatre’s You Can’t Get There From Here podcast play series in Spring 2021.

Prior to Native Earth, Barker worked as a Theatre Program Officer at the Canada Council for the Arts. He sits on the Board for the Playwrights Guild of Canada, and is a graduate of George Brown Theatre School.

Barker will work part-time beginning February 14 and will assume the directorship fulltime on May 30.

Bob White to continue dramaturgical work

Bob White will continue with the Festival for the 2022 season and beyond. In the immediate term, he will ensure a smooth transition and serve as dramaturge on Every Little Nookie, Hamlet-911 and Little Women, all of which he had a hand in developing.

White took over the leadership of the Festival’s new play department in 2013, having started as a dramaturge with the Festival three years earlier. During his exceptional tenure the Festival has greatly increased the support and production of new work.

“Bob leaves the program with more than 25 Canadian playwrights under commission,” says Cimolino. “He has shepherded more than 15 new works into our seasons, including Kate Hennig’s Queenmaker trilogy, Paradise Lost by Erin Shields, Colleen Murphy’s The Breathing Hole and Bunny by Hannah Moscovitch, firmly locating the contemporary voice alongside of that of the ancients for both artists and audiences. These and other new works have gone on to lives beyond Stratford.

“Bob’s knowledge and insight have also been invaluable to me for season planning and the intersection of play development with the creation of the Laboratory. He also spearheaded the evolution of the annual Playwrights’ Retreat into an essential part of the professional development ecosystem in our country.”

White’s remarkable career in Canadian theatre also includes 22 years at Calgary’s Alberta Theatre Projects, the last nine as Artistic Director; Co-Director of the Banff Playwrights Lab; Artistic Director of Factory Theatre; and Dramaturge at Playwrights Workshop Montreal. He is a member of the Order of Canada and the recipient of the G.E. Lessing Award for Career Achievement by the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas.

“In 2021 Bob led an extensive national search for artists to become associates in new play development,” says Cimolino. “This rigorous process yielded a series of extraordinary candidates, and the first cohort of Kamana Ntibarikure, Mũkonzi Mũsyoki and Carmen Aguirre have become invaluable voices. When I learned of Bob’s desire to step back from a fulltime role, we evaluated the recent national search in context of the Festival’s needs and opportunities in the years ahead, and an ideal successor stood out: Keith Barker. We are grateful to Bob for all of his contributions and look forward to everything Keith will bring to the Festival.”

Photo: Keith Barker.