canadian english theatre

CANADIAN WOMEN OF COLOUR RAISING THE BAR IN ENGLISH THEATRE | INNOVATORS & ICONS 2022-2023

From the Obsidian Theatre and Stratford, to Broadway, here are a list of women you should know who are raising the bar in Canadian English theatre.

The National Arts Centre is partnering with SHIFTER to spotlight Canadian women of colour in live performance with its first ever Innovators & Icons lists. As a part of this groundbreaking article series, every month the NAC and SHIFTER will be honouring Canadian women of colour who align with the NAC’s various disciplines―Popular Music & Variety, Dance, Indigenous Theatre, English Theatre, French Theatre, and NACO (the NAC Orchestra). These women are not only stellar live performers, representing the geographical and ethnic diversity of Canada, but they are pushing the envelope and breaking barriers in their craft, on the way to becoming Canada’s future stars.

Next in the series, we are honouring Canadian women of colour who are making a difference on and off the stage in English theatre.

Canadian women of colour like Da Kink In My Hair writer/producer Trey Anthony have been making their mark in live theatre over the past few decades. More recently, women like the CBC’s Amanda Parris has jumped into theatre with her play Other Side of the Game which won the Governor General’s Award for English-language drama in 2019 after it was published in book form.

So without further adieu, here are a list of outstanding women of colour doing their thing in Canadian English theatre.

ANDREA MACASAET | WRITER, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

City: Winnipeg, MB
Instagram: @andrea.cesyl
Previous work: 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee, Miss Saigon, Heathers: The Musical, Prairie Nurse, Six: The Musical

What started with karaoke, a central part of her family life, has blossomed into a successful theatre career for the Grammy-nominated Andrea Macasaet. Before launching into her professional career, she attended the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria, British Columbia. In 2019, she took her talents on the road appearing in  Six: The Musical in at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. She also performed the same role at the American Repertory Theatre, Citadel Theatre, and Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. She later made her Broadway debut when the show moved to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre before departing the show this past December.

More about Andrea Macasaet

How were you first introduced to your creative discipline (i.e. music, dance, comedy, etc.)?

“I started out singing in local Filipino karaoke contests at a very young age which eventually introduced me to the world of musical theatre.”

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

“Because Winnipeg is rich with creatives, the biggest impact and learning my city has given me is to continue to surround myself by people who elevate others by sharing their gifts through inclusivity and collaboration. Art is stronger when we all work together from a place of respect and love. My hometown has gifted me the best friendships and wonderful opportunities to explore the different ways there are to give back to people. There is no better reward than having a community that loves you and supports your dreams.”

What has been your biggest professional achievement(s) so far?

“Originating a principal role on Broadway. Performing at the Tony awards with that show and also being a Grammy-nominated artist for the original Broadway cast album.”

DIAN MARIE BRIDGE | WRITER, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

City: Toronto, ON; Montreal, QC
Instagram: @dianmariebridge
Previous work: Associate Artistic Director at Luminato Festival Toronto, Artistic Director intern at Obsidian Theatre, Directing work includes Beloved: A Celebration of Toni Morrison and Black Women Writers (Luminato Festival Toronto); The Mountain Top (Persephone Theatre); Made In Congo (Theatre Row United Solo Festival); Aneemah’s Spot (Cric Crac Collective/Motion Live).

Dian Marie Bridge is an award-winning, writer, director and creative producer with a passion for community-bridge building. In July 2022, she was hired as the Artistic Director at Black Theatre Workshop, a co-curating company for the NAC’s English Theatre, but she’s anything but a newcomer to the world of live theatre.

Prior to joining the Black Theatre Workshop, she held a number of roles, including Associate Artistic Director at Luminato Festival Toronto, Artistic Director intern at Obsidian Theatre, Artist-in-Residence at Necessary Angel Theatre, Founding Artistic Producer of Cric Crac Collective, and a member of the Stratford Festival’s Michael Langham Workshop for Classical Direction. But she’s not just an arts administrator; she has directed a number of productions over the yearsBeloved: A Celebration of Toni Morrison and Black Women Writers (Luminato Festival Toronto), The Mountain Top (Persephone Theatre), Made In Congo (Theatre Row United Solo Festival), and Aneemah’s Spot (Cric Crac Collective/Motion Live).

Dian also holds a degree in Theatre Arts and Dramatic Literature from Brock University and was enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s Theatre Arts and Dance program (Twin Cities).

