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Theatre Aquarius announces Canadian centre for new musicals

Funding commitments totalling $1 million are secured for Hamilton-based incubator that will support Canadian composers, lyricists, book writers and theatre artists.

Theatre Aquarius has lined up an all-star cast behind the launch of a new musical incubator in Hamilton.

The National Centre for New Musicals (NCNM) has a mandate to nurture, develop, and advance Canadian musical theatre projects, stories, and voices.

Championed by the leadership team of Theatre Aquarius artistic director Mary Francis Moore and executive director Kelly Straughan and bolstered by an inaugural advisory committee, NCNM is “set to revolutionize the national and international musical theatre landscape, offering unparalleled opportunity for both established and emerging Canadian composers, lyricists, book writers and theatre artists,” says a press release about the project.

Funding commitments totalling $1 million are secured for NCNM‘s first five years as part of the total budget of $2 million. The goal is to establish NCNM and ultimately Canada as a leading player in the field of musical theatre development and provide an unmatched platform for growth and long-term success.

NCNM will support projects at various stages in the continuum of development – from early-stage concepts to previously workshopped or showcased work. Guided by the celebrated theatre practitioners on its advisory committee, NCNM will provide mentorship and pathways for new artists and projects.

“We are thrilled to position ourselves as a launchpad for national and international opportunities,” says Moore, “Aquarius has a storied history of talent development; and with our dynamic team, exciting partnership opportunities and our proximity to Toronto and New York, NCNM is poised to solidify Hamilton firmly on the ‘arts and culture’ map nationally and internationally.”

Theatre Aquarius executive director Kelly Straughan, left, and artistic director Mary Francis Moore. Photo: Theatre Aquarius

This announcement comes fast on the heels of the highly successful world premiere of Johnny Reid’s Maggie, which closed Theatre Aquarius’s all-Canadian 2022-2023 season. The six-production season include two other world premieres in The Extinction Therapist and The Gig.

“To showcase exceptional new Canadian musicals within and beyond our borders, we need a theatre to nurture and foster their development. I am elated to see Theatre Aquarius become the national home for the development and growth of new Canadian musicals,” said Michael Rubinoff, co-chair of the NCNM advisory committee, and himself a pioneering force in new Canadian musical theatre development.

As part of its mission, NCNM will actively cultivate and strengthen new and diverse voices by ensuring that artists and creators are provided with mentorship and consultation to maximize their potential for success in the genre.

Moore and Rubinoff are joined by NCNM advisory committee co-chair Lily Ling. Ling is a Chinese-Canadian music director, conductor, pianist and educator, and a strong advocate for mentorship and outreach. She was the first female music director and the first person of East Asian descent to conduct Hamilton and is the current interim music director and conductor for Moulin Rouge on Broadway.

The advisory committee also includes Canadian music director, conductor and educator Sean Mayes whose Broadway credits include assistant conductor of MJ and associate conductor of Hadestown. Additionally, Mayes was the conductor of the all-Canadian premiere of The Colour Purple as well as musical supervisor of the Finnish Premiere of Come From Away.

“The musical MAGGIE packed houses, and proved that the timing is right to shine the spotlight on Canadian talent. NCNM will provide the innovation and resources to catapult Canadian musical theatre creators to an entirely new level,” says Straughan.

“The region’s incredible support is instrumental to the exciting and historic plans for new musical theatre development in Canada, right here at Aquarius, and this is just the beginning.”

Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath also sang the praises of the new initiative.

“I am so proud of the long-established and emerging cultural landscape that is a crucial part of the city of Hamilton. The launch of NCNM at Aquarius will have a significant positive impact on both tourism and economic development in our city. This announcement of the NCNM as a musical theatre incubator is tremendously exciting and we can’t wait to welcome the international musical theatre world to Hamilton.”

Announcements about the program, its funders and the submission process will be made in the fall in conjunction with the start of Aquarius’ 50th anniversary season. Questions about the program can be emailed to