Okay, so we'll admit it. 2021 was hard.
We’ve been angry; we’ve struggled; we’ve had to change our plans.
On the plus side, we’ve experienced lots of new things. From the strangeness of rehearsing in masks; to our newfound skills in administering rapid tests to entire dance companies; to finding out that our amazing production team was able to lash a grand piano to the High Park stage just before a full-blown rainstorm; it’s been quite an adventure.
We’ve also had moments of great joy. In this edition of CS Grid, we take the time to reminisce on six of our most magical moments of 2021; and to celebrate the artists who are paving the way forward, despite many uncertainties, with full creative force, ingenuity, and resilience.
1. Celebrating Stories with Buffy Sainte-Marie
In January, we joined forces with the International Festival of Authors to host The Elements of Story virtual book club.
We were delighted to have the legendary Indigenous singer-songwriter, Oscar-winning composer, and all around multi-talented artist, Buffy Sainte-Marie, take us on a search for meaning through three of her favourite texts. It was a pleasure to host this virtual gathering, where both diehard fans and new audiences all let the words of Sainte-Marie inspire their reading journey through timely texts.
2. Building Community with Jamii
When we couldn’t bring people into the theatre, we helped bring theatre to the people. Jamii (Swahili for “community”) is a St. Lawrence neighbourhood arts organization on a mission to bring members of our community closer together. We love Jamii’s work, and we are proud to partner with them to help build their capacity and share resources. This year’s events included the Giizhig mobile performances that brought art to our closest neighbours on the Esplanade, Wayo, a free childrens’ festival, and the Becoming Garden.
3. Putting New Technologies at Centre Stage
In partnership with the BMO Lab at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance at U of T, we created a unique paid residency that embeds professional artists with an interest in creation and emergent technologies, in a graduate-level, interdisciplinary course environment. 2021’s BMO Lab Resident Artist is Bronwen Sharp, who has been working with celebrated German director Johanna Schall on an upcoming workshop production of Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.
We held two iterations of the Festival of Ideas and Creation (FIC), following last year’s success.
Digital audiences enjoyed both FIC: Movements in Dance and FIC: New Technologies and Performance, where artists, arts practitioners, and thought leaders from various disciplines gathered virtually to interrogate and investigate pressing, new and challenging topics from the artistic creation communities.
Delving even deeper into hybrid forms of live performance, the CS Virtual Reality Technology Residents investigated how theatre makers can use VR systems to stretch the boundaries of what we can create, perform, and experience together. For our 21.22 season, we were pleased to host three phenomenal artists, Echo Zhou, Esther Splett, and Lyon Smith Beth Kates as they worked in residency with Program Director Beth Kates. We are so ready to explore what the augmented reality space offers!
4. We Brought Dance to the Screen
In collaboration with a massive team of incredible artists and creative leaders, Canadian Stage was honoured to co-present TESSEL, an Esie Mensah film. The short film, co-presented by a network of 21 Canadian performing arts organizations, explored the complexities of movement and voice as a form of resilience and features the stories and lived experiences of 14 pioneering Black artists.
Then, in October, we finally unveiled New Monuments in collaboration with Luminato, Harbourfront Centre, the National Arts Centre and TO Live. Now streaming on CBC Gem, New Monuments is an original dance production featuring over 40 of Toronto’s leading IBPOC dance-makers and artists. This film signals hope for a future where the earth is revered, the community is centred, and colonial ideologies, including practices of racism, oppression, and subjugation, cease to exist.
5. Dreaming in High Park
Following a year of theatre closures and uncertainty, the summer of 2021 was looking bright. With vaccination rollouts, we dreamed of performance, and of the city reopening to a new kind of normalcy. This hope emboldened us to invite 19 presenting partners and hundreds of artists to share the stage with us at the High Park Amphitheatre. From June to September, we hosted over 70 performances and provided a place for Toronto’s arts organizations to welcome audiences back for live performances in an exquisite outdoor setting.
Dream in High Park was our way of telling the world that creativity will persevere despite the challenges we face as an industry. Thank you for the standing ovations, the community spirit, and for trusting us to safely create a home for art and artists.
6. Watching How to Fail as a Popstar Succeed Over and Over
Given the play’s title, it’s wonderfully ironic that How to Fail as a Popstar has only gained momentum since its journey began in February 2020 at Canadian Stage. This astonishingly honest story about Vivek Shraya’s “not quite” pop music stardom has made great strides in 2021, with a book release this year, winter cross-Canada tour and even a move into television. That’s right -- How to Fail as a Popstar has been optioned by Sienna Films, in development with the CBC, to become a series created by and starring Vivek. We’re thrilled to see this show keep on growing!
We made it through the year thanks to everyone who believed in our mission, our community of donors who supported the artistic journey, and to the artists who inspired us with their riveting work. To the audience members who waited, joined us, and cheered us on, you made all this hard work worth it, and for that we are grateful.
2022 may not be easy, either, but we need art more than ever.
We’ll see you soon.