Three Canadian theatre companies join forces to produce Creative Catalyst program to support Indigenous and Black creators

Adventures of a Black Girl in Search for God (2015), by Djanet Sears. A Centaur Theatre and National Arts Centre production, in association with Black Theatre Workshop. Photo by Andrée Lanthier. (L to R) Front row: performers Tamara Brown and Saidah Baba.

The Creative Catalyst program is a new collaboration of three Canadian theatre companies, Black Theatre Workshop (BTW), Native Earth Performing Arts (NEPA), and the Thousand Islands Playhouse (TIP). The program supports the works of emerging Indigenous and Black playwrights. 

NEPA is Canada’s oldest professional Indigenous performing arts company, supporting the development and production of professional artistic expressions of the Indigenous experience in Canada for over 38 years now. Similarly, BTW is Canada’s longest-running theatre company dedicated to the works of Black and diasporic communities. And, the Thousand Islands Playhouse, also known as Canada’s Dockside Theatre, has been presenting live theatre in the heart of the 1000 Islands for over 35 years now. It is the largest theatre company between Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, which produces eight plays annually and a series of educational and engagement opportunities throughout eastern Ontario. 

Tapwewin – Her Inquiry by Maria Campbell, Yvette Nolan, Marilyn Poitras, Cheryl Troupe. Photo by Kaytee Dalton.

These three companies have had their successes over time in theatre productions, performances and skills development. Over the last year, the three partner companies engaged in discussions to address the gap in the Canadian art scene regarding creators and artists from historically marginalized communities. Those discussions resulted in an action plan with tangible goals and took the shape of a Creative Catalyst program. 

“We wanted to move away from the one-size-fits-all model of new play development towards an artist-driven process that provides them with the support they desire,” said Brett Christopher, the Managing Artistic Director at the Thousand Islands Playhouse. 

The program will recruit four creators to the cohort in its inaugural year, two from Indigenous communities and two from Black communities. These creators will receive compensation, resources, expertise, and mentorship to hone their artistic needs and develop a project they’d envisioned. The funding for this program comes from the TD Bank’s project ‘TD Commitment.’

“When I approached TD with the idea, they jumped on board immediately. They are incredibly supportive of the arts and have doubled down on their commitment to help the sector expand the range of lived experiences that are represented in theatre, specifically,” Christopher said. 

Logistically, the program is planned to be delivered in a hybrid model, in-person and virtually, depending on how the pandemic health protocols evolve. The partner companies are teaming up with creative consultants who will help the cohort of artists develop their work. Along with the creative consultants, each of the three companies’ artistic leaders will be involved in the developmental process.

“As a writer, I always appreciate models which allow for fluidity and conversation within the work. As I have learned, the creative process is never a straight line, with unexpected shifts in trajectory. Flexibility is paramount,” said Keith Barker, Artistic Director of NEPA. 

Artists will get full support to bring their scripts to play to a broader audience on different platforms. However, it depends on their individual needs on how they would like to develop their projects. 

Staged reading of Serving Elizabeth by Marcia Johnson at the Thousand Islands Playhouse. Photo by Randy deKleine-Stimpson.

“This year, Serving Elizabeth by Marcia Johnson, a play that the Playhouse commissioned and supported through a three-year developmental process, will be featured in the Stratford Festival season. That is certainly the north star that we are using to guide the work we are doing with Creative Catalysts,” said Christopher 

Each year, the program will be reviewed to assess the appropriate next steps and create more work opportunities. The submissions for the program are open until Monday, May 31, 2021, and the selected creators will commence with the program on Thursday, Jul. 15, 2021. 

“BTW is thrilled to partner with NEPA and TIP to launch this new program, aimed at developing work from among our most marginalized artists,” said Quincy Armorer, Artistic Director of BTW. 

“Audiences should ask questions of the arts organizations that they support or attend. What are they doing to diversify the perspectives that are presented in their work? How are they going to supply resources to artists who have historically had reduced or no access? The end goal is better art. Expanding the circle of those whose stories are given a platform is a crucial first step,” said Christopher.

For information about the submission process, visit the website here.

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