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The Pleiades story begins in 1997 when John Van Burek started Pleiades Theatre, working out of his house.
Founding Board Members, Retired
Dr. Harry Arthurs
David Silcox (Chair)
"The Pleiades (pron. play-a-deez), is a group of stars, also known as “The Seven Sisters,” that appears in the Taurus constellation.
In my imagination, The Pleiades invokes an image of the seven arts: architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry and dance which, all combined, make up the last one, theatre.
Also, the Pleiades are a reminder for me of the seven wonderful women in my life: my wife, my five sisters and my mother, all of whom give me inspiration as a creative artist. Theatre is a public art form—no audience, no theatre—but it has to come from a very personal place, beginning with the name of the company."
Rehearsals started by the end of the year on Marcel Pursued by the Hounds in co-production with Tarragon Theatre. John was aided by Mallory Gilbert (Tarragon's then GM) on the administrative side of things.
By the end of the year John had found donors, gotten funding from all three levels of government, brought on Small Theatre Administration Facility (STAF) to share in some of the administrative tasks, and early in the next year there was a company logo designed by WYCLIFFE SMITH DESIGN.
The following year, 1998, Pleiades continued to work in co-production, this time with Théâtre français de Toronto (where John had been AD previously) and produced The Government Guy, once again at the Tarragon Theatre.
In 2000, Pleiades started producing plays at the Artword Theatre (run by Artistic Director Ronald Weihs and Managing Director Judith Sandiford), and would continue to do so for the next five years. The first show Pleiades Theatre produced under this new model was The Game of Love and Chance. This was also the start of a three year cycle of works by 17th Century French playwright, Marivaux.
"I spent the better part of each year raising the money to do the shows and the Outreach. Then, we would rehearse for 3 weeks and run for another 3. Ridiculous!"
With the start of the new millennium, John was able to bring more staff on to the Pleiades Theatre team. In 2001, Erin Shields came on board with a Theatre Ontario grant to do Outreach and as an Assistant Director and Naomi Campbell joined as the Producer of The Triumph of Love.
Then, in 2002, Gideon Arthurs joined Pleiades Theatre as an Outreach Co-ordinator and worked with Erin Shields who was now an Associate Producer. STAF returned and worked with Pleiades again to produce Counterfeit Secrets.
Erin moved on to other work, but John, Gideon and STAF would carry on and produce Pleiades Theatre's first non-French translation and first adaptation from a novella in 2003 with Heart of a Dog, partnering with Théâtre français de Toronto for a second time in Pleiades' history.
2004 saw the production of Pleiades Theatre's first original work called Beaux Gestes & Beautiful Deeds.
The year also saw the addition of Pleiades' second Associate Producer who, in the following year, would become the company's first General Manager, Catherine Harrison. She would be with the company 2004 - 2006.
2005 arguably marked the biggest year in Pleiades Theatre's history, not only in terms of productions but also in terms of changes and growth. Pleiades (with the team of John and Catherine) put on two shows for the first time in its history.
The Seven Days of Simon Labrosse was produced in co-production with Montreal Young Company and Gravy Bath Productions; the second show was The Amorous Servant and both shows were performed at the Artword Theatre before it moved to Hamilton, ON. The latter would be the final show on which STAF provided admin support for Pleiades.
Karen Gilodo joined Pleiades as their Outreach Co-ordinator in between the two shows as Gideon moved on to other opportunities.
General Manager 2004 - 2006
2006 brought more changes for Pleiades Theatre and its team of John, Catherine, and Karen.
For the first time in its history, Pleiades Theatre moved out of John's house and into its new home in The Distillery District (Case Goods Warehouse, 4th floor).
Pleiades went back to its roots and produced another Michel Tremblay play; a Canadian classic that John had translated back in 1974, Hosanna. The show was mounted at the newly opened Young Centre for the Performing Arts also in the Distillery District.
Lastly, a new logo was created by PHILIP SUNG & ASSOCIATES.
