Theatre has been around for many many years, and for most of those years, the theatre industry has been male-dominated. Especially when it comes to directors, there have been many amazing, fundamental male directors, but there is a multitude of female theatre directors that should be given the spotlight as well. According to Adding It Up: The Status of Women in Canadian Theatre, women are around only 34% of working directors and 33% of working Artistic Directors. The rest are males, this disparity between these two groups is part of the reason why we need to bring more opportunities to women within theatre in Canada. Countless women have made the industry more diverse, brought new stories, and fought for proper representation. Here are the ten best female Canadian theatre directors.
10. Kate Cayley
Kate Cayley is a poet, fiction writer, playwright and director. She is the Artistic Director of Stranger Theatre where she co-created, wrote and directed eight plays. Her work with Stranger Theatre has been performed in many places, such as Toronto, Halifax, Montreal, Chicago, New York, Turkey and even Istanbul. Since 2004, Cayley is also the Co-Artistic Director of The Cooking Fire Theatre Festival, which is a festival that celebrates theatre and food, it is held in a public space every year in a public space in Toronto.
9. Marie Brassard
Marie Brassard is an actress, author and director. She was born on August 11, 1959, in Trois-Rivièeres which is a city in the province of Quebec, Canada. She has studied at the Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique de Quebec (Conservatory of Dramatic Arts of Quebec), Brassard later joined Theatre Repere in 1985, which started her fifteen-year-long collaboration with Robert Lepage. Being able to work with Lepage allowed her to learn and grow, getting hands-on experience with one of Canada’s top names in the theatre industry. In 2001, she created her first solo show, Jimmy which has since toured in more than twenty countries in Europe, North America and Australia. The huge success of this show led her to start her own production company, Infrarouge, she also became the Artistic Director of Infrarouge. The unique thing about Infrarouge is that it is in collaboration with guest artists of all different kinds of disciples – this created a surreal theatre space with innovative video, light and sound installations. One of her shows, Peepshow premiered in May 2005, the show premiered in English in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, then in French in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in June of 2005. The play was not only wildly popular in Ontario and Quebec but also presented in many European cities such as Vienna, Munich, Berlin, Milan, Brussels and Götenborg.
8. Jennifer Brewin
Jennifer Brewin is a very successful theatre director. Brewin has directed the premieres of works by Martha Ross, Hayley McGee, Natasha Greenblatt, Martin Julien and many more successful playwrights. Brewin has also directed within many theatres across Canada including, National Arts Center English Theatre, Great Canadian Theatre Company, Thousand Islands Playhouse, Festival Players, Prairie Theatre Exchange and Green Thumb Theatre. Jennifer Brewin has won many awards for her direction including, the Dora Award for directing, the Jessie Richardson Award for direction, the Armstrong Award of Excellence in recognition of the Caravan Farm Theatre’s outstanding contributions to its community, and a Harold Award. Brewin was the Co-Artistic Director of Common Booths Theatre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and the Caravan Farm Theatre in British Columbia, Canada. She was also the Artistic Associate at the National Arts Center in Ottowa, Ontario, Canada for three years. Jennifer Brewin is now the proud Artistic Director of New Globe Theatre.
7. Alice Ronfard
Alice Ronfard is a Quebec-based stage designer and director. She originally studied visual arts and literature. She worked a lot with the Experimental Theatre of Montreal, as her father was one of the founding members. Since the age of 19, she has been creating sets, designing lighting and working in production, this experience became her theatrical training. Along with phenomenal stage design, Ronfard has directed over forty plays, operas and dance performances. Ronfard likes to specialize in larger productions such as Shakespeare and operas. She has won many awards in her directing career, in 1989, Ronfard won the best direction from the Quebec Association of Theatre Critics for the production of The Announcement made to Marie. Then in 1999, she was awarded the Masque Award, for best director in In 1999, for her production of Yvonne, Princesse de Bourgogne. From 2001 to 2004 she directed the French section of the National Theatre School of Canada with Andre Brassard.
6. Kim Collier
Kim Collier is a director, dramaturg and actor. Collier is based in both Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Collier studied acting at the University of Victoria but she ended up quitting before she could finish her studies, she went to Yukon to perform in Vaudeville at the Palace Grand Theatre. She later continued her training and studying at Mime Unlimited in Toronto. Then in 1994, she graduated from the three-year acting program at Studio 58 in Vancouver. Later on, in 1995 she co-founded Electric Company Theatre which is a collective creation company, Collier was the Artistic Producer for seventeen years. Under her direction, Electric Company Theatre has created many original works such as; The Wake, The Score, The One That Got away, Hive 1, 2, 3, Brilliant!, and Studies in Motion. Other directing credits of Collier’s include A Doll’s House (2007), Titus Andronicus (2009), Red (2011-12), and Carried Away on the Crest of a Wave in 2018. Kim collier also initiated the formation of Progress Lab which is an alliance of some of the small innovative theatres in Vancouver. Kim Collier has won many awards including, four Jessie Richardson Awards for Directing, the prestigious Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize for Directing, a Betty Mitchell Award for Best Production, the Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award in 2009, and then in 2010 the Simmonivitch Prize in Theatre.
