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Canadian Stage director Matthew Jocelyn’s last season is an ambitious farewell

Why Not Theatre’s Prince Hamlet will be remounted at Canadian Stage in early 2019.

Bronwen Sharp

Matthew Jocelyn, artistic and general director of Canadian Stage, may be officially leaving his position in June – but he'll be leaving behind a 2018-19 season as ambitious as any of his nine-year tenure at the Toronto not-for-profit theatre company.

On Valentine's Day, Jocelyn will announce his farewell season of 17 shows – and, appropriately enough, it includes a number of projects on which the director has personally played matchmaker.

XENOS, for instance, the international co-production that will open the Canadian Stage mainstage season in October, 2018, is a solo performance work by celebrated English choreographer Akram Khan (Desh, Toro) with text by Canadian playwright Jordan Tannahill (Concord Floral, Declarations).

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Jocelyn introduced the two artists on one of Khan's previous visits to Toronto. "It's lovely when two artists that have been so close to this company come together," he said.

Choreographer Crystal Pite and playwright/performer Jonathon Young are another pair who both worked at Canadian Stage separately before they banded together to create Betroffenheit, a dance/theatre hybrid that has won major awards and aired on the BBC. Pite and Young's follow-up to that will be a show called Revisor – about "corruption, farce and the forces of radical change," set to play in March, 2019.

Kim Collier and Daniel Brooks, two Siminovitch Prize-winning directors and favourites of Jocelyn's, will team up for The Full Light of Day – a new play penned by Collier about the aging matriarch of a wealthy Canadian family. A production of Vancouver's Electric Company Theatre, this show will be presented as part of the Luminato Festival in June, 2019.

Jocelyn's final line-up also includes some first theatrical dates: The dance show who we are in the dark will pair choreographer Peggy Baker with Arcade Fire's Jeremy Gara and Sarah Neufeld, while Unsafe will match broadcaster Sook-Yin Lee with playwright/filmmaker Zack Russell.

Two already critically acclaimed productions of classics will be remounted side-by-side at Canadian Stage in early 2019. The Stratford Festival's production of Tartuffe, directed by Chris Abraham, will play on the main stage in January, 2019, while Why Not Theatre's Prince Hamlet, starring Christine Horne as the melancholy Dane and Saskatchewan-born deaf artist Dawn Jani Birley as a scene-stealing Horatio, will return in the company's second space the following month.

Jocelyn's grand finale will also include Grand Finale, a new piece by Israeli choreographer Hofesh Schechter (Political Mother); I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron, a new song cycle from composer Njo Kong Kie (Mr. Shi and His Lover); a production of Lucy Kirkwood's The Children directed by Eda Holmes; and another return engagement of 887 Quebec director Robert Lepage's extraordinary autobiographical show.

In an interview Tuesday, Jocelyn fired a parting shot at an old foe. Many of the artist-driven companies that Jocelyn has made a home for in Toronto during his tenure – such as Collier's Electric Company, Pite's Kidd Pivot and Lepage's Ex Machina – saw major increase to their core funding from the Canada Council earlier this month. However, Canadian Stage's core funding – which was reduced by 13 per cent five years ago – has been kept at that level by the federal arts agency that is set to see its budget double over five years.

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"We live in a fascinating era where wonderful artists are receiving well-constructed support, but nothing is being done to support the institutions to share that work in a larger way," Jocelyn said. "I'm dismayed."

The search is now on for a successor: After months spent restructuring the management roles, Canadian Stage's board of directors has hired Heather Ring of executive search firm Caldwell Partners to find the next artistic leader.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect name for Sook-Yin Lee. This version has been corrected.
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