N.L. director gets top job

Tara Bradbury
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Jillian Keiley named National Arts Centres artistic director of English theatre

Jillian Keiley

St. John’s director Jillian Keiley has been appointed to the country’s top job in English theatre.

In August, the award-winning founder of Artistic Fraud theatre company will take over as the National Arts Centre’s (NAC) artistic director of English theatre.

“Jillian Keiley is a brilliant theatrical artist who is rooted in Newfoundland, but also has a wonderful sense of the country,” said National Arts Centre president and CEO Peter Herrndorf in a media release. “She’s worked with artists and theatre organizations in every part of Canada, and we’re thrilled she’s chosen our national stage for the next chapter of her extraordinary career.”

The National Arts Centre, established in Ottawa in 1969, is a centre for performing arts showcasing the country’s best in music, English theatre, French theatre, dance, and community programming.

Keiley will take the reins from outgoing artistic director Peter Hinton, and told The Telegram one of her goals during her tenure — a four-year contract, to start — will be to create a young company of actors at the arts centre.

“I’m hoping to get the national community working together really well,” she said. “I get to travel a lot and see some of the key artists in each community, not just in the central areas, and I have a real interest in getting those guys on the national stage.”

Keiley has a master’s degree in theatre from York University, won the $100,000 Siminovitch Prize for directing in 2004 and has also won the Canada Council’s John Hirsch prize.

She has taught workshops and given lectures at Memorial University and universities and colleges across the country, and her productions have included “Tempting Providence” — a collaboration with award-winning playwright and Artistic Fraud’s artistic associate Robert Chafe which ended up in a decade-long run across the country — “Afterimage,” “Fear of Flight” and “Emile’s Dream.” In April, Keiley will direct  “Oil and Water,” another play she developed with Chafe based on the story of Lanier Phillips, the only African-American survivor of the 1942 USS Truxton shipwreck, at the Factory Theatre in Toronto. 

“It’s a piece of work and I think it’s really good, so I can’t see why I wouldn’t program it,” Keiley said with a laugh when asked if “Oil and Water” might appear on the National Arts Centre stage. “I will be expected to do some of my own work on stage, and my own work is the work of Artistic Fraud, so I would say it might go hand in hand, but I also have to be careful that only the best work goes on that stage.”

Keiley will step down as Artistic Fraud’s artistic director, although she plans to direct the theatre company’s yearly productions if possible. A new artistic director will be chosen by the company’s board of directors.

In her new role, Keiley could produce 10 shows a year, both original work and classic pieces. She won’t direct them all herself, but will be responsible for bringing qualified directors in.

“(The NAC) has an ensemble company of actors from right across the country, so it’s casting them, deciding which shows we want to do, deciding which themes to explore, and what kind of artwork we’re interested in.

“It’s seeing a lot of work and it’s bringing a lot of interesting people to the floor and showcasing good people, and it’s about bringing together good ideas and matching them with great scripts,” she said.

During her first season, the final season programmed by Hinton, Keiley will direct “Metamorphoses,” a Mary Zimmerman play set around a swimming pool, re-imagining 10 classical myths.

Keiley will relocate to Ottawa to take up her new job, but plans to keep her home in St. John’s and will be able to do some work from here, she said.

This summer she’ll direct New World Theatre Project’s production of Molière’s “Tartuffe,” adapted by Andy Jones to reflect Newfoundland dialect, history and religious influences, in Cupids.


Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: National Arts Centre, English theatre, Artistic Fraud theatre York University Canada Council Factory Theatre New World Theatre

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Canada, Toronto Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • lyly
    March 29, 2012 - 12:42

    Lucky National Arts Centre. She will be missed !! Congratulations Jill, you keep making us proud!

  • elizabeth
    March 28, 2012 - 07:26

    she's a brilliantly creative, innovative person who will make a fine contribution to theatre in canada