Nadia Ross is a multi-disciplinary artist living in Wakefield, Quebec. She is the artistic director of STO Union.
Ross was a student at the University of Toronto Drama program in the late 1980’s, at the time when Pia Kleber was its director. Through Kleber’s efforts and international connections, Ross was sent to Europe to apprentice with some of Europe’s best directors and theatres, most notably at the Berliner Ensemble in East Berlin in 1986 and in Vienna with Manfred Karge at the BurgTheater. It was in East Berlin that she encountered the work of Heiner Mueller and Robert Wilson, which would influence her work for years to come.
She returned to Toronto in the early 1990’s right when the art and theatre scene was flourishing. She collaborated and worked with numerous artists at the time, from ‘the two Daniels” (MacIvor and Brooks), to Jacob Wren (then known as Death Waits), to Tracy Wright (who would become a life-long friend), to name a few.
Early Years: 1989–1995
In 1994 STO Union presented The Alistair Trilogy, written and directed by Ross and Diane Cave, at Theatre Passe Muraille. The production was chosen by then associate artistic director for Passe Muraille Peter Hinton, who would re-appear in her career later on at yet another strategic turning point. The play was a success and went on to win the Chalmers Award and launch her career in the arts. Her next project, Excerpts from the Emo Journals, a collaboration with Daniel MacIvor, would prove contentious to Toronto audiences, with some reviewers claiming she had crossed the line out of theatre and into something else altogether. At this time, neo-liberalism had become fully entrenched, and the era for experimentation was generally considered over. Ross became one of The Rejected, leaving Toronto to spend the next few years in meditation practice.
She united forces with another Rejected artist, Jacob Wren, who had already begun mining Europe’s potential for touring and artistic support. Together, they created the play Recent Experiences in Toronto, with a stellar group of artists (Tracy Wright, Ingrid Venninger, Andrea Davis, Charles Officer, Leary McNicolls, and Andrew Moodie). Because funding had completely dried up, they joined forces and were able to create the play on a $6,000 Toronto Arts Council grant. They premiered the play at The Theatre Centre the same time that Harbourfront was presenting its international theatre festival and invited presenters from the festival to come and see their show. Menno Plukker (Menno Plukker Theatre Agent) and Martin Faucher (then associate artist and now head of FTA) accepted the invitation. One year later, the play was presented at FTA and on the night of the opening, presenters from Hong Kong, Vienna, and Berlin invited the show on the spot. Thus began STO Union’s touring life and its association with Menno Plukker.
From 2000 to 2010, Ross created three main stage touring productions: Recent Experiences (premiered in 2000, with Jacob Wren), Revolutions in Therapy (premiered in 2005, with Jacob Wren and Tracy Wright) and 7 Important Things (premiered in 2007), a production she created with George Acheson, an amateur in the theatre who openly claimed to hate the medium.
Here again, Peter Hinton would impact her career: as the new artistic director for the National Arts Centre’s English Theatre, he would not only invite, but co-produce, 7 Important Things in his inaugural season. This was a bold choice, as the play stirred emotions in the crowd, with some audiences stating publicly that "this is NOT theatre", and others celebrating the intimacy and authenticity that the play engendered. The play has toured to numerous cities around the world, receiving accolades and inciting the German critic Renate Klett to write in the Frankfurter Rundschau: “By far the best Canadian performance which I saw was 7 Important Things by Nadia Ross, who is more famous now in Europe than in her homeland "(”Who? Diana Ross?” asks a Montreal Theatre professor, proving the old adage that you can not be a prophet in your own country)”. The play continues to tour to this day.
The production brought to the forefront the style that Ross and Wren had been developing for years: effortless presence on stage, using the real situation of being onstage as a starting point, eliminating the use of elaborate sets, costumes, make-up, acting, and the pre-written play. Treading closely to performance art, the work still kept firm footing in the realm of theatre, through its adherence to narrative or story.
Return to Quebec: 2005
By 2005, Ross had settled in the small village of Wakefield, Quebec and married Rob Scott, a CBC technical director who would go on to become one of her main collaborators and the Technical Director for STO Union.
Ross’ background as a ‘franglais’ (her mother coming from Riviere du Loup, Quebec and her father coming from Glasgow, Scotland) led to her desire to reside in a community with others who had similar mixed heritage. Ross began a new era of creation, often collaborating with people in the village and established artists from larger city centres.
In 2010, she was approached by a recent graduate from the University of Ottawa theatre program, Sarah Conn, who would, over the course of the next years, take on the challenge of creating an Ottawa presence for the company through her own work and collaborations with other Ottawa artists. Although Ottawa and Wakefield are only twenty minutes apart by car, the provincial border which divides the region is viewed by Ross as one of the central reasons for the region’s cultural lack of identity. Her partnership with Conn is their attempt to address the divide.
In 2014, she presented What Happened to the Seeker, again at Toronto’s Theatre Centre. This is STO Union’s newest mainstage show, and is scheduled for touring in the coming years.
Outside of her mainstage productions, Ross has created numerous smaller projects. She also teaches in Canada and in Europe, and spends as much time as she can on her four acres of land and off-grid house in Farrellton Quebec, growing vegetables for herself and neighbours. She works out of Earle’s Hall, a stunning 19th century theatre above Wakefield’s local bar, Kaffe 1870, which she shares with the Kaffe and Wakefest, Wakefield's multi-arts festival.
She currently lives in Wakefield, Quebec with her husband Rob and their two dogs.
- 1995: Floyd S. Chalmers Canadian Play Award - The Alistair Trilogy with Diane Cave