NAC’s Creation Fund hands out $1.4M to nine projects

The cast of The Hockey Sweater. Photo: Leslie Schachter

The money has started flowing from the $25 million National Creation Fund. The pot of cash was announced by the National Arts Centre in 2016 and was fully funded soon after. Now the first nine projects to receive money are known. 

Heather Moore is the artistic producer in charge of the Creation Fund and she has been spending the past 18 months preparing the way to get cash flowing to high level projects with the potential to make a splash on the national and international scene. She calls it putting big money into big ideas.

In an interview with ARTSFILE she talked about the wide range of disciplines in this first outlay.

“We went out and we were looking for projects and asking people to submit them to us. We are trying to get a view of what is coming down the pike. And we are encouraging people to think outside the box because that’s not something artists in this country are not trained to do” because of the limitations of budgets and available space.

“We looked at more than 100 projects for this first round from dance, to music, to theatre, to Indigenous projects. From the usual suspects to all sorts of emerging artists. We are looking for people to show us how the fund investment can make a difference” for a project. “We are a possible partner on these creations.”

The money is intended to buy time for the artists and the projects they are working on, she added. One of the major impediments to “thinking big” in Canada is the limitation posed by development time in workshops and in rehearsal.

In this first round of projects there are English, French and Indigenous works. There are dance works, theatre pieces, an opera and multi-disciplinary works.

Heather Moore is the artistic producer of the National Creation Fund.

A lot of the projects funded Thursday will be realized in 2019. One will debut in 2018 and others in 2020.

“Large-scale work takes time,” she said.

There is no guarantee that these works will be seen at the NAC in upcoming seasons but some will including the musical based on Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater, a Quebecois play by Christian Lapointe is to be part of an upcoming NAC French Theatre season and a dance work by Peggy Baker will be included in an NAC Dance season, Moore said.

Coming to the NAC wasn’t one of the conditions for funding, she added. “I hope that if we are investing in great work, they might come here but it wasn’t a condition of what we do because that allows us to work on projects that don’t naturally fit in our current subscription seasons.”

Moore says the fund will fund about 20 projects a year. Another bunch will be revealed in the fall, she added.

The individual amounts given to each group differs depending on the proposal, she said. “They range from $120,000 to $225,000.” There are also other partners involved. The groups have brought other investors to the table. And the NAChas signalled it will be recruiting other investing angels.

“As an investor, we are going to be on the phone to potential partners indicating that we are interested in this, we think you should join us.”

The more big name partners involved the more interest in the project.

With all that money on the line, it is important, Moore said, that the project rolls out as described. However that does not mean that every single project has to be a box office smash.

“I think the fund will be a success if after three or four years we have 50 to 60 great projects that have done better than they could have without the investment. And a great number of those will have gone on to national or international success.”

Moore also hopes that with successes, donors will reinvest in the Creation Fund and keep alive beyond the initial $25 million outlay.

The Creation Fund addresses a gap in the NAC’s role as a funder of new work in the performing arts, she said.

“We didn’t have the money to be a game-changer. We were a small partner.” Now the centre is in the game and changing outcomes for artists, she believes.

The projects range from ground-breaking multi-disciplinary projects on the cutting edge of the future of performing arts to a more tradition piece of musical theatre with universal family appeal.

That latter piece is The Hockey Sweater: The Musical. Lisa Rubin, the artistic and executive director of Montreal’s Segal Centre for Performing Arts said the Creation Fund money will definitely help take her production to another level.

“It’s huge. The Segal Centre is a small 300-seat house producing theatre like the big theatres in Canada. We are fortunate to be able to take these risks and begin the story, but to continue the story is where we absolutely need the support of something like the Creation Fund.

“It’s so wonderful to not have to go outside Canada to be able to have this vision that sees Canadian works as wanting to take them to the level that all of Canada and the world can enjoy. It’s a huge vote of confidence in the show itself and what it means to Canada and Canadians to celebrate the story. We kind of look at it as our own Christmas Carol.”

