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2021 RBC Rising Star Emerging Director Award Winner

Jan 6, 2021



Crow’s Theatre and RBC are proud to announce Cherissa Richards as the recipient of the Crow’s Theatre RBC Rising Star Emerging Director Prize. Designed to encourage and celebrate Canada’s most outstanding early-career stage directors, the Prize provides a $5,000 award to emerging Canadian directors, as well as a residency at Crow’s Theatre.

Following a call for submissions in September 2020, the jury selected Cherissa from an exceptional group of theatrical innovators in the early stages of their directing practice. The jury took into account the merits of the applicants’ current body of work, their creative potential, the impact of an artistic residency on the up-and-coming director’s professional development, and the impact on Canadian theatre as a whole.

The 2020/21 Jury, made up of Crow’s Associate Artistic Directors, Rouvan Silogix and Marie Farsi, as well as arts leaders and directors Esther Jun and Jackie Maxwell, said:

Inspired and impressed by the range of our finalists’ talents, we struggled to make our ultimate decision knowing that all these artists will make a strong impact on the performing arts in Canada. In the end we were moved by Cherissa’s passion, energy and richly varied experience, and see her poised to lead and serve her community with a vision for Canadian theatre that is compelling, inventive and progressive. She has already made a significant impact with her artistic practice and we believe this prize, with its mentorship and residency, will have a strong and timely impact on the work she is planning and the ideas she has for the future. We were extremely excited by all our finalists and celebrate their accomplishments, imagination and their ideas for theatre and its ongoing evolution. Daniela, Rohit and Alaina all challenged us as to how we currently view theatre and have already demonstrated vision and leadership through their current theatrical journeys.”

"I am honoured and so excited to return to Toronto as a director to work with Crow’s Theatre," Cherissa said. "What a gift this is to be recognized by one of Toronto’s premiere theatres and the RBC Rising Star Emerging Directing Prize. I am proud to be a part of the growing Black Canadian theatre directing talent to emerge on the scene and be held up and celebrated by the team at Crow’s. Thank you to Crow’s and RBC for giving me space to learn and grow in my craft, for helping me take that next big step in my directing path and for opening doors for artists of colour like me to take up space and claim our artistry in the Canadian Directing scene." After 16 years of hustling as an actor in Toronto, Cherissa moved back home to Winnipeg to pursue a career and training in directing for the last 5 years, which has taken her across the country. She started this journey directing “The Power of Harriet T” at MTYP in Winnipeg in 2015. Cherissa has directed 2 shows for Sarasvàti Theatre; New Beginnings and The Game at Fem Fest 2018.  Most recently Cherissa directed a double bill for the Neil Munroe Directing Project at the Shaw Festival; Lynn Nottage’s Poof and The Subjection of Kezia by Edith Ellis. In 2020, Cherissa returned to NTS after almost 20 years as a director in residence, exploring design as a director.

Along with Cherissa, the jury has awarded three finalists a cash prize in recognition of their outstanding submissions, artistic achievements, and potential for impact.

"In a year with a lot of grim days, I receive this news with humility, encouragement, and cheer!" said Daniela Atiencia. She continued, "I am genuinely humbled by this recognition and I look forward to the possibilities of developing new collaborative relationships that will continue to shape my voice as a director."

Alaina Viau said on this recognition, "I am deeply honored to be recognized alongside such incredible artists. I’m thrilled that Crow’s Theatre is interested in supporting new and genre defying operatic works and my aspiration to redefine what opera can be."

Rohit Chokhani added, "What fantastic news during the pandemic! I am so grateful to be selected and recognized as a finalist. Opportunities such as this prize are scarce in general, let alone during this past year and the year ahead. So I commend Crow Theatre for their ongoing support for directors even when the "show could not go on and had to go online or pause!" It's a time to reflect, collaborate, do things in different and new innovative ways. That is a lovely thing. Let's do this as we care and support each other!"


Cherissa Richards is a theatre artist and creator who has performed as an actor for the past 20 years across the country. Most notably, Cherissa has performed at The Shaw Festival as an actor for 3 seasons, and is proud to have performed at Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in many productions on the Mainstage and the Warehouse theatres, most recently as Lady Mary in Sense and Sensibility. For the past 5 years since she moved back to Winnipeg, Cherissa has been pursuing directing with Bard on the Beach in Vancouver, The Shaw Festival and the Stratford Festival in Ontario and here at home where she directed her first show at Manitoba Theatre for Young People. Since moving back Cherissa has also been lucky to perform in many Hallmark and Lifetime movies in supporting lead or principal roles like: Secret Indgredient, A Christmas in Tennessee, A Dog’s Journey, On the 12’th date of Christmas and most recently in a recurring character opposite the lead in season 4 of Burden of Truth. Cherissa has directed “The Power of Harriet T” at MTYP in Winnipeg in 2015, and has directed 2 shows for Sarasvàti Theatre; New Beginnings and The Game at Fem Fest 2018.  Most recently Cherissa directed a double bill for the Neil Munroe Directing Project at the Shaw Festival; Lynn Nottage’s Poof and The Subjection of Kezia by Edith Ellis. In 2020, Cherissa returned to NTS after almost 20 years as a director in residence, exploring design as a director