5. Djanet Sears
Djanet Sears is a Toronto-based playwright, director and actor. Sears was born in London, England 1959. She moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at 15 with her family. She eventually settled in Oakville in 1975. Sears’ work Arika Solo (Factory Theatre, 1989) had won her national and international attention. The show was produced for CBC Radio in 1990, and it was published by Sister Vision Press. Because of Afrika Solo, Sears was the first African-Canadian to get her play published. She is also the writer of Harlem Duet, a play commonly referenced as Othello’s prelude. It follows the story of Othello and his first wife, Billie, through the lives of three different couples all living during a significant time in the Balck American Experience. Harlem Duet which Sears wrote and directed won her multiple Dora awards in 1997 such as Best Play Play and Best Directing. Sears is continuously trying to push for more opportunities for Black creatives and artists. Djanet Sears is also a founding member of Obsidian Theatre.
4. Weyni Mengesha
Mengesha is an amazing director for both theatre and film, she is always pushing for more representation on stage and directs a lot of culturally specific shows. Weyni Mengesha grew up in Scarborough, Canada. Mengesha is the Artistic Director for Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto and has a drive for fighting against racism within the theatre world. Her directing has won her many awards in New York (Drama League), Los Angeles (Drama Critics Circle), and has been nominated for the Outstanding Direction Dora Award five times, winning once. She has directed culturally specific plays such as Kim’s Convenience and da Kink in my Hair, both having toured nationally and internationally and also ended up becoming shows on CBC, Global and Netflix. Mengesha is also an instructor at the National Theatre School in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In the past, Mengesha was the Co-Artistic Director and teacher at The Artists Mentoring Youth Project for 7 years. In 2018, she was named one of the 50 most influential people in Toronto by Toronto Life Magazine.
3. Jillian Keiley
Jillian Keiley is from St. John’s Newfoundland. She studied at Memorial University for theatre and then gained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from York University. She is the founder of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland, which is a theatre company in Newfoundland. Keiley has been directing since 1995, she worked with Artistic Fraud to develop a unique directing style, which was called Kaleidography. It uses music, lighting, and precision in movement to create a unified three-dimensional show. One of her productions of Tempting Providence from Theatre Newfoundland Labrador toured internationally for twelve years and was the inaugural production at the launch of the Myra Bennett Theatre in Cow Head, Newfoundland in the summer of 2020. Keiley is currently the Artistic Director of the National Arts Center until August 29, 2022 – when Nina Lee Aquino will take over as Artistic Director. Jillian Keiley has won many awards for directing for example, in 1997, she won the John Hirsch Prize, in 2004, the Siminovitch Prize for Directing, and in 2006 she won the Betty Mitchell Award. Keiley was also awarded Honorary Doctorates of Letters from Memorial University and York University.
2. Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu
Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu was raised in Kenya and Victorio, British Columbia, Canada. Otu is another Toronto-based director. She graduated from Soulpepper Academy, York University, the University of Toronto, and Obsidian Theatre’s Mentor/Apprenticeship Program. She currently is the Artistic Director of Obsidian Theatre, she was also the founder and Artistic Director of IFT Theatre, (It’s A Freedom Thing Theatre) which is an experimental theatre company. For her directing she has won many awards such as the Dora Award for Outstanding Direction for The Brothers Size, she received a Toronto Theatre Critics Award, Artistic Director’s Award for Soulpepper, Pauline McGibbon Award, a Mallory Gilbert Protege Award, a Harold Award, and she was twice nominated for the John Hirsch Directing Awards. Some productions she has done for Soulpepper are; Oraltorio: A Theatrical Mixtape, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The 27 Club, and Porgy and Bess. For other theatres she has directed; Motherland, Nightmare Dream, Dancing to A White Boy Song, Just me, and You and The Silence (IFT Theatre). She is also known for directing and Assistant Directing projects for the Stratford Festival, Canadian Stage, Obsidian Theatre, and Volcano Theatre. She, along with many others, is fighting for more opportunities for Black artists and creatives, stating in an interview with Now Toronto, “I want to see that it’s not just a seasonal thing, that it goes beyond tokenism – a real desire to engage continuously in the richness of who we are, even after it stops being convenient.” (Now Toronto 2021).
1. Nina Lee Aquino
Finally, in the number one spot, there is Nina Lee Aquino. She is a Filipina-Canadian playwright, dramaturg, actor and director. Aquino was the founding member and Artistic Director of the fu-GEN Asian-Canadian Theatre Company from 2002 to 2009, which is a company, according to their Who We Are page, dedicated to developing “professional Asian Canadian theatre artists through the production of new and established works.” (fu-GEN Theatre. n.d). Later on, she became the Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre Projects from 2009 to 2012. In 2010, she organized the first conference with and for Asian Canadian theatre professionals. Nina is committed to creating a more diverse theatre community within Canada. She has recently been appointed the Artistic Director of the National Arts Centre English Theatre in Ottawa. She has received many awards for directing such as; Ken McDougall Award for directing (2004), the Canada Council John Hirsch Prize (2008), and awarded three Dora Mavor Moore Awards for Outstanding Direction, for a paper series by David Yee (2011). Nina has played an integral part in shifting representation in Toronto theatre to be more diverse and multicultural and plans to continue to do so in her new role at the National Arts Centre English Theatre.
In conclusion, this list is only ten of the women out of the hundreds that deserve more recognition. Theatre is a continuously growing and changing art form that has the power to impact society. As theatre is opening up and more opportunities are given to women and people of colour, the more diverse and wonderful theatre will become. Though there is still a lot of work to be done. As more women are taking the directing role, more amazing stories will be brought to life with a new lens put on. The industry needs more women to help inspire the next generation as well as bring more female-written, female lead stories to light.
Fu-GEN Theatre. n.d.
Now Toronto. 2021. “Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, artistic director of Obsidian Theatre.” Last modified February 4.