Read all about the artists we’re talking to this summer for Community Conversations!
Deivan Steele (Moderator)
Deivan is a Halifax-born, Toronto-based actor, director, and musician. Originally brought on the Driftwood team as a performer in Henry V, he’s been engaging with the community instead as Outreach Coordinator. Past work includes: Shakespeare by the Sea, Prague Shakespeare Co., and Bard in the Park. In 2021 (fingers crossed!): Bad Hats, and Driftwood’s Henry V. Deivan holds a BFA from Ryerson University.
Jani is is a 9 time Dora Mavor Moore nominated actress, a Juno and CAMA nominated singer/songwriter, a Gemini Award winning puppeteer, an award winning screen actress and an award winning director. She was a member of the NAC English Theatre Acting Company for 3 years and has graced stages across Canada. Film and TV credits include: Saving Hope, Hard Rock Medical and Conspiracy of Silence. He company Paper Canoe Projects supports her writing projects A Side of Dreams, I Call myself Princess and Prophecy Fog.
ted witzel (he/him) is a queer theatre-maker, programmer, and strategist who has worked in Toronto, Berlin, Vancouver, Montreal, Stratford, London, Milan, Palermo, Stuttgart, Ingolstadt, Baden-Baden, and Bad Hersfeld, which is a small town with a lot of sheep in it. Well, near it. ted is currently the Artistic Associate for the Stratford Festival lab, overseeing the Festival’s Research and Development programs. in 2019, ted was an Artistic Leadership Resident at the National Theatre School ( and the Banff Centre. He has been Artist-in-Residence at Buddies in Bad Times, Harbourfront, and the Institut Für Alles Mögliche. ted was in the inaugural cohort of York University/Canadian Stage’s MFA in Directing, and holds a BA from the University of Toronto Recent directing credits include: What Happens to You, Happens to Me by Susanna Fournier (CanStage CS Grid), Elizabeth Rex (Theatre@York), The Scavenger’s Daughter (Buddies/Paradigm) and LULU v.7 // Aspects of a Femme Fatale (Buddies/Red Light District).
Owais Lightwala is an arts leader and creative producer. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Performance, Faculty of Communication and Design at Ryerson University, where his teaching and research focused on creative producing and arts management. Prior to that, he spent 8 years as the Managing Director for Why Not Theatre, where he produced sold-out runs of award-winning new works, national and international tours, presentations from around the world, and co-helmed the creation of innovative new producing models like the RISER Project. He advises many arts organizations (including theatre and dance companies, music presenters, film festivals and more) as a strategic consultant, particularly on finding better ways of doing things, changing who’s on stage and in the audience, and anything to do with numbers. He also dabbles in theatre making as an artist, and is a prolific web and graphic designer. A lifelong learner, he was selected for the Impact Program for Arts Leaders (Stanford Graduate School of Business), has completed the CORe program (Harvard Business School), was a 2018 DiverseCity Fellow (CivicAction), a fellow in the 2018 Leaders Lab (Toronto Arts Council/Banff Centre), is a graduate of York University’s Theatre program, and is currently pursuing his MBA at Ryerson University.
With 30 professional years across theatre, television, film, radio, and education, Alex is dedicated to inclusive collaborative art practice, fuelled by a curiosity of the improbable and deeply informed by her experience of becoming blind. She is activated by obstacles and embraces the disciplines of generosity, listening, time, and uncertainty. Alex is artistic director of Common Boots Theatre , co-founder and artistic director of Cripping The Stage, and the lead curator of CoMotion Festival 2021, an international disability arts festival produced by Harbourfront Centre. In 2014, Alex was named one of the most influential disabled artists by UK’s Power Magazine.
Philip Akin is is best known for his work at Obsidian Theatre, where he served as Artistic Director for 15 years. He has directed with theatre schools and companies across the country, including Neptune Theatre, The Shaw Festival, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, and the National Theatre School of Canada. Philip’s accolades include numerous Toronto Theatre Critics Awards and Dora Mavor Moore Awards, as well as a Life Membership Award from the Canadian Actors Equity Association for outstanding contributions to the performing arts. He has also contributed to the theatre community as a keynote speaker, a panelist, a board member, and a juror on numerous occasions, and has championed Black artists and stories throughout his career.
Lisa Marie DiLiberto
Lisa Marie is the Artistic Director of Theatre Direct, one of the country’s leading companies for young audiences, now in its 44th season. She is the Founder of FIXT POINT Arts and Media and the Co-creator of The Tale of a Town – Canada, a multi-year theatre and media project that toured to every province and territory to gather stories and create site-specific performances. Lisa Marie is the co-creator of TVO’s Main Street Ontario animated series, now in production for Season 3. She holds a Masters of Arts in Theatre and Performance Studies from York University and is on faculty at Centennial College where she teaches Clown and Acting. Lisa Marie is an Artistic Advisor for the National Arts Centre, a graduate of George Brown Theatre School and École Philippe Gaulier in Paris, France, and the proud mom of two wild children.
Andrew Kushnir is a playwright, performer, director and community arts worker who calls Toronto home. He is artistic director of the award-winning and socially-engaged theatre company Project: Humanity, where his verbatim plays have been developed and premiered (The Middle Place, Small Axe, the co-created with Khari Wendell McClelland Freedom Singer, and Towards Youth: a play on radical hope). As a leading developer of the form, he has taught and lectured on Verbatim Theatre at Queens, University of Toronto, University of Alberta, the NYU Forum on Ethnodrama ,and with youth in the TDSB and Toronto’s youth shelter system. He directed the first-ever Docu-Theatre Creators’ Unit in Canada (at Crow’s Theatre as associate artistic director). He is a University of Alberta alum and Loran Scholar. He became the inaugural recipient of the Shevchenko Foundation REACH artists residency in 2019 – which has him
creating a new solo documentary play at Tarragon Theatre about his late grandfather, a watchmaker.