More about Dian Marie Bridge

How were you first introduced to your creative discipline (i.e. music, dance, comedy, etc.)?

“I come from a family of artists, which introduced me to storytelling, music and the idea of theatre as a community event.”

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

“Much of my work in the last two decades has focused on access and outreach, which has hindered the work to be done.”

What has been your biggest professional achievement(s) so far?

“Appointment as Black Theatre Workshop’s new Artistic Director in 2022.”

Credit: Dahlia Katz

VANESSA SEARS | ACTOR, DIRECTOR, EDUCATOR

City: Deep River, ON
Instagram: @vanessa_sears
Previous work: Uncovered: The Music of Abba (Musical Stage Co); Is God Is (CanStage/Obsidian/Necessary Angel); Holiday Inn, An Octoroon, The Magician’s Nephew, Grand Hotel, Me and My Girl (Shaw); Why We Tell the Story, Billy Elliot, Little Shop of Horrors (Stratford); Mary Poppins, Wizard of Oz (YPT); Caroline or Change, Passing Strange (Musical Stage Co/Obsidian)

Vanessa Sears is an award-winning actor hailing from Deep River, Ontario. Among her many accolades are the Dora Award, Toronto Theatre Critics Award, BroadwayWorld Award and Critic’s Pick Award. She has starred in productions across Canada, including the Stratford Festival, Shaw Festival, Soulpepper, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the historic Winter Garden Theatre and many more. Soon she will add Broadway to her resume.

Vanessa also has a number of TV and film credits under her belt, including Suits, Sex/Life, Y The Last Man, Sappy Holiday, 14 Love Letters and many more. She is also a director, educator, and serves on the board of the Canadian Green Alliance.

More about Vanessa Sears

How were you first introduced to your creative discipline (i.e. music, dance, comedy, etc.)?

“I first fell in love with live performance doing community theatre in my home town of Deep River, ON. We had a fantastic community full of warm and brilliant people who loved making art. I began with Deep River Youth Theatre, doing a production of Bugsy Malone, and had a great little feature. It was so much fun and from then on I did any community and school theatre that I could.”

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

“The people who supported me in those early days, folks who cast me in challenging roles and drove me to out of town rehearsals, those people were so supportive and gave me the confidence to audition for post-secondary arts programs. Without them I never would have chased the dream of being an actor and gotten the training that led to me where I am now. Deep River continues to support my career, driving to Toronto and beyond to see my shows. Their love and encouragement continues to ground me when my profession starts to feel overwhelming.”

What’s something people should know about you?

“I might play some powerful and intimidating roles on stage but I’m a goofball at heart.”

BIANCA MIRANDA & KESHIA CHEESMAN

City: Calgary, AB
Instagram: @thebiancanator, @keshia_cheesman
Work: The F Word

Nothing says teamwork like a bonafide production duo. Bianca and Keshia are friends, co-creators, playwrights, and body positive advocates. With seven years in the industry, the pair met at the University of Calgary while studying theatre. Taking drama to the next level with witty relatability is the trademark of this dynamic pair. The two share a strong ethos in using art as a transformative tool to encourage, uplift, and unite, all while bringing comedic relief.

Their most highly anticipated collaboration to date is The F Word, an endearing production aimed at challenging some of the taboo ideas surrounding fatness. “We have been creating and dreaming up this show for five and a half years and this show is our wildest dreams coming into fruition,” they share. Playing from February 9th to 19th, 2023, the show runs for the first time at Martha Cohen Theatre in Calgary, Alberta.

Infusing their identities as a Filipino-Canadian and Caribbean-Canadian, they bring a passion for highlighting the unique experiences of women of colour to the stage. As they continue to challenge biases, Bianca and Keshia are shining a light on marginalized voices to reimagine a future together.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Bianca Miranda is the Associate Producer at Downstage ‘theatre that creates conversation’ and also the Artistic Associate at Handsome Alice, ‘theatre that uplifts women’s perspectives through creative narratives’. As a theatre-maker and playwright, her works most often start from a personal place and examine the intersections of her identities. Some of her works in development include: Kisapmata (a Filipinx queer love story) and Opo (one’s quest to find her authentic self as the mythical creature, “manananggal”). As an actor and performer, she has worked with theatre companies across the city, with favourites such as Hamlet Frequency (Shakespeare Company and One Yellow Rabbit), Little Red (Major Matt Mason and Ghost River Theatre), and Timmy, Tommy, and the Haunted Hotel (Pape & Taper).

