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The co-founder and long-time artistic producer of Vancouver's envelope-pushing Electric Company Theatre has won this year's prestigious Siminovitch Prize, Canada's richest theatre award. In a year when the prize honours direction, Kim Collier was cited for her innovation, leadership and her encouragement of artistic risk.

"I am honoured and overwhelmed and humbled," Collier said from Edmonton, where an updated version of Electric Company's Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge is being mounted at the Citadel Theatre. (She later flew to Toronto to collect the prize.) "To be recognized for your work - I'm just stunned by it. It is a really, really beautiful thing to happen."

Since its founding in 1996, the Electric Company has created a dozen original works, including site-specific and multimedia productions. The company recently premiered Tear the Curtain!, a cinematic/live theatre hybrid. This season it will take No Exit - a reinvention of Jean-Paul Sartre's 1944 existential classic - to the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, and Studies in Motion will be presented by Canadian Stage in Toronto. Collier, 45, directs all three.

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"I think the excitement around Kim's work is felt nationally," said jury chair Maureen Labonté. "Her work is unique. There's a real sense of passion and innovation there, and of an artist who's developed her own style, her own theatrical vocabulary. She surprises audiences constantly."

This marks the first time in its 10-year history that the prize has gone to a Vancouver-based artist. "She really has contributed to the renaissance of the theatre scene in Vancouver, as a participant, as a creator and as a leader," Labonté said.

The prize is worth $100,000, with $25,000 to be given to a protégé of the winner's choosing. Collier picked Anita Rochon, 31, a Vancouver-based director whom Collier met when Rochon worked on The Fall in 2003, the same year Rochon graduated from Vancouver's Studio 58 theatre program at Langara College (she then went on to study at the National Theatre School).

"I'm a fan of hers," Collier said. "I'm also a big fan of supporting women in leadership roles in our community."

For Collier, the prize couldn't come at a better time. She and Jonathon Young, her life and creative partner, are taking a much-needed sabbatical after the death of their daughter Azra, 14, in a fire last year. They recently announced that they will step away from their Electric Company roles as artistic producer and artistic director, respectively, on January 1, 2011. Company co-founder Kevin Kerr will return as artistic director.

"I was about to give up all my security," said Collier, "and I was okay with that because I was really ready for a chapter in my life that was more reflective, and the Siminovitch Prize coming at the time when I'd already made that decision is a beautiful, beautiful gift, because it takes away from that stress."

Collier would like to learn how to edit film (the company uses a great deal of film in their productions), but has other, bigger-picture pursuits in mind.

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"I think there's an incredible opportunity for space, reflection, gathering, knowledge-building, learning and finally back to practical application," Collier said. "The award gives you the opportunity to do some studying, do some gathering, go see great work, be inspired by other artists. ... It gives you a little bit of space. A little bit of freedom to rest and to consider where you're at artistically and where you'd like to go."

The jury, Labonté said, sensed that the timing was right for Collier.

"She's at a time in her career - a turning point or at a cusp - where the Siminovitch Prize can really make a difference to her. That kind of a gift coming along at this point in time will help her move into a new artistic phase. That springboard was always the intention of the Siminovitch Prize. … That sense that something new will come out of this extraordinary artist."

Funded by BMO Financial Group, the Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize is awarded on a three-year cycle for direction, playwriting and design. Other finalists this year included Ron Jenkins of Edmonton, and Ross Manson, Alisa Palmer, Soheil Parsa and Jennifer Tarver, all of Toronto.

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