Celebrating women in the performing arts on International Women’s Day and every day

La Goddam Voie Lactée © Mathieu Doyon

Music, dance and theatre featuring women throughout the years on NAC stages

Since opening its doors over 50 years ago, the National Arts Centre has had the privilege of inviting, hosting, and investing in numerous women-centred events and projects. This International Women’s Day we look back, and into the future, at some of the incredible women in the arts who have touched our lives with their performances presented at the NAC.

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Indigenous Theatre

Since the inception of Indigenous Theatre, women-led productions have been a top priority. 

Indigenous Theatre’s inaugural season, although cut short by the pandemic, was centred on a celebration of Indigenous women’s resilience, stories, and experiences, with 9 of 11 productions written and created by women. This included Finding Wolastoq Voice, a powerful debut work from Indigenous artist-turned-playwright Samaqani Cocahq, and Unnatural and Accidental Women by the Métis-Dene playwright Marie Clements. 

Last season, in response to closed stages, Indigenous Theatre shared a special virtual broadcast of Deer Woman by Tara Beagan, powerfully performed by Cherish Violet Blood. And to open the 2021-2022 season, Indigenous Theatre presented Okinum (meaning dam in Anishinaabemowin), written, co-directed, and performed by Émilie Monnet, a compelling piece in English, French and Anishinaabemowin.

Indigenous Theatre will continue to honour fierce Indigenous women and their stories on the stage this fall in the 2022-2023 season.

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French Theatre

In recent years, French Theatre, under the artistic direction of Brigitte Haentjens, has supported a number of women artists who are concerned with issues of female identity, and who have spoken out openly and passionately. This strong female voice was particularly evident in the theatrical-literary event S’appartenir (e), a dynamic evening directed by Catherine Vidal, which brought together nine female authors on stage. 

The NAC stage has welcomed numerous productions by women who themselves put forward the words of other women, including the landmark shows La fureur de ce que je pense, a memorable play directed by Marie Brassard, based on the work of Nelly Arcan; Une vie pour deux (La chair et autres fragments de l’amour), Evelyne de la Chenelière’s stage adaptation of the novel by Marie Cardinal, directed by Alice Ronfard; and Je n’y suis plus, an astonishing play by Marie-Claude Verdier performed by Magali Lemèle.

Haentjens herself has also invested this zone of female freedom by presenting, among others, her productions of Une femme à Berlin, based on the diary of Marta Hillers, and Molly Bloom, with Anne-Marie Cadieux.

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English Theatre

Next month, NAC English Theatre partners with the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre to present Calpurnia by Audrey Dwyer, co-curated by Black Theatre Workshop. Dwyer is a multi-disciplinary artist with over 20 years of experience working as an actor, director, playwright, teacher, artistic director, facilitator and mentor.

Calpurnia revolves around an up-and-coming screenwriter whose aim is to rewrite one of the most beloved novels of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird, from the perspective of the family’s Black maid. A hilarious and highly charged look at the knots and tangles of intersectionality and allyship, Calpurnia will forever change how you think about Harper Lee’s seminal work.  

Audrey Dwyer joins a vast list of women playwrights featured at the NAC over the last several seasons, including Trey Anthony (‘da Kink in My Hair), Lorena Gale (Angélique), Trina Davis (Silence), Hannah Moscovitch (Infinity) and Djanet Sears (The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God).  

In 2012, Dwyer was a member of the NAC English Theatre’s company, appearing in Dionne Brand’s thirsty. The 2012-2013 season marked the first time all English Theatre performances presented in a season were written by women.  

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National Arts Centre Orchestra

On August 27, the NAC Orchestra (NACO) in partnership with CBC GEM launched UNDISRUPTED, a ground-breaking series that reimagines the orchestral experience on screen.  Music director Alexander Shelley and creative producer Donna Feore invited Canadian visionaries Measha Brueggergosman, Shawnee Kish, Nicole Lizée, and Ana Sokoloviċ to each curate a 30- minute episode using the power of music and imagery and the orchestra as their megaphone. The episodes created by these four wonderfully creative women are diverse and powerful.

In the coming months, NACO will bring to the stage various programs celebrating female perspectives. This month, Montero & Shostakovich features guest conductor Dalia Stasevska, pianist and NACO creative partner Gabriela Montero and NACO principal trumpet Karen Donnelly. Stasevska will conduct NACO in the Canadian premiere of Swedish composer Andrea Tarrodi’s Wildwood, which she calls “a work that grabs you from the very beginning and takes you on a magical, musical trip.” 

