It’s less than three months into 2021 and we’re already seeing exciting changes in the leadership of Canada’s theatre industry. After a year of lockdowns, racially motivated violence, political turmoil coming from every direction (but particularly our neighbours down south), and tough, widespread conversations about representation in the industry, the new Artistic Directors slated to lead the Canadian theatre scene are a breath of fresh air, bringing new and well-deserved perspectives to the forefront of the ongoing conversations.
Most recently, Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre has announced their fourth ever Artistic Director, Mike Payette, who is slated to take over later in the year. The latest in a series of exciting AD announcements, Mike’s appointment concludes Tarragon’s cross-Canada search for the perfect candidate, conducted by a nine-member committee. Theatre companies are increasingly broadening their searches for artists who not only represent the values and diversity of the theatre and general communities, but also bring years of experience, promising accolades, and exciting visions for the future of Canadian theatre.
As we approach the end of the first quarter, we are thrilled to introduce you to the newest Artistic Directors who will be joining Canada’s arts leadership in 2021!
Mike Payette, Tarragon Theatre
Mike Payette is no stranger to the role of Artistic Director. Having worked in the arts since childhood, Mike has built an impressive resume over the years with credits acting, directing, and teaching across the country. He is a two-time Montreal English Theatre Award (META) recipient and is a board member for both the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres (PACT) and la Maison Théâtre. He has served as the Artistic and Executive Director of Geordie Theatre since 2016 and is now preparing to move to Tarragon Theatre in September of 2021. Current Artistic Director Richard Rose, who announced his retirement in early 2020, will be programming the 2021/2022 season as he helps Mike transition into the position.
You might recognize Mike from one of his many performances on stages across Canada, from Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre to Neptune Theatre in Halifax. When he isn’t working on stage, he equally invested behind the scenes; aside from his numerous directing credits, Mike is the co-founder and former Artistic Director of Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, a founding member of Metachroma Theatre, has served as Artist-in-Residence for Neworld Theatre in Vancouver, and was Assistant Artistic Director for Black Theatre Workshop between 2013–2016.
Having been based out of Montreal his entire life, Mike has a strong connection with the community that surrounds him, and is deeply proud of the ways in which the city’s artistic community has grown over the years. In moving to Tarragon and the city of Toronto, he hopes to continue the company’s legacy of creating opportunities for new voices, and promoting new works. Mike is excited to meet the company’s supporters and collaborators, and help to build more bridges, not only within the artistic community, but also in the larger community and even outside of the province.
“Tarragon is at a place of really observing what they can do at this particular point in time, and which voices need to be encouraged in the awesome environment they provide to their artists. For anyone who may not have felt that there was a place at the table for them [in the theatre community and beyond], it is a personal mandate of mine to help foster those links with those who think there may not have been a home for them or their stories. Tarragon is the place for launching ideas and possibilities, and I can’t wait to begin working with them.”
Karine Ricard, Théâtre français de Toronto
As an actor, dramaturg, and assistant director, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more qualified artist than Karine Ricard, who will be taking over as the Artistic Director of TfT on July 1, 2021. Originally from Montréal, Karine will be the first Black artistic director of a Canadian francophone theatre outside of Quebec.
Karine is no stranger to creating her own opportunities: she began her career by co-writing the cabaret Les Effeuilleuses. Following its success, she continued to write, direct and produce her own shows in venues across Montréal. After moving to Toronto in 2004, she became known for her ability to perform flawlessly on stage and screen in both English and French. Although in recent years she has worked increasingly in television, she always returns to the theatre in one way or another; most recently, her play, Les Septs Péchés capitaux, aired as a podcast as part of the 2020 Les Feuilles Vives playwriting festival.
A highly respected artist in Toronto, Karine has worked with TfT regularly, acting in multiple productions and dramaturging the company’s annual writing competition, Les Zinespiré.es. A bilingual mother of two, she plans to further outgoing Artistic Director Joël Beddows’ focus on expanding the theatre’s youth programming, citing her desire to “[keep] the language alive” for not only her own children, but the many Francophone families in the province.