Keshia Cheesman has worked with notable Calgary theatre companies such as The Shakespeare Company, Swallow-a-Bicycle, One Yellow Rabbit, Handsome Alice Theatre, Downstage, Alberta Theatre Projects, and Theatre Calgary. Keshia recently made her national playwriting debut with her play, “Special”, featured in Obsidian Theatre and CBC Gem’s 21 Black Futures, which won a 2022 Canadian Screen award for best web series.

More about Bianca Miranda & Keshia Cheesman

How were you first introduced to your creative discipline?

BIANCA: Singing was my first love. I was that kid singing at family parties and school assemblies, and I joined so many singing competitions. Dancing followed quickly after that. But when I was in grade 3, my life changed when I got my first role (the lead role!) in the school play, “Mayabang na Gansa” (The Arrogant Goose), after auditioning in front of 200 of my classmates and teachers. I loved everything about it – the rehearsals, the costumes, the full production. I knew I was meant to do theatre in any way possible after that.

KESHIA: As a kid, I just loved performing in any way I could. I grew up as a competitive dancer focused on tap, jazz and ballet. Then in Jr. High, I joined the drama program which compelled me to take musical theatre at my dance studio so I could do my favorite things – act and dance, all at once. And I fell in love. I was always very quiet and shy as a kid, so theatre was the one time I was able to break out of my shell without judgment and fully express who I am. In High School, I became heavily involved in the drama and musical theatre program and from there I knew I had to pursue theatre.

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

BIANCA: “The stories I tell have a direct relationship to the places I am connected to. Calgary is my current home. This is where I’ve spent my formative years and where my family currently lives in. As an immigrant, I initially thought that hiding my Filipino identity and assimilating was the best way to find belonging but now, this place is also where I’ve found the confidence, strength, and pride even more than ever to be Filipino. The Philippines is also still home. I am forever longing for the sights, the smells, and the sensations of back home. This diasporic consciousness is always ever present in my voice as an artist and I always hope that my work is able to reach someone and makes them feel seen.”

KESHIA: “Growing up in the suburbs of Calgary, Alberta, I was always the only Black kid in the room. At one point I truly didn’t know any other Black people besides my family. That made me spend a lot of my youth trying to hide my Blackness and deny parts of myself in order to gain proximity to whiteness. Now that I have accepted and embraced all that I am, I’ve realized how impactful it would’ve been for me to see authentic and positive representations of Black women in the media. When I create, I always have my past self in my mind. I strive to be the representation that little me would have needed to accept herself.”

What’s something people should know about you?

“We love food! One of the first ways we connected was through sharing our cultural foods with each other. Having a meal together is a sacred part of our friendship that we bring to our working spaces and is also a big component of our show.”

Sherry Yoon_NAC English theatre actress
Photo credit: Karri North

SHERRY YOON | DIRECTOR, CURATOR

City: Boca del Lupo, Vancouver, BC
Instagram: N/A
Previous work: Richmond Gateway Theatre/National Arts Centre, Bard on the Beach, the Vancouver International Children’s Festival, Festival Cervantino, and Festival Transameriques

With an illustrious, 25-year career, Sherry Yoon is a theatre director and curator with a globally-decorated palette. Her passion for creating new performance through collaborative pursuits has enabled her to create work in theatres, performance installations, and large spectacle site-specific work. With 40 productions and counting under her belt, Yoon’s theatre experience spans from festivals to intimate shows. Touring across North America, Europe, and Latin America has given Yoon a cross-cultural edge. Emerging with an appreciation for various backgrounds and lived experiences, Yoon has finetuned her ability to relate to audiences, both small and large, in a one-of-a-kind way.

“There are many [obstacles] when one is pursuing a career in the arts, but through passion, drive and hard work, I’ve been able to become a working artist primarily on my own terms,” Yoon shares.

Her company has been in receipt of various accolades, such as Alcan Performing Arts Award, Jessie Richardson Award, and the Critics Choice Award for Innovation.

She is currently working on an interactive installation about climate change and our relationship to the guilt and isolation that people carry, involving the audience charging a battery on a stationary bicycle. Sherry also participates in multiple local and national arts advisories, and has launched the 3.7% – and advocacy group to support emerging and established BIPOC women and non binary artists in leadership, and most recently Stop Asian Hate an initiative that has galvanized Asian Canadian Leadership in the performing arts across Canada. She is also a freelance director and has recently been honoured as a finalist for the prestigious Siminovitch Award for directing.

