Canada Scene unveiled: More than 100 shows and 1,000 artists over six weeks

More than 100 events and more than 1,000 artists: Canada Scene is a massive celebration of Canadian culture that will fill the National Arts Centre, and many other venues cross the city from June 15 until July 23. Canada Scene is so big there isn’t a brochure.

There will be, however, lots of theatre and dance, music of all sorts, visual and media arts, film, circus, literary arts, cuisine, craft workshops from the Arctic, you name it, it’s likely to be included.

Some of the events have been known for sometime, such as the staging of the rarely performed Harry Somers opera Louis Riel, a performance of Montreal choreographer Marie Chouinard’s new work Hieronymus Bosch, a reimagination of David French’s classic play Salt-Water Moon, a musical tribute to Oscar Peterson by Oliver Jones, Jon Kimura Parker, Robi Botos and four others top jazz pianists, and concerts by Buffy Sainte-Marie and Rufus Wainwright.

But there is so much more, says Heather Moore, the producer of Canada Scene, which completes a biennial cycle of regional Scenes that began in 2002 with Atlantic Scene.

These events have always featured an array of art forms and talents, but never to this extent, she said in an interview with ARTSFILE.

“The Scenes allow us to colour outside the lines of what we would usually present at the NAC,” she said.

A scene from Hieronymous Bosch by the Compagnie Marie Chouinard. Dancers are Morgane Le Tiec, Sacha Ouellette-Deguire, Carol Prieur, Leon Kupferschmid, Sébastien Cossette-Masse, Megan Walbaum.
Photo: Nicolas Ruel

Canada Scene is partnered with other festivals in town including with Chamberfest to present Angela Hewitt’s Bach Odyssey and the TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival to present five concerts by Canadian artists from across the country, along with Canada Dance Festival. A relationship with the Magnetic North Theatre Festival has been upended because the festival has suspended operations. Canada Scene will still present three plays that were to be co-produced with Magnetic North.

It’s understandable that putting the Scene together “has been an interesting puzzle,” for Moore.

One of the key pieced of that puzzle is the place of Indigenous artists working in all disciplines.

“We have had Indigenous artists in our festivals right from the start in Atlantic Scene. But the opening week has a particular focus on Indigenous work. We open with Louis Riel (the opera). The way Peter Hinton is directing this, he is putting Indigenous artists on the stage.

Tanya Tagaq will appear with other Indigenous women in a concert. Photo: Shelagh Howard

“Other works are coming in around that time. One of them is a wonderful work called Café Daughter (written by Kenneth Williams) which is based on the life of Senator Lillian Dyck, who is from Saskatchewan.” The senator, who is an accomplished scientist, faced discrimination as a young person but managed to overcome that.

There are other theatrical performances worth noting including Children of God, a musical about the residential school experience by Vancouver based Oji-Cree playwright Corey Payette.

And there is an interesting project by a musical ensemble out of Winnipeg called Camerata Nova who commissioned a concert called Taken, asking three Indigenous artists to create musical works on the theme of being “taken” from home and from lives.

Near the end of the festival is an all-women show Anishnabe:Kwe featuring Shoshona Kish, Polaris Prize winner Tanya Tagaq, Sandy Scofield, Iskwé, Ottawa’s own Amanda Rheaume and Digging Roots.

The Scene is also bringing in Edith Butler, who headlines an Acadian evening and Natalie McMaster who offers an evening of fiddle music.

Ben Caplan performs in the play Old Stock by Hannah Moscovitch. Photo: Jamie Kronick.

Other cultures are evident too. One example is the New Canadian Global Orchestra, a project of the Royal Conservatory of Music. Organizers created an ensemble of 12 performers from places such as Peru, Burkina Faso, Iran, Cuba, Ukraine and China.

There is a theatre piece called King Arthur’s Night by Niall Mcneil which features actors whose lives include Down Syndrome.

The Queer Songbook Orchestra will offer a concert hosted by Mark Tewksbury and theatre actor/writer Stephen Jackman-Torkoff. It will feature Carole Pope, Lorraine Segato, author Wayson Choy and singer-songwriter and regular on the Mr. Dressup show Beverly Glenn Copeland.

With such a massive undertaking, having a favourite event or idea can be a bit tricky but Moore gave it a shot.

“No. 1 will be the free performances we will have in our new spaces.” These areas will be created by the $110 million glittering glass addition to the centre.

“We want to welcome people into that space” which will formally open July 1. There will be family performances during the day and at 6 p.m. each evening there will be concerts by singer-songwriters such as Amelia Curran and Lennie Gallant.

Heather Moore is the producer of Canada Scene.

Moore also mentioned a theatre piece called Old Stock written by Ottawa native and rising star playwright Hannah Moscovitch, based on the lives of her Romanian Jewish great-great-grandparents who met in Halifax when they landed in Canada with a featured performance by folk music phenom Ben Caplan.

In the second week of July, there will be a festival within the festival featuring cutting edge work. This is when the Chouinard piece will happen. Moore also mentioned a show called Dance Machine out of Vancouver by choreographer Lee Su-Feh. Bamboo stalks are suspended from a disk and are moved independently by the performer and audience members. There will also be a film project by the quirky Manitoba film-maker Guy Madden called Seances in which people enter a room in groups of 20 and by touching a screen they create a unique and random film experience.

There is an art installation by Kim Morgan who has recreated the decommissioned lighthouse in Borden, P.E.I. out of latex. “She stretched it over the entire lighthouse. When it’s presented in galleries and lit from inside” it’s spectacular, she says. The latex, because it coats the building completely, has even picked up the grain of the wood.

There is another installation called Cloud featuring 6,000 lightbulbs that a viewer can turn on and off.

Artist Kim Morgan has recreated the decommissioned lighthouse in Borden, P.E.I. out of latex.

The Scenes come to a close with this festival. Moore will take up a new post administering the $25 million creation fund that will seed new Canadian works. But the influence of these events is lasting. They have broadened the scope of what the NAC can and does present. The NAC Presents concert series was sparked by the Scenes, she says. Bringing in culinary arts to the NAC, for example, is another legacy. The Ideas of North festival next fall will include a night of Canadian and Finnish food.

“They were a chance for us to play outside the structures of subscription series, using public spaces and involving other disciplines. It was easier for us to go out and break some of the rules.”

“We are not unique. This is happening everywhere,” she said. “Everybody is blurring those boundaries. The artists are doing it.”

For more on the festival including information about  ticket packages and performance locations and times, please see

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.