Scott Joplin's Treemonisha

Volcano Theatre Toronto
  • Book and libretto adapted by Leah Simone Bowen
  • Orchestrated and arranged by Jessie Montgomery and Jannina Norpoth
  • Directed by Weyni Mengesha

In 1911, legendary ragtime composer Scott Joplin created an opera unlike anything that had come before. Treemonisha is one of the few surviving live performance pieces about the immediate post-slavery era written by a Black person who actually lived through it.  In it, Joplin created a young female protagonist who is elected by her 1880s community as their leader – long before women, let alone Black women, were able to vote anywhere in North America.  This was truly a new kind of opera, and Joplin never saw it produced.

Volcano Theatre, in association with the Moveable Beast Collective, is reinventing Treemonisha by commissioning a new orchestration and arrangement, and, significantly, an entirely new libretto that uses Joplin’s characters and 1880s setting, but grafts onto them a new story – one that extends and updates Joplin’s feminism and politics.  The re-imagining of this project looks to deepen the work's impact and restore Joplin’s voice to its rightful place as central to a North American Black Classical canon.

The production has assembled an international creative team that is not only first-rate, but mirrors the story itself, with most of the key creative leadership roles (librettist, arranger, stage director, research and text dramaturge, costume designer), as well as the entire orchestra, occupied by Black women. 

video: Treemonisha


Volcano is an international award-winning theatre company based in Toronto. The company works experimentally, collaboratively, and with an eye to making art that is socially and politically current.  Volcano’s collaborative teams work across boundaries of all kinds in this pursuit: geographic, cultural, and formal.  Artists are given the time they need to make theatrical work that is as good as it can be, often through years-long development trajectories.

As a result, Volcano projects often play for multiple seasons through remounts and touring, and have been recognized by over 70 awards and nominations at the local, national and / or international level.  As founding Artistic Director Ross Manson says, “Volcano brings together the best possible people to tell the most relevant stories we can find – stories that deal with race, politics, history – all the ingredients that make our time and place what it is.”  Volcano is a live-performance company that strives to connect Canada to itself, and to the world.

Touring inquiries: Dani Fecko (

Creative team

  • Book and libretto adapted by Leah Simone Bowen
  • Orchestrated and arranged by Jessie Montgomery and Jannina Norpoth
  • Directed by Weyni Mengesha
  • Music Director Reza Jacobs
  • Dramaturges Ross Manson and Deanna Downes
  • Co-librettist Cheryl L. Davis
  • Choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

National Creation Fund investment

The National Creation Fund’s investment of $240,000 will allow Volcano Theatre to bring together a large number of artists from across North America, including 16 singers and an orchestra of nine musicians, for a final development phase that includes a full-scale workshop with the entire creative team.


A Volcano Theatre production in association with the Moveable Beast Collective.  Co-commissioned by the Banff Centre for Performing Arts, Stanford Live, the Southbank Centre, and Washington Performing Arts.  Developed with support from the National Arts Centre’s National Creation Fund.

Performance dates

April 23 to 26, 2020:  World premiere at Palo Alto High School Auditorium (California) presented by Stanford Live - postponed

May 2 and 3, 2020:  Zellerbach Hall presented by Cal Performances, University of California, Berkeley - postponed

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