More about Sherry Yoon

How were you first introduced to your creative discipline (i.e. music, dance, comedy, etc.)?

“I loved imagining being somewhere else, a picture in a book or magazine, or pretending to be different people: animals, creatures and playing out what their lives could be like.”

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

“Vancouver has been a pivotal part of my development as an artist. Much of my work has been for Vancouver audiences; and having this city as my home base has enable me and the work I have created to travel across Canada, Latin America and Europe.”

What has been your biggest professional achievement(s) so far?

“I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work with some of the most talent collaborators in the country, and am excited about the possibilities of future work and creative projects. I’m proud of my past accomplishments but feel the best is yet to come, in the most positive way.”

Sarah Nairne NAC English theatre actress
Photo credit: @joephotographyau

SARAH NAIRNE | ACTOR

City: Waterloo, ON
Instagram: @canvassarah
Previous work: Come From Away, Canadian Premiere of The Color Purple at Neptune Theatre, and the Citadel Theatre/Royal MTC

Born and raised in the quaint town of Waterloo, Ontario, Sarah Nairne built up a name for herself nationally as an actress, vocalist and all-around creative. In 2018, she took her love for the arts professionally, playing in productions like The Color Purple at Neptune Theatre, and the Citadel Theatre/Royal MTC co-production, Maddy in THE INVISIBLE at Catalyst Theatre, and Cinderella: The Panto (Drayton Entertainment). As a multi-faceted performer, Nairne landed roles in musicals, theatre productions, voice acting and more.

Nairne has also spent time developing her directorial AND dramaturgical skills in the emerGENce Fusion Film & Theatre Festival producing two shorts, and exploring her artistic practice in the Black Theatre Workshop Artist Mentorship Program and has taken on multiple roles working in the theatre industry in Ontario.

One of her biggest highlights was starring in the hit musical Come From Away with Mirvish productions and not the Australian National Tour.

More about Sarah Nairne

How were you first introduced to your creative discipline?

“In a non-professional sense, I did a lot of singing at home to Barry White/Luther Vandross. I started out in music as a kid, with strings in school, and that took me to military band and all that time singing in the background. I didn’t have a lot of plans to work as an actor, but then I started in community theatre when I was in high school/university and was hooked from there.”

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

“I was very blessed to be raised in a city (Waterloo Region/Haldimand Tract) that was starting to create music/vocal programs for young kids, and I joined when they were relatively new, so I got to have a lot more face time with vocal teachers, and music directors and these programs had connections with Drayton entertainment, which eventually took me into the professional sphere.

Outside of the direct ties, I was mostly influenced by my church and my family and the people they knew as far as music went and the LINK Picnic festival (Celebration of Caribbean Heritage). All of those things were really a way to feel confident about my voice, and my ability and to explore what else was possible with it.”

What obstacles and challenges have you had to face to get to where you are today?

“I’ll preface that most challenges I have to face are mostly ongoing, and you can make a lot of progress on them but they also rear their head sometimes. That isn’t the same for everyone, and I’m sure there are things I have overcome, but they don’t affect my work nearly as much as things that are recurring. Breaking or rather, expanding the possibilities of what I could do. i think people would initially hear my sing, and be like “oh you have this jennifer hudson type voice” and when I was young, that was great because you’re looking for someone to tell you you have the chops. As I got older though, it was really frustrating, and limiting to my development when people did that because all it said to me is you’ll never be anything more than that Black girl who only has this to offer, especially because on the flip side, there were Black people asking me if “they” told me to sing like that. It’s incredibly frustrating, and it still happens. On top of that, I have no formal training outside of now in my professional career, so you’re really having to prove what’s possible to people, and force them to consider something else outside of the Black girl singing the soul – I contain multitudes, as people say. Let me also be clear, I love to belt out a song, to riff and the richness of all of it still, and it’s hard to find a balance of people appreciating the technical difficulty and skill that it takes to do it while also understanding that you don’t have to, and can really do whatever you want to tell your story.