Rohit Chokhani is a Jessie Richardson Theatre Award-winning arts creator, director, and cultural leader. Rohit was awarded the prestigious Vancouver NOW Representation and Inclusion Award in 2018. He is also the recipient of the Jessie Richardson Theatre Award in the Large Theatre Category for Significant Artistic Achievement (2017) and the recipient of the Shiamak Vancouver Community Award (by Bollywood star/choreographer Shiamak Davar) in recognition of outstanding achievement in the field of Entertainment and Theatre Arts (2017). A recent co-creator and co-director of Bard on the Beach’s All’s Well That Ends Well, this fresh, bold re-contextualized classical production was voted amongst one of the top theatrical productions for 2019 by the Vancouver critics, received four Jessie Richardson Theatre Award nominations including the Critics’ Choice Innovation Award nomination. Chokhani’s reimagination of Anosh Irani’s Bombay Black was voted one of the top 20 shows on Vancouver stages in 2017, and won the Pick of the Fringe Award at the Vancouver Fringe Festival and toured provincially in B.C. Prior, Chokhani founded Project SAT (South Asian Theatre) & Diwali in B.C (Multi disciplinary, Multi-Cultural Arts Festival) and co-created the Monsoon Festival of Performing Arts. Rohit’s background in Digital Entertainment includes titles completed in the USA for popular clients including FOX, Disney, Pixar, and Nickelodeon. Rohit grew up in Bombay (Mumbai), home to Bollywood, the centre of the Indian subcontinent’s vibrant performing arts industry. He comes from the Maratha and Marwari lineage of India, which is historically rooted in oral traditions and art forms. His work often provides a platform for historically marginalized artists within the mainstream through centering their voices and stories. Rohit is highly passionate about making performing arts equitable and sustainable by providing representation for the unrepresented.

Daniela Atiencia is a Latinx-Canadian theatre artist born and raised in Colombia. She graduated with Honours and received a BFA in Theatre Performance from SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts. She returned to Colombia to work at a community radio station, producing audio content for marginalized areas of the Colombian armed conflict. Desiring further artistic growth, she moved to the UK where she graduated with Distinction and acquired her MFA in Theatre Directing from The University of Essex’s East 15 Acting School. During her time in England, she co-founded her own international theatre company, Fingers Crossed, and produced her first professional devised piece, Central (Story) Line which received rave reviews at the Camden Fringe Festival. Daniela is a bilingual director, dramaturg, and deviser who vigorously seeks international collaborations with interdisciplinary artists. Her work has been seen in Colombia, Lithuania, Canada, England and Denmark. She is currently based on the Unceded Territories of the Coast Salish peoples (Vancouver, B.C.) working with internationally acclaimed theatre companies including Rumble, Touchstone Theatre, Neworld Theatre, Playwrights Theatre Centre, rice & beans theatre, The Arts Club, and Electric Company. Daniela is currently working as dramaturg with four different playwrights, she recently created the digital creation piece I know I'm Supposed to Love You written by Norman Yeung and produced by Touchstone Theatre, is set to co-direct Christine Quintana's bilingual play Clean with Neworld Theatre and is the Spanish Language Dramaturg for rice & beans' Made in Canada. Find out more at www.danielatiencia.com

Alaina Viau is a daring director, creator and producer based in Toronto. She is the Founder and Executive Artistic Director of award nominated indie opera company Loose Tea Music Theatre where she creates genre defying productions that center on critical social issues, raising under represented voices and cross-cultural relationships. She is defined by creating her own rules in opera creation, seeking to push and challenge the opera experience: “The stunning originality of Viau’s vision…grip the imagination.” – Opera Going Toronto. Alaina is a queer disabled artist seeking a new framework for safe and compassionate creation processes that decolonize and dismantle hierarchical practices. The 19-20 season saw Alaina DORA nominated for Outstanding New Opera for Singing Only Softly, a new opera based on the redacted and missing pages of Anne Frank’s Diary. This season Alaina launched the BIPOC Composer Librettist Development Program through Loose Tea to support new emerging opera creators and leads the production of new works by diverse creators. Currently Alaina is working on a new transgendered opera based on a true contemporary Canadian story and, a non-binary opera based on the story of genderfluid and trailblazing pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read. Alaina was Resident Director at Toronto City Opera for the 18-19 season directing Le nozze di figaro and La traviata, and Artistic Director of Ottawa indie company SOPAC for two seasons having directed Suor Angelica, Il Pagliacci and Cendrillon. She directed L’Histoire du Soldat for the Toronto Summer Music Festival, presented a sold out original work Whose Opera is it Anyway? at Music and Beyond Festival and directed Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra’s 40th Anniversary show with L’isola disabitata. She has a background in arts admin, producing and production having previously been the Assistant Production Manager at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Opera and Orchestra Manager at the Royal Conservatory of Music. www.alainaviau.com


The RBC Emerging Artists Project helps emerging artists become established and supports organizations that provide the best platform to advance their career trajectory. The RBC Foundation supports arts organizations and artists in a range of genres, including visual art, music, theatre, performance, literature and film. Past recipients of the Crow’s Theatre RBC Rising Star Emerging Director Prize are Alexandre Fecteau, a director and writer known best for his creations Changing Room  and Le No Show, Jiv Parasram and Tom Arthur Davis from Pandemic Theatre, Sarah Kitz (director of Shakespeare in the Ruff’s most recent production The Winter’s Tale in association with Crow’s Theatre), Zachary Russell (co-writer the of upcoming production STARS: Together at Crow’s Theatre this fall) and Rebecca Northan (who helmed the Spontaneous Theatre program at Crow’s Theatre and is the creator of the smash-hit Blind Date).