Magnetic North in Halifax: Showcasing the best theatre from across Canada

Cliff Cardinal, huff © Elizabeth Kantor
Denise Clake © Trudie Lee
Paula Burrows © Emily Cooper

The Magnetic North Theatre Festival is Canada’s only national theatre festival. It brings Canadian stories to life on stage across the country, and promotes talented Canadian artists by showcasing some of the best touring theatre from across Canada.  

Co-presented by the National Arts Centre, the festival began in 2003 and is held in Ottawa every two years. Canadian cities that have hosted Magnetic North in the alternating years include Calgary, Edmonton, St. John's, Kitchener-Waterloo Vancouver and Halifax.

"We want our festival to bring a sense of excitement about Canadian theatre, and the promise of an experience that will transform them in some way." – Brenda Leadlay

This year the festival lands in Halifax and Dartmouth from June 19-29, collaborating with Halifax’s Eastern Front’s Stages Theatre Festival, and bringing together an exciting line-up of some of the best theatre in Canada.

wag from Calgary’s One Yellow Rabbit kicks off Magnetic North. Other performers and presentations include Who Killed Spalding Gray? written and performed by Daniel MacIvor, Cliff Cardinal’s huff (which ran at the NAC in April and May 2014), FIXT POINT Theatre’s Tale of a Town Nova Scotia and Broken Sex Doll from the Virtual Stage in Vancouver.

As the festival gets ready to open its 12th year, we chatted with Artistic Executive Director Brenda Leadlay about putting the festival together, and about being in Halifax this year.

What goes into planning Magnetic North every year? How long in advance would you have to plan?

When the festival travels to a different host city every other year, we first consider place, and how the festival will interact with the community there. We also work with the local theatres to learn about their audiences, and how we can help them address any challenges they might face in the professional arts community. We work towards leaving a legacy in each city we visit.

I usually have most of the programming figured out about 14 months in advance of the festival so that we can begin to raise the money we’ll need to produce it.

How many shows would you see in a year?

I see between four to six shows a week when I’m on the road – and I spend about two weeks each month traveling.

What excites you most about Canadian Theatre right now?

What I find most exciting right now is the trend to engage audiences more directly, either through participation or verbatim theatre. I also like the way theatre is becoming more authentic – actors are playing themselves or telling Canadian stories.

2014’s festival takes place in Halifax. What does a city bring to the festival? How exciting is it to be on the East Coast?

The city of Halifax is front and centre, thanks to our partnership with Eastern Front’s Stages Theatre Festival. There are over 13 companies featured on the main stage, and our Industry Series is focused on how local artists have found ways to stay in their own communities to make their art sustainable. We are featuring a diverse range of keynote speakers, from chefs to architects to musicians – all on the theme of “waiting to be discovered.” We also want our festival to bring a sense of excitement about Canadian theatre, and the promise of an experience that will transform them in some way.

The festival is back in Ottawa for 2015, and you will be co-presenting Robert Lepage’s Needles and Opium with NAC English Theatre. Any other hints you could mention?

Well, it will definitely be more great Canadian theatre!  And I will tell you that there will be several performances happening outside.  

The Magnetic North Theatre Festival is co-presented by the National Arts Centre. For more information on the Magnetic North Theatre Festival, visit