Another would be I had a significant vocal injury after the pandemic, something that had never happened in my life and it was/is devastating. It’s an ongoing process but I think it’s something that gets hidden away in the industry, and there’s a lot of stigma around it when it mostly happens out of nowhere! I wish that we could find more space for it (which I was blessed with where I was at the time). And this work we do, cuts so deep sometimes when something like injury happens, not just vocal but anywhere, we think we’re done, no one will want us anymore or there’s no rehabilitation – we’re cooked. And those feelings bleed into our regular life. I think the best thing I’ve ever heard about being an artist, and this was mostly about working for a company but I think it goes beyond that, is that the professional wounds are also personal (DM St. Bernard) and the opposite can also be true. The dividing line between this is your work and this is who you are is so very hard to see sometimes, and like I said earlier, I don’t know that I’ve overcome that but I’m working on it.”

Tita Collective_NAC English theatre actress

TITA COLLECTIVE

City: Toronto, ON
Instagram: @tita.collective
Previous work: Grow, Ursa: A Folk Musical, Scarborough, Moro Girl, Short Dances

Good laughs, good vibes, and good times –– what more could a group of friends and collaborators want? Tita Collective is a five-piece, all filipina sketch comedy group based in Toronto. The loveable collective uses comedy, dancing and music to brilliantly tell the stories about the Filipino diaspora.

Composed of award-winning playwrights, comedians, musicians, dancers, theatre makers and actors, the collective, made up of Ann Paula Bautista, Belinda Corpuz, Ellie Posadas, Alia Rasul, and Maricris Rivera, takes on a unique approach to theatre by centering community and identity. Through thoughtful and playful creative expression, Tita Collective honours and celebrates their roots and history, while simultaneously nurturing and uniting community through joy and laughter.

Tita Collective’s resume boasts won several awards, including the 2022 Just For Laughs Award at the Montreal Sketch Comedy Festival, 2019 Steamwhistle Producers’ Pick at the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, Best Newcomer at the Montreal Sketch Comedy Festival, and the Second City Outstanding New Comedy Award and Patrons’ Pick at the 2019 Toronto Fringe Festival. They were featured in the “19 Asian Millennial Women You Should Know” listing by Cold Tea Collective, and in Spotify Canada’s “Need Women” campaign for Women’s History Month.

They have performed with notable artists, including Sam Milby (ABS-CBN/The Filipino Channel), Bob the Drag Queen and Monét X Change (Just for Laugh Toronto)

More about Tita Collective

How did you meet? 

“Ann Paula, Maricris and Belinda met through various youth theatre programs from a very young age, often we were the only Filipinas in the room, so we became close. Ann Paula and Ellie both went to Randolph College for the Performing Arts to study musical theatre. We met Alia, who had just completed the Second City Conservatory program at a Filipino Comedy show. We met and came together to collectively create and perform a play called Anak at Carlos Bulosan Theatre. It was then we realized that we all had similar ambitions as artists and, more importantly, the same values and principles. We also realized the potential of our collective. We each were no longer the only Filipinas in the room, and without the pressure of being tokenized by systems that were often limited and oppressive, we became more empowered to become unapologetic in how we spoke about being Filipinas. As our collaboration grew, so did our sisterhood.”

What obstacles/challenges have you had to face to get to where you are today?

“From our lens as Filipinas, we want to break down stereotypes that are still often shown in mainstream media, go beyond representation and get into the nuances of our culture. The Philippine story is so complex and vibrant, but has experienced more than 400 years of colonialism. In that time we lost a lot of our stories, we have experienced an erasure of our culture and heritage. There’s been a lot of trauma experienced by our people, and everyone has a different relationship with their roots, but when we come together to share our stories, we will help each other remember, and we can begin to heal.”

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

“Toronto and Canada at large has a big and amazing Filipin* community. This collective was created not just for us, it was and continues to be for our community too.

Tita means ‘Aunt’ in Tagalog, and it is because of our Titas that we are here, making the art we love and are passionate about. We are all proud titas as well!

In our work, we want to honour our Titas, they are the backbone of our communities and the keepers of our Philippine culture and heritage. We wanted to tell their stories thoughtfully and with the utmost respect. We wanted to move beyond having them be relegated to a punchline, which is what we often saw in mainstream media.

Our biggest supporters have always been our community – fun fact: Filipin* restaurants, businesses and organizations in Toronto were amongst the first to fund our show “Tita Jokes” (shout out to Tinuno, Kanto by Tita Flips, DGA Variety, Filipino Heritage Month committee, PATAC, The Filipino Channel, and everyone in our community who continue to support us!)”

What’s something people should know about you?

“We got into this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, where we first debuted Tita Jokes. We are thrilled to debut a brand new show this summer 2023 at the festival! We’re also cooking up some very cool things (some of which are still a secret…shh), but keep an eye and ear out for some exciting news at www.titacollective.com or at our instagram @tita.collective!”

