Obsidian Theatre Company

Black Ties

Black Ties is a gathering of young-in-craft and professional Black theatre artists from across the nation to chat, connect, and eat good food. This event is designed to create sustainable relationships within Toronto’s community of Black Theatre Professionals, and a chance for Black Actors, Directors, Playwrights, Producers, Designers, Singers and Dancers to connect!

After last year’s Zoom edition, we are thrilled to be coming together LIVE and in person this year!!


DATE: Thursday, February 23, 2023


LOCATION: Buddies In Bad Times Theatre, Cabaret Space (12 Alexander St. Toronto, ON)

Black Ties: Black in Opera will feature a panel discussion, performances, and a chance to mix and mingle. In this medium where Black artists remain underrepresented, what are the dynamic possibilities and challenges of taking up space in opera?

Get some insight from the folks involved in the upcoming world premiere of our new Black Canadian opera Of the Sea – a historic first for Obsidian, in collaboration with Tapestry Opera in partnership with TO Live.


Kanika Ambrose is a playwright, librettist, and screenwriter. She has been playwright-in-residence at Obsidian Theatre COmpany and Cahoots Theatre. Her critically acclaimed play “our place,” was first produced by Cahoots Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille in November 2022. Her children’s opera “Anansi and the Great Light” with composer Nick diBerardino and the students at Girard College premiered at Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia) in 2019. Other short works have premiered across North America including celebrated digital work “Tak-Tak-Shoo” with composer Rene Orth at Opera Philadelphia. 
As a screenwriter, Kanika has worked in several development rooms and is in residence at Canadian Film Centre’s Bell Media Primetime TV Program (2022-2023).
Kanika is a graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University and is Associate Artistic Director of Necessary Angel Theatre Company. She was featured as one of Cahoots Theatre Company’s 30 for 30 theatre makers for their 30th anniversary season.
Canadian soprano Neema Bickersteth was born and raised in Alberta to parents from Sierra Leone. She is known for her skills as a singer, an actor and a maker of multi-disciplinary performance. She has performed operatic roles in both North America and Europe, and in recent years, she has specialized in contemporary projects in opera, music theater and experimental theater, including Century Song, a work she co-created and has toured in Canada, Europe and East Africa to critical acclaim. She has won once and been nominated three times for Outstanding Performance at Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore awards. In addition, Neema has been honored to perform for the XIVth Dalai Lama, Shirin Ebadi and the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This past fall, Neema premiered The Ritual of Breath is the Rite to Resist, an opera in response to Eric Garner’s murder. Upcoming: singing the title role in Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha, a reimagining of ragtime giant Scott Joplin’s visionary 1911 opera. 
Rachel Forbes is an award-winning set and costume designer creating for theatre, dance and
film. Her work has been seen across the country on stages including at the Shaw Festival,
Buddies in Bad Times, Obsidian Theatre, Neptune Theatre, Young People’s Theatre, Centaur
Theatre and many more. She has designed, mentored and taught at Ryerson University. Rachel
is currently serving on the board of directors of the Associated Designers of Canada. Rachel
received a Dora Mavor Moore Award for her costume design for The Brothers Size (Soulpepper
Theatre, 2019) and a Robert Merritt Award for her set design for The Bridge (2B/Neptune
Theatre, 2019).
Ms. Sills was named as one of York University’s to 30 Alumni Under 30 for 2022 and was one Canada’s 30 hot classical musicians under 30 for 2020 by CBC Music.  Jonelle will return to Vancouver Opera in 2023 to make her MainStage debut in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Helena.
This summer Miss Sills returned to the National Arts Centre Orchestra singing Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and selections Ian Cusson’s Where There’s A Wall.
Jonelle is a 2019 Dora Award winner, for outstanding performance of an Ensemble in Vivier’s  Kopernikus with Against The Grain Theatre.
Past highlights include the roles of Esther in Paola Prestini’s Silent Light with the Banff Centre. Soprano in Vivier’s Kopernikus which Greg Finney of Schmopera  stated “The most intriguing singing for me of the evening came from soprano Jonelle Sills. Sills manages to keep her warm, full, elastic tone intact while managing such difficult music.” 
Michael Mohammed is an opera and theatre artist whose interests lie at the intersection of expression and identity. He has co-created multiple projects for Amplified Opera, a Toronto based company that places equity-seeking artists at the center of public discourse. In the summer of 2021, he curated a program of parlour music by composers of the global majority from the turn of the last century for Lyric Theatre of San José. Recent directing credits include A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Lamplighters Music Theatre) and The Merry Widow (Pocket Opera).

He received his doctorate from the Music and Music Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. His work focuses on the representation of persons with historically excluded identities in theatrical and operatic performance. “Dr. Mojo” is the Director of the Musical Theatre Ensemble at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He is also on the voice faculty of San José State University, the College of Marin, the San Francisco Community Music Center, and the American Conservatory Theater. As Community Engagement Ambassador for Opera Parallèle, he develops resources for sustainable social change through opera.  He is on the working teams of the Black Opera Research Network and the Research Riff.
Fatuma Adar (Moderator) is a Somali-Canadian writer based in Toronto. She was long-listed in CBC’s Creative Nonfiction Prize and profiled in Up Close: Young Black Women Making Canada Better. In 2017, she joined the third cohort of The Bars Workshop at the Public Theater in New York City. Her work has been featured in the Toronto Star, The Globe & Mail, Maclean’s and an anthology entitled “Black Writers Matter” published by the University of Regina Press. Fatuma wrote the book, music and lyrics to “Dixon Road” which won a Dora Award for Outstanding New Musical. Catch her one woman musical comedy show “She’s Not Special” in May 2023 co-presented by Tarragon and Nightwood Theatre
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