September 12, 2017

Canadian Stage and the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design at York University are pleased to announce their incoming candidates for the York University MFA Program in Stage Direction in collaboration with Canadian Stage: Liza Balkan and Severn Thompson. As of September 2017, the pair of distinguished Toronto directors will receive two years of specialized graduate studies at York University’s Department of Theatre, alongside practical training and coveted professional opportunities at Canadian Stage.

“This landmark collaborative program is truly unique in Canada and prepares our graduates for success on the international stage,” said Professor Ines Buchli, Chair of the Department of Theatre. “These directors will be working with both professional actors and emerging talent on a variety of stages with expert mentorship through Canadian Stage and faculty at York. They will have space to experiment and push creative boundaries and examine their chosen texts with academic rigour. The combination is powerful in terms of creative development and unique in the professional world.”

Liza Balkan
Liza Balkan

Now entering its seventh season and fourth intake of young directors, this artist-driven training program has resulted in such noteworthy projects as Jordan Tannahill’s multi Dora Award-winning play Botticelli in the Fire and Sunday in Sodom, commissioned especially for 2015 MFA candidates Estelle Shook and Matjash Mrozewski.

“This bespoke MFA is intent on providing a new generation of stage directors with the time, tools and professional resources to develop their craft in an uncompromising manner, as well as to push their creative intuition with greater technical know-how – an opportunity that remains all too rare today,” said Matthew Jocelyn, Canadian Stage Artistic & General Director. “Liza and Severn will be fully immersed in Canadian Stage’s artistic vision as they work towards helming large-scale productions for Shakespeare in High Park and the Berkeley Street Theatre. We are thrilled to welcome these two exciting directors to our family of artists.”

In addition to training with York’s award-winning faculty, Balkan and Thompson will work under the close mentorship of acclaimed Canadian director Peter Hinton: “Severn Thompson and Liza Balkan are artists with an established body of work and both dedicated to expanding their skills and investigating the full range of their creative practice as directors,” said Hinton. “I am thrilled to explore the intersection of the interpretive, conceptual and auteur aspects to stage direction with these intelligent and very skilled women. The MFA comes into its own with these participants; women of the theatre with intent, purpose, spirit and passion. ”

Liza Balkan is an accomplished opera and theatre director, writer, librettist, educator, and Dora Award-winning actor, seen most recently in Canadian Stage, Theatre Smash and ARC’s coproduction of Guillermo Calderon’s KISS. She has directed productions with the Shaw Festival, The Canadian Opera Company and Buddies and Bad Times. Her critically-acclaimed docu-drama Out the Window – based on personal experiences connected to the 2000 death of Otto Vass – will see a new production at the 2018 Luminato Festival as part of the inaugural Luminato/The Theatre Centre Residents Project.

Severn Thompson received a 2017 Dora Award for Outstanding Direction of Peter Pan, a new musical adaptation produced by Bad Hats Theatre. A seasoned actor with both the Shaw and Stratford Festivals, she recently appeared in Theatre Passe Muraille’s national tour of Elle, a play which she also adapted (Dora nominated). Thompson is the Associate Artistic Director at the Blyth Festival, where she directed and co-created this summer’s The Pigeon King.

Severn Thompson
Severn Thompson

Balkan and Thompson will each develop a thesis production for Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in High Park in 2019 and be professionally engaged to direct at the Berkeley Street Theatre following graduation. Later this season, audiences can see the work of 2017 alumni Tanja Jacobs and Alistair Newton as they direct Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information at the Berkeley Downstairs Theatre.

York University’s MFA Program in Stage Direction in Collaboration with Canadian Stage brings together one of our country’s pre-eminent theatre schools and leading not-for-profit contemporary theatre companies to support the development of next-generation talent for the national and international stage. Canada’s only large-scale graduate theatre directing program, it integrates studio work at York with creative projects at Canadian Stage, allowing students to develop their creative and technical skills to the highest level within a rigorous academic and professional context. York’s award-winning faculty and Canadian Stage’s dynamic artistic leadership join forces to mentor the MFA candidates. Alumni of this landmark program include Ker Wells, Ted Witzel, Estelle Shook, Matjash Mrozewski, Tanja Jacobs and Alistair Newton.

Founded in 1987, Canadian Stage is one of the country’s leading not-for-profit contemporary performing arts companies, sharing new, innovative stage work from Canada and around the world. Led by Artistic & General Director Matthew Jocelyn, Canadian Stage produces and presents a new hybrid of multidisciplinary performance that pushes the boundaries of form and style, integrating theatre, dance, music, multimedia and more. Canadian Stage is dedicated to reinforcing the presence of Canadian art and artists within an international cultural dialogue, by acting as a home, incubator and exporter of leading Canadian and global performance. The company stages an annual season at three historic locations: the Bluma Appel Theatre; the Berkeley Street Theatre; and the High Park Amphitheatre, home to Shakespeare in High Park. Offering a range of education, artist training and community outreach programs, Canadian Stage is committed to cultivating tomorrow’s artistic innovators and audiences. For more information, visit