SHERONNA OSBOURNE | ACTOR, PRODUCER, DIRECTOR, EXECUTIVE

City: Toronto, ON
Instagram: @yoursheronna, @crossfieldhouseproductions
Previous work: Ninety Four” (alumnae theatre )

Sheronna Osbourne is an award-winning, Canadian actress and filmmaker based in Toronto. As co-owner and Vice president of Crossfield House Productions, Osbourne has written, directed, and starred in both theatre productions and films that have appeared in festivals throughout North America and Ghana. She

Through Crossfield House Productions she co-wrote, co-directed, costume designed and starred in the 90’s inspired play Ninety FourShe recently completed her first independent North American theatre tour for the play, appearing in cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor, Halifax, Buffalo and Atlanta.

In film, she directed a short film Boxed In starring Renée Neuville (Of 90’s RnB group Zhane) which is currently making the festival rounds and her costume work has been featured on Netflix Original series Locke and Key and Grand Army, and on Lifetime’s Salt-N- Pepa and OWN’s The Kings of Napa.

More about Sheronna Osbourne

How were you first introduced to your creative discipline?

“I was first introduced to acting/ performance arts as a child in elementary school. I went to my first broadway show and was hooked! Seeing storytelling done in this physical and dynamic way started my journey to becoming an actress. As the co owner of a production company i’ve had the to opportunity to venture into directing which has added great value to my overall artistry.”

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

“Growing up in Toronto and in a Jamaican household my surroundings have always been rich with character development even before I had an understanding of what that was. The freedom to explore and experience cultures outside of my own continues to impact the way I build story and how I express myself as an artist.”

What’s something people should know about you?

“I’m an artist in search of the truth. Truths of story, humanity and self. It’s how I approach my work and life. Im also a charades champion! Ask my family lol.”

Credit: Samuel Engleking

MUMBI TINDYEBWA OTU | DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

City: Kenya; Victoria, BC; Toronto, ON
LinkedIn: Mumbi Tindyebwa
Previous work: Trout Stanley (Factory Theatre), Here are the Fragments  (The Theatre Centre/The ECT Collective), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Soulpepper) and Oraltorio: A Theatrical Mixtape (Obsidian/Soulpepper)

Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu joined the Obsidian Theatre as Artistic Director in July 2020. Raised in Kenya and Victoria, BC and now based in Toronto, Mumbi is an award-winning director, recently winning a Dora Award for her Outstanding Direction of The Brothers Size, which also won for Outstanding Production. Her long list of accolades also includes Toronto Theatre Critics Award, an Artistic Director’s Award (Soulpepper), a Pauline McGibbon Award, a Mallory Gilbert Protege Award, and a Harold Award. She has also been twice nominated for the John Hirsch Directing Award

Her work as a director includes the critically acclaimed plays Trout Stanley (Factory Theatre), Here are the Fragments  (The Theatre Centre/The ECT Collective), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Soulpepper) and Oraltorio: A Theatrical Mixtape (Obsidian/Soulpepper).

Prior to this Soulpepper Academy, York University, University of Toronto, Obsidian Theatre’s Mentor/Apprenticeship Program graduate flexed at bit of her entrepreneurial muscle as the Founder/Artistic Director of the experimental theatre company IFT (It’s A Freedom Thing Theatre) Theatre

More about Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu

How were you first introduced to your creative discipline?

“Through making up skits and plays with my friends and siblings growing up in Kenya.”

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

“I am constantly inspired by the artistic leaders and artists in my city. In an unprecedented moment in our city, most of the venued theatres are being run by women of colour and Black folk. It’s inspiring to see. Representation on and off stage is more than I have ever witnessed before in this city, and it just inspires me to continue to seek and celebrate authenticity in everything that I do.”

What’s something people should know about you?

“I am also the proud mother of two adorable seven year old twins.”

JOY MWANDEMANGE | SINGER, DIRECTOR, MUSICAL THEATRE ACTOR

City: Malawi; Ottawa, ON
Socials: N/A
Previous work: RENT!, Legally Blonde, Hairspray, Bonnie And Clyde: The Musical, The Ghomeshi Effect

Born in Malawi and now based in Ottawa, Joy Mwandemange is a lifelong performer. She caught the bug for performing in front of audiences back in elementary school when she learned to play the recorder before moving on to the Eb Tenor Horn and the flute, and joining the drum line, school choir, jazz band and the Bongo Bang Boom Drum Band where she learned to play a variety of African drums.