She believes the piece has bigger opportunities ahead because the sentiments are so universal. And this injection of funds will contribute to the development of the production, she said, offering a chance to revisit those areas that need work. And they would like to tour the piece and develop a French version of it, Rubin said.

Thanks to the fund, she said, the show has new scenes to consider and three new songs by Jonathan Munro to consider for this next version of the production.

The fertile mind of Isabelle Van Grimde is driving the most intricate and complex of the creations funded on Thursday.

“We have a web series which includes a series of five short films. They are being broadcast on the web the last comes out on Saturday. There is an interactive and immersive installation which will be premiered in September in Montreal at the Weiser Building. There is a schedule of 30 minutes performances that will take place in the installation. And we are also working on a stage production which will premiere in October, 2019.”

The Creation Fund is helping the third piece of this project.

Van Grimde’s work is in demand overseas and there is eager anticipation for the work in places such as Hong Kong.

The piece explores questions of human identity and the impact that culture and technology are having on that. If you are thinking the Borg from Star Trek, you wouldn’t be too far wrong.

“Eve is a symbolic character. Eve is male, female, transgender, child, youth, adult and old person. She is a hybrid cyborg and she represents tomorrow’s humanity. We can now reinvent ourselves and have several identities. Looking into the future we can see that people will be able to transform their bodies.”

For Van Grimde, the participation of the fund has been important, especially because she is exploring new technology in her pieces.

“For awhile now I have had to look further and further afield to advance my projects. … We are always looking very actively for new funding. When you work with new technologies the bills can mount up quite rapidly.”

The nine are: 

The Full Light of Day is a provocative live film/theatre experiment which looks at how to live, love and die. The script is by award-winning artist Daniel Brooks who is joining Electric Company Theatre founding artist and director Kim Collier.

Mînowin is a new dance work from one of the country’s leading Indigenous companies, the Dancers of Damelahamid from Vancouver. The piece is directed and choreographed by Margaret Grenier.

Le reste vous le connaissez par le cinéma is a translation of the Martin Crimp play The Rest Will Be Familiar to You from the Cinema, which is itself a  re-working of Euripides’ The Phoenician Women. Writer/director Christian Lapointe, of Carte Blanche in Quebec City, did the translation. It will premiere in Montreal this fall.

The Storyville Mosquito is the latest innovation by the DJ, producer, performer and graphic novelist Kid Koala. He uses puppets, miniature sets, multiple cameras and screens to tell the story of a young mosquito who wants to audition for the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in New Orleans. 

Treemonisha is a opera by the legendary ragtime pianist and composer Scott Joplin. It was never performed. It has now been resurrected by Toronto’s Volcano Theatre, in association with the Moveable Beast Collective, to stage this story of a young black woman living in the United States in the years after the Civil War. A team of American and Canadian artists has prepared a new libretto, orchestration and arrangement. It will premiere in the U.S. in 2020.

who we are in the dark is a choreography by Toronto-based dance artist Peggy Baker. The work will feature seven dancers and live music performed by Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld and Jeremy Gara.

Unikkaaqtuat blends circus arts, music, theatre and video projection. The project is inspired by Inuit founding myths and illustrated by the artist Germaine Arnaktauyok. The creation, led by Les 7 doigts de la main, Artcirq and Taqqut Productions aims to highlight the Inuit people and culture.

EVE 2050 was conceived and directed by Montrealer Isabelle Van Grimde, of Corps Secrets. The piece is a triptych that combines dance and digital technologies to draw a multi-layered portrait of Eve in 2050 and the emerging future of human identity. It includes an interactive web series, an installation and a stage production.

The Hockey Sweater: A Musical produced by the Segal Centre in Montreal is based on the classic short story by Roch Carrier. The production premiered in Montreal and will come to the NAC this Christmas. The cast of 17 includes eight young actors who sing, dance and skate their way through the show. The creative team is led by Emil Sher, Jonathan Munro and Donna Feore.

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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.