2007 marked Pleiades Theatre's 10th anniversary! Pleiades had built itself up from a one-man, in-home, operation to mid-size theatre company with three staff and offices at one of Toronto's theatre hubs (Distillery District). For this anniversary year, Pleiades partnered with the National Arts Centre in Ottawa and they produced Dying to be Sick, at the Theatre Centre.
As Karen left for other opportunities, Lauren Brotman joined Pleiades as the new Outreach Co-ordinator.
Marilo Nuñez came on board as the General Manager for the company, joining John in a leadership position at Pleiades Theatre.
After taking a year to develop new translations and build the company further, in 2009 John, Marilo, and Lauren, now as Outreach Director, were joined by Andrey Tarasiuk as Associate Producer for Pleiades Theatre's first ever non-European/non-French Canadian translation, Shakuntala. The show would also go on to be performed at The Cultural Olympiad of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, BC.
In 2010 Marilo left Pleiades and Andrey joined the company as Producer to work alongside John. Along with the continued efforts of Lauren, the team produced La Sagouine, bringing legendary Canadian actress Viola Léger back to a Toronto stage. Also, this year, Chris Mustard of Young and Associates started working with Pleiades as our bookkeeper, remain in the position until stepping down in 2022.
After the resounding success of Shakuntala two years earlier, 2011 saw Pleiades explore a second South Asian play, The Post Office by Rabindranath Tagore. It featured some emerging artists as well as two of Canada's most respected actors, Sam Moses and Sugith Varughese. The year also saw Eddie Kastrau join the company as IT Coordinator.
Moving on to 2012, John, Andrey and Lauren continued to work together, now forming a well oiled machine with 3 years under their belts as a team. That familiarity and continuity lead to the creation of Pleiades first original play/new work, Luba, Simply Luba. Inspired by and starring Canadian legend Luba Goy (Royal Canadian Air Farce), the piece was directed by Andrey Tarasiuk (who also collaborated on the writing with Luba and playwright Diane Flacks) and looked at the Ukrainian culture in Canada post World War II.
By 2014, Lauren had moved on to doing her own projects with her own company. This left Andrey and John running the company with a specialized staff for support (bookkeeping, publicity, marketing, IT, etc.). The year would also see the first time James Graham worked with the company (as Assistant to the Director) on Manon, Sandra and the Virgin Mary. This would mark the last time a Michel Tremblay play was done at Pleiades.
The following year, 2015, The Sound of Cracking Bones was produced in association with Theatre Passe Muraille. This unique piece exploring the horror of war and child soldiers also illicited the participation of The Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. The show was performed in English and French by the same cast.
2016 saw a unique production for Pleiades, The Post Mistress, written by Tomson Highway. It was performed in French, English and Cree and marked another co-pro with Theatre français de Toronto (the 3rd co-pro between the two companies). The first piece by an Indigenous playwright tackled by Pleiades, it also featured the company’s first completely IBPOC cast.
After 20 years of building the company from scratch, John passed the leadership of the company entirely to Andrey in 2017, and Andrey became the company's first Artistic Producer.
"PLEIADES produces outstanding works of theatre that celebrate various cultures from around the world and in Toronto. To do so, we produce plays that have either been translated into English or are new works written in English and which explore life in one of Canada's many cultures . We also engage and support youth and New Canadian adults through educational outreach.
Our plays are drawn from the Canadian and international repertoires. We present them in modern, innovative productions, usually in the form of new, Canadian translations, while on some occasions they are new works. New or classical, they are selected for their entertainment value, because they reveal something of a specific culture and because they remind us of the universality of the human experience. In addition, they often introduce writers and styles not widely known to Toronto audiences.
Also, through our unique educational program, Speak the Speech!, available in both English and French, we make a concerted effort to ensure that the creative process of theatre is accessible to young people of all cultural backgrounds. Parallel to this, our adult program, Play Upon the Word, is designed to help newcomers to Canada who are enrolled in school board ESL classes, to master their English and communications skills more quickly and New Land: New Language, (particularly designed for refugee high school students arriving in Toronto).
This work is integral to our operation and our philosophy."