But it her during her time at Carleton University where she studied music with a specialization in Musical Theatre Voice under the instruction of soprano Shawne Elizabeth Beames that she set her sights on acting.

“I’ve always been interested in music, but it wasn’t until I was completing my undergrad in Music (specializing in Musical Theatre Voice) that I really started developing a hunger for acting”, she explains. “Since then I’ve tried to throw myself at every opportunity I could to hone my skills and gain as much knowledge and experience as I could. I have participated in community theatre, dinner theatre, web series and touring productions and I want to expand my skills. I’d love to be able to have inside knowledge of every aspect of putting together a play and maybe delve into scriptwriting and producing in the future.”

Also performing under the name Thandie Dice, often alongside her partner in crime and life, Sirus, Joy has performed in Orpheus Musical Theatre productions of RENT!, Legally Blonde, and Hairspray, as well as Bonnie And Clyde: The Musical (Sock N’ Buskin’) and The Ghomeshi Effect (The Gladstone Theatre). More recently, she transitioned to directing making her directorial debut with the Taboo Theatre production of The Goat: Or, Who is Sylvia?

More about Joy Mwandemange

How were you first introduced to your creative discipline?

“A friend of mine shared a cd of the Wicked soundtrack with me when I was 11 and I immediately fell in love and memorized the entire soundtrack. I would then make visiting family members sit and watch me perform songs for them from the show (a cappella) until they had to make excuses to leave. I then did a Musical Theatre Focus Program for a semester in grade 11 which was wonderful and I got to be in my first show, Grease. I got to play Rizzo! But it wasn’t until I was about to graduate high school when a Musical Theatre Voice student from Carleton University came to practice her jury at my church that I realized I could go to school for this and pursue it in earnest. All that has led me to be able to truly play for work!”

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

“I actually grew up in many places. We moved around a lot when I was growing up so I lived in Paris (France), Ottawa (Canada), Lilongwe and Blantyre (Malawi) and it really impacted the way I see and understand people, the way we live, and how we interact. The similarities and differences in the way we perceive each other and ourselves. That is the biggest thing that has impacted me personally and therefore the way I go about telling stories. Theatre is such a beautiful and comprehensive medium for us to understand each other and show pieces of ourselves and communicate things that sometimes words alone can’t always say.”

What’s something people should know about you?

“While Canada has given me a wonderful home and a safe place to play, I am still very proudly Malawian and the soul of my people sings and shines through all the art that I create.”

Credit: Matthew Burt

TARA LYNN TAYLOR | PLAYWRIGHT, ACTOR, DIRECTOR

City: Preston Township, NS
Socials: @risentalent
Previous work: “Dreamgirls”; “The Color Purple”; “The Wiz”; “Viola Demond: the Musical”; “Hood Habits: the musical” and “Love, Peace and Hairgrease: the Musical”

Preston, Nova Scotia native, Tara Lynn Taylor, wears many hats. She’s a filmmaker, playwright, actress, multidisciplinary artist, singer and licensed hairstylist.

A member of The AFCOOP, Theatre Nova Scotia, Visual Arts Nova Scotia, PERFORM Nova Scotia and the Bus Stop Theatre, Tas has produced and in some cases starred in Dreamgirls, The Color Purple and The Wiz. She also wrote an original musical about the life of Viola Desmond staged at The Spatz theatre in 2018 and Dartmouth Players Theatre in 2019. She is currently writing her new musicals titled Hood Habits and Love, Peace and Hairgrease in the playwrights Unit under Eastern Front Theatre.

To serve the community, she also holds a few governance positions in the arts. She is currently the vice-chair and Diversity & Inclusive Committee team lead of the Link Performing Arts Society, a new arts, entertainment and production hub in Downtown Halifax. She is also a Board Member for Centre for Art Tapes, Screen Nova Scotia and the Bus Stop Theatre.

Tara has over 19 years of experience film, both in front and behind the camera, eventually co-founding The Emerging Lens Film Festival, serving as its director.

She’s also spent time as CBC Information Morning Cultural Columnist for the “ArtnSoul Report”, Artistic Director of Charles Taylor Theatre & Media Arts, the Inaugural Artist in Residence for the Halifax Public Libraries, Co-Chair of Women in Film & Television – Atlantic.