Rebecca Blankert, Connexion Artist Run Centre
The newly appointed Artistic Director of Fredericton’s Connexion ARC has a passion for collecting stories, and big ideas for the arts organization. Rebecca Blankert is a sculptor, a zine maker, an amateur ufologist, and a supernatural investigator. She is determined to take her role out from behind an office desk and into the greater community.
With a vast amount of experience across a range of artistic disciplines, Rebecca has been settling into her role for a few months and is already taking steps to develop new initiatives. She is part of Connexion Exchange, a new initiative from ARC that will pair eight established artists with eight emerging or mid-career mentees for a three month mentorship program. The initiative will culminate in a paid collaborative piece and an artist talk with each duo. Rebecca has also inherited several ongoing projects, including LAND/MARK, a residency and dialogue series featuring Indigenous artists and writers, which was spearheaded by past-director KC Wilcox.
A long-time lover and creator of zines, Rebecca hopes to establish Fredericton’s first zine library in collaboration with the Halifax-based not-for-profit art and events space Radstorm, and the Anchor Archive Zine Library. She cites zines as her introduction to a myriad of artists and perspectives, and hopes to create a comprehensive collection, documenting the creations of local zine-makers. Ever the story collector, she hopes to continue ARC’s legacy of inspiring and empowering artists across all disciplines, offering them the support and opportunities they need to develop their own work.
Miriam Fernandes, Why Not Theatre
Having worked with Why Not Theatre for almost 10 years, it makes perfect sense that the Toronto-based theatre company has introduced Miriam Fernandes as their new co-Artistic Director. Joining co-Artistic Director and founder Ravi Jain and Executive Director Kelly Read, Miriam will help to shape the future and focus of the company as it moves into its fourteenth year of operation.
Miriam is no stranger to Why Not’s vision of limitless artistic possibility. Since 2012, Miriam has collaborated with the company on numerous projects, starting with the workshop of Komagata Maru in 2012. After moving to Paris to attend École Jacques Lecoq in 2016, Miriam returned to Toronto right after graduating and made her way back to Why Not. Aside from co-creating, co-writing, and performing in several shows—including the 2019 bilingual ASL/English Prince Hamlet, in which she played Rosencrantz, among other roles—Miriam has steadily climbed the company ranks, being appointed the Metcalf Foundation Artistic Directing Intern in 2018 and an Associate Artistic Director in 2019.
Miriam is a passionate advocate for change and inclusion in the industry, heading Why Not’s ThisGen Fellowship BIPOC mentorship program and their collaboration with the Deaf-founded-and-led performance company, 1s1, led by Artistic Director Dawn Jani Birley. Miriam is an extremely exciting addition to the leadership team of a company that prioritizes collaboration and believes that in art, anything is possible.
Herbie Barnes, Young People’s Theatre
It almost seems like fate brought Herbie Barnes to the position of Artistic Director at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre—after all, it was at a YPT show where Herbie had his first taste of theatre. But it’s easy to see that fate had nothing to do with YPT’s decision to appoint someone whose professional association with the theatre began in 1993, and who has credits as a playwright, performer, director, and arts educator.
An Anishinaabe theatre artist from Aundeck Omni Kanin First Nation on Manitoulin Island, Herbie is among a generation of Indigenous artists who, in the 90s, worked hard to change perspectives and make their imprint in the Canadian theatre scene. He brings not only extensive experience and an impressive resume to his new position, which he will begin in Fall 2021, but also a fresh outlook on inclusion and representation in TYA. Having performed and taught in communities across North America, Herbie plans to build upon YPT’s legacy of leading the charge in bringing Canadian Theatre into a new era of education, expression and storytelling.
Aside from his storied career as a highly respected actor on stage and screen, Herbie has also been an active educator, creating and facilitating arts programs for students from elementary school to college. He’s worked with YPT, Centennial College, Centre for Indigenous Theatre, Humber College, The Second City and Manitoba Theatre for Young People. His ideas for promoting intergenerational programming, both in education and shows, along with his infectious positivity and hopeful leadership style will surely bring YPT into a bright new future.