Chatting with the NAC’s Jillian Keiley

Photo credit: David Leclerc

If the federal election already has you wanting to look elsewhere for theatrics, cast your eye to the National Arts Centre. Have you wondered how the plays at the NAC are chosen? I have so I jumped at the chance to ask the NAC’s English Theatre Artistic Director, Jillian Keiley.

It turns out it is quite a process. She said together with Associate Artistic Director Sarah Garton Stanley, she watches well over 100 shows to see what’s going on across Canada.

“We see all kinds of work and if we see something resonating in another city we ask for a video.” She explains that after that, the team narrows it down to the best picks. “I don’t choose the plays on regional concern or through quota or anything like that. My task is to educate myself on what is out there then ask, what does the play represent? How does it represent the country? How do we engage with Canadians? Artistically is it stellar?”

Her job is not easy. There is a lot of fantastic theatre being produced in Woman YellingCanada. Consideration also must be given to which play will work in which NAC space, given there is the large Theatre and the more intimate Studio.  The result is two series: the Theatre Series and the Studio Series. Keiley is particularly excited to bring Djanet Sears’ The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God to the NAC.

“It will be incredible,” she says. “I think it is one of the best shows I have ever seen.” Logistically speaking, it is a hard production to mount. “There are 21 people on stage. Making that happen, well, it just doesn’t happen that often. This is a masterpiece that hasn’t been seen enough.” It will open the season in October.

While the 2015/2016 season was announced earlier this year, here is a recap of what you can expect.  A special holiday production of Anne & Gilbert, a musical sequel to the ever-popular Anne of Green Gables will follow Adventures. Keiley will then direct an inventive production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, as imagined by Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop. Rick Miller’s one-man smash hit BOOM hits the stage and the series wraps up with an English-language adaptation of the Michel Tremblay classic, Belles Soeurs: The Musical.

The Studio Series delivers other storytelling experiences as members of the 2015/16 Ensemble take on Colleen Murphy’s The December Man (L’homme de décembre). The series also features a powerful work out of Australia, Jack Charles V The Crown, and closes with an Ottawa production of Jordan Tannahill’s much lauded Concord Floral.

As for Keiley, her interest in the stage began early. While growing up in Jillian KeileyNewfoundland, her first theatrical experience was watching the pomp and ceremony of nursing school graduations. “My mother used to teach at the nursing school and I would go with her to the ceremonies, I would watch that but I was fascinated with the red roses and the uniforms and I would watch them get their degree. That really was my first theatrical experience.”

She tried her hand at acting in high school and later auditioned for the National Theatre School. “I didn’t get in.  Now I am glad because when I went university, I started directing my work right from then and I was hooked.”

Keiley’s warmth, humour, enthusiasm and dedication to bringing quality theatre to Canadians are clear.

“Theatre is the best way in the world to share our stories and this season is full of the kinds of stories that invite our audience to recognize the deep and complex truths of being human, of being a part of these times, and of being Canadian,” Keiley says. With her and Stanley at the artistic NAC helm, the season will no doubt deliver all that and much more.

You can find out more about tickets and showtimes at