Her work in musical theatre and film ultimately made her 2021 Recipient of the African Nova Scotian Music Awards Industry Development Award sponsored by the Black Business Initiative (BBI).

More about Tara Lynn Taylor

How were you first introduced to your creative discipline?

“In Grade School, I can remember I would write skits and stories for every assignment I possibly could! My favorite teachers, the iconic Maxine Tynes, Edie Guy-Francois and Mrs. Nancy Sparks, always encouraged my visual art and writing. I had to be that “extra creative ” one during school performances. My first full play I acted in was “The Lottery” while at Saint Mary’s University. I played 2 cast members and I directed it! I came alive on stage and have not looked back. I started writing for public theatre in the Atlantic Fringe Festival. The first play I wrote was called “Crazy In love” (yes I was a Beyoncé fan!!!)”

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

“I love my hometown of the Preston Township, the community of East Preston. I often find I write better and with full inspiration when walking or driving through my community. Taking in the beautiful nature and shades of brown skin that surround me. I love spending time with friends and family and their comical nature often works it’s way into my scripts. We have so many untold stories from the Black community and I tell them unapologetically. ”

What’s something people should know about you?

“I love folks to know I have an ancestral way of writing music for theatre and I embrace it fully. I didnt realize I was a composer until the AMP program opened my eyes and heart. My mother, Heather Mae Dorrington (rest her soul) encouraged me to do anything I put my mind to, so in addition to my theatrical art, I am also a professional Cosmetologist for Hairstyling and co-own The Braiding Lounge Salon in Halifax. Braiding, twisting and styling hair is also a form of art!!….I also love to listen to Chamber music!!”

MARJORIE CHAN | WRITER, DIRECTOR, DRAMATURGE, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

City: Toronto, ON
Instagram: @magicalmudge
Previous work: China Doll, Lady Sunrise, Sanctuary Song, The Lesson of Da Ji, M’dea Undone, The Monkiest King

Marjorie Chan is a Toronto-based award-winning writer, director and opera dramaturge. Currently the Artistic Director of Theatre Passe Muraille, her plays include China Doll and Lady Sunrise, which have both been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, as well as The Year of the Cello, The Madness of the Square, a nanking winter, and Tails From the City.

She was also the libretti for the operas Sanctuary Song, The Lesson of Da Ji, M’dea Undone, The Monkiest King, and upcoming The Nightingale of a Thousand Songs.

With her works having been performed all over the world, including the United States, Scotland, Hong Kong, Russia and here in Canada, the accolades are beginning to pile up. Aside from her Governor General’s Award nominations she has also been nominated for nine Dora Awards, winning four of them, top of winning the KM Hunter Artist award, a Harold Award, Bra D’Or Award, and the George Luscombe Award.

She has also been artist-in-residence with Factory, Banff, Tapestry Opera, Cahoots Theatre, Theatre Centre, Theatre Direct, SUNY (Geneseo, New York) and Theatre du Pif (Hong Kong).

Despite her success so far, she shows no sign of stopping. Her upcoming project include directing The Chinese Lady by Lloyd Suh
(fu-GEN/Studio 180/Crow’s) and the operatic adaptation of Madeleine Thien’s Do Not.

More about Marjorie Chan

How were you first introduced to your creative discipline?

“I am a theatre artist, and I believe the first official show I ever saw was Jacob Two-Two and the Hooded Fang at Young Peoples’ Theatre in Toronto. I sat in the first row, centre seat. I think my mouth was open in astonishment for the entire show.”

How has your city, region or places you were raised impacted you artistically/creatively?

“My parents came from Hong Kong and came to Canada in the late 60s. They raised my sister and myself in Scarborough, an incredibly diverse and vibrant suburb of Toronto. In hindsight, growing up in such a naturally inclusive environment gave me a lot of confidence in the value of both the stories of my own culture as well as an immense amount of respect and awe for the stories from other cultures that surrounded me.”

What has been your biggest professional achievement(s) so far?

“I find it hard to categorize what may be biggest as there are so many different ways to think sought achievement. I am proud of the writing I have done, and the stages that those works have reached. I am also proud of the work that I have done that creates opportunities and capacity in others. I would say notably, these include at Cahoots Theatre, a refugee and newcomer youth theatre initiative called Crossing Gibraltar as well as collaborating on the DATT (Deaf Artist & Theatres Toolkit). At Theatre Passe Muraille, we recently completed the Digital Creators’ Lab for artists new to digital forms, as well just recently launched VUKA, a new Black centred creation unit.”


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