In May, NACO’s Family Adventures series welcomes children and families to enjoy Songs my Mother Taught Me. NACO and conductor Naomi Woo will celebrate Mother’s Day with a concert that honors moms around the world. The program features music written by African-American composer and mother-of-three Florence Price, and performed by moms like singer-songwriter Kelly Bado (Francophone Artist of the Year, 2021 Western Canadian Music Awards).

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Popular Music & Variety

Popular Music & Variety (formerly NAC Presents) has presented a range of remarkable women over the past decade including Feist, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Calypso Rose, Sarah McLachlan, Kathleen Edwards, Molly Johnson and Diana Krall. In the last few years, we have reached our goal that over 50% of the artists on our stages are women.  From emerging artists like Dominique Fils-Aimé to upcoming sell-out shows with Charlotte Cardin in Southam Hall, we will continue our commitment to equity in the live music industry.

In 2021, The Global Network for Women Music Producers program was created by Popular Music & Variety’s Executive Producer and team. This program brings together women and non-binary producers from around the world and includes monthly Zoom meetups, knowledge sessions and special projects with international collaborations to provide women music producers the opportunity to grow their network, skills, and craft. 

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For over 20 seasons, NAC Dance, under the leadership of Cathy Levy, has been proudly committed to programming and co-producing works by new and leading female voices on the Canadian and international scenes. 

Since 2019, we've supported the development of new work by Esie Mensah, Rhodnie Désir, Crystal Pite, Virginie Brunelle, Aria Evans, Raven Morand, Kate Kamo McHugh, and Catherine Gaudet, along with projects by our Visiting Dance Artists Dana Michel, Laurie Young, Justine A Chambers and Josée Bourgeois. Last season, we programmed 10 Canadian female creators through our #DanceForth series: Ziyian Kwan, Andrea Peña, Mélanie Demers, Louise Moyes, Christine Friday, Rosanna Terracciano, Alexandra 'Spicey' Landé, Kimberley Cooper, Jaz Fairy J and Laura Taler. 

This year, from March 3-5, we celebrated International Women’s Day with powerful female voices in multidisciplinary artist Mélanie Demers’s MAYDAY, La Goddam Voie Lactée, accompanied by the music of singer-songwriter Frannie Holder. Coming up in April, Anne Plamondon will bring her stunning mixed program to the NAC. 

In May we announce the 2022-2023 season including an amazing array of work by new and more familiar female artists will gracing the stages of the NAC.  

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National Creation Fund

For almost five years now, the National Creation Fund has been investing in bold Canadian works. 
More than 56% of these projects are led, or co-led, by talented women writers, directors, choreographers, and producers. After two difficult years for the creators, several of these works will finally be presented on stages across the country this month, including Marie Brassard’s Violence and Émilie Monnet’s Marguerite: le feu, a powerful new play about the first slave and the first Indigenous person in New France to have mounted a legal fight for her freedom. 

Many others are continuing their creation process, with premieres planned for later this year and beyond. Alisa Palmer and Hannah Moscovitch are leading the adaptation of Ann-Marie MacDonald’s iconic novel Fall on Your Knees for the stage, while choreographer Rebecca Lazier continues work on Everywhere the Edges, a performance installation in which dancers perform above, below, and on a giant net sculpture by acclaimed artist Janet Echelman.  

The National Creation Fund is proud to be supporting work by these innovative and daring women. 

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1 Elgin Restaurant

Last but not least, through its Resident Chef program and Chef’s Table events our 1 Elgin Restaurant has had the opportunity to work with women representing the best in Canadian culinary talent from across the country.

Chef Helena Loureiro brought a taste of Portuguese cuisine from her Montreal based restaurants in the first season of the program. Chef Sheila Flaherty shared traditional Inuk cuisine from Iqaluit. Chef Renée Lavallée created a menu infused with the East Coast flavour for which her restaurant in Dartmouth (NS), the Canteen, is famous. From here in Ottawa, Sara Shpyth created a superb, gluten-free, menu for a weekend of Chef’s Table culinary events by the canal last summer.

The new series of Chef’s Table soirées will include one weekend featuring Algonquin College culinary professor, Chef Tanya Skeates. The entire new season of Resident Chefs will be composed solely of immensely talented women: Christie Peters (Primal in Saskatoon), Sabrina Lemay (Bistro L’Orygine in Quebec City), Minette Lotz and Stacy Johnston, partners in life and as chefs (Naramata Inn in the Okanagan Valley), and Jenni Lessard, a Métis chef joining us from Qu’Appelle Valley, (SK).

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Throughout the years, the NAC’s stages have welcomed many brilliant female creators, and we are proud to support and present such important works, and women.

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