To mark International Women’s Day, Imago Theatre wanted to celebrate some of the incredible Canadian women in theatre. And so, we asked the incoming Artistic and Executive Director of the Centaur Theatre, Eda Holmes, to talk about theatre artists who inspire her, whom she admires or finds fascinating, women with whom she enjoys working or those with whom she dreams of working. It’s also our way to welcome Eda, herself a great woman in Canadian theatre, to Montreal and get to know her a little bit…


Let me start by saying that I would not be preparing to come back to Montreal in August as the new Artistic/Executive Director of Centaur Theatre if it were not for the enthusiastic encouragement of two very important women of Canadian Theatre – Micheline Chevrier and Alisa Palmer. They were both instrumental in my successful application, giving me the courage and guidance to put myself forward and the belief that I could do it. Both Micheline and Alisa make brilliant theatre that looks at the world through a feminist/humanist lens. They are also both devoted mentors of new talent and I am so happy to be joining them in Montreal.
Jackie Maxwell is the first woman who comes to mind. She has been a mentor to me from the moment I met her at NTS and my work as her Associate at the Shaw Festival was the training I needed to prepare for this new opportunity. As an Artistic Director she is extremely collaborative and caring and yet decisive and rigorous. Art drives every decision she makes. She is a great artist and director for a variety of reasons but one of the most important is her ability to cast a play – she can see potential in actors and then draw it out onto the stage better than anyone I know.
Canadian women in theatre that I find fascinating…
I was fascinated by Monique Mercure. She is one of the first Canadian actresses I saw on stage when I was at the National Theatre School here in Montreal. Her combination of grace, wit and power was utterly beguiling. She was also incredibly timeless in that she could fully inhabit any world that she was placed in. She was the General Director of the National Theatre School of Canada when I was studying there and was incredibly personal and supportive to the entire student body. I loved running into her in the hall – she was a real star. Another woman that I became aware of when I first got to Canada was Peggy Baker. Coming from a dance background as I did, she was so inspiring for her truly original voice as a dancer and choreographer. Her dances transcend time and space and deliver the viewer to a world that that is simultaneously other-worldly and utterly familiar. When I met her for the first time I was moved nearly to tears by the genuine interest she took in me. She is one of the most beautiful dancers I have ever seen and I wish I had had the chance to dance one of her pieces.
Canadian women in theatre that I admire…
This article isn’t long enough for all that I would like to mention but three that immediately pop into my mind are Martha Henry for the way she marries her body to her voice and creates a performance that is mesmerizing and moving – she is also a wonderful director and teacher. On top of everything she is a vocal and passionate advocate for women in the theatre. Seana McKenna – an actress that has gone through all the great Shakespearean heroines and is now working through the Shakespearean men. Her searing energy and brilliant ability to bring text alive is so inspiring. And Nancy Palk is an actor who generously shares her talent and craft with the every part of the theatre community from main-stages to back-spaces. I am always riveted by her pulsating stillness and penetrating focus and am thrilled whenever she is on stage.
Canadian Women in the theatre that I couldn’t live without…
When I am directing I always feel the Stage Manager is my partner in crime and in my experience the majority of Stage Managers in Canadian Theatre are women. These women are some of the most profoundly caring and outrageously talented people in the theatre. They combine an artist’s vision with a General’s tactical prowess and a saint’s patience. I would love to list every single one but there are a few who have really saved me and the show many many times and they are Alison Peddie, Bea Campbell, Dora Tomassi and Marinda de Beer. I salute all the women that make it all come together and keep it all going.
Canadian women in theatre that I enjoy working with…
There are so many women that I love to work with – Playwrights Morwyn Brebner and Claudia Dey – working with both of them over the years was an amazing education in the power imagination can have when it is hitched to a horse with heart. The designers Sue LePage, Camellia Koo and Bonnie Beecher all of whom are the most extraordinary collaborators – their artistry and passion are infectious. They all find a way to unleash the special power of the stage in extraordinary ways. And Diana Donnelly and Nicole Underhay are both actors that I have had the great fortune to work with several times at Shaw and have learned so much from. They are both playful and rigorous in ways that unlock the characters and the play in completely surprising ways. They bring joy to the process and electricity to the stage.
Canadian women in theatre that I dream of working with one day…
Again there are so many but if I have to choose one person right now I would love to have the chance to work with Anne-Marie Cadieux – I have seen her many times over the years and been blown away by her incredibly authentic spirit, her obvious intelligence and the sheer relish she seems to have in every part I have ever seen her play.
Finally, I want to say that I am looking very much forward to working with lighting designer Andrea Lundy next season at Centaur. I have loved working with her in the past on a number of shows in Toronto but when she moved to Montreal to become the Director of the Technical Theatre Program at NTS – I was no longer able to get onto her dance card. I am really pleased that I can lure her back into my process at Centaur. She is one of the very best lighting designers in Canada because she brings a laser sharp insight and a painter’s eye to the process of making a world on the stage.
Whether I have had the good fortune to work with them or have only been offered the chance to witness their art, these women have made me a better artist. I come to theatre from dance and have struggled to find a way to marry the formal power of dance with the narrative richness of theatre. I am always looking for a way to tell a story on more than one level at a time. All the women that I mention here do that – no matter what discipline they practice, they are all able to reveal multiple aspects of the human experience in their work. I hope to bring that kind of depth and meaning to the work that I do at Centaur.
– Eda Holmes, incoming Artistic and Executive Director of the Centaur Theatre Company

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