Graham Abbey’s Groundling Theatre Company brings world-class Shakespeare to Toronto


Stage and screen lion Graham Abbey founded his fledgling Groundling Theatre Company because he wanted to employ our top classical actors, directors and designers to produce world-class Shakespeare in Toronto.

Guess who got what he wanted?

Actors supported by the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation are working on all shapes and sizes of stages and screens all over the world.

Graham Abbey, who still gets fan mail from his CBC-TV series The Border, is spending most of his time these days on two passion projects – his new theatre company and Stratford’s.

Abbey’s new Groundling Theatre Company received an auspicious christening last month with a 100-seat storefront theatre production of A Winter’s Tale. With Abbey directing a glittering cast including Tom McCamus, Lucy Peacock, Michelle Giroux and Brent Carver, he had to start adding extra performances even before those glowing reviews came out. The show runs through February 20 at the Coal Mine Theatre in Toronto, but good luck getting a ticket.

Abbey admits it took him four years to get his Groundling Company aloft. But it’s taken him 12 years – two thirds of his time as a Stratford Festival player – to breathe life into his other passion project. And no wonder – it’s an undertaking of Shakespearean proportion.

Conceived and adapted by Abbey, Breath of Kings condenses Richard II and Henry IV Part I into one evening, then Henry IV Part II and Henry V into another. In another major casting coup, festival favourites Tom Rooney and Geraint Wyn Davies are set to play Richard II and Falstaff, respectively.

And TIFF Rising Star Johnathan Sousa, another Linehan Foundation beneficiary, will make his Stratford debut as Hotspur. But the good news for his stage and screen fans is that Abbey himself will play Henry IV.

Previews of Breath of Kings are slated to begin at Stratford on May 30 and May 31, with the twin world premiere opening nights scheduled for June 22 and June 23 – and yes, tickets to this ambitious Abbey venture are still obtainable. Get more information.

Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation-supported film Level 16 going to camera


Above: filmmaker Danishka Esterhazy

Level 16, a project developed through the NSI Features First course with support from the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation, will begin production this summer.

Filming will take place in northern Ontario. Confirmed cast members include Devery Jacobs, Imogen Waterhouse and Sara Canning.

Level 16 was developed through NSI Features First by Stéphanie Chapelle and Danishka Esterhazy.

The Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation has been a program partner of the NSI Features First course run by the National Screen Institute – Canada (NSI) since 2005.

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NSI Features First is a development training launch pad for producer/writer teams looking to produce their first or second feature film with strong commercial appeal.

Emmanuel Kabongo nominated for Canadian Screen Award

At last year’s Canadian Screen Awards, rising star Emmanuel Kabongo presented the trophy for best original program or series produced for digital media – fiction. Last month he was at Sundance and now he’s a CSA nominee himself.

Actors supported by the Brian Linehan Charitable Foundation are working on stages and screens of all shapes and sizes all over the world.

Emmanuel Kabongo, a recent alumnus of the CFC Actors Conservatory, has already enjoyed working in film and television projects ranging from Pompeii to Quantico.

Now he is nominated for his first Canadian Screen Award for best performance in a program or series produced for digital media.

Kabongo’s eye-catching portrayal of ‘T’ in the web series teenagers has been prominently featured in 15 of the series’ 17 webisodes. The popular series has already picked up L.A. Web Fest outstanding achievement awards for two years in a row.

Last month, Kabongo was in Utah supporting the Sundance Film Festival world premiere of Danny Perez’ new thriller Antibirth with leading ladies Natasha Lyonne, Chloe Sevigny and Meg Tilly. Busy as he was, he still managed to keep his thousands of Facebook and Twitter followers up to speed (@Emmanuelkabongo).

Kwak Ji-Min receives Brian Linehan Actors Award for and the sun


Kwak Ji-Min (pictured) has won the $1,000 Brian Linehan Actors Award for her work in 북쪽 바람 (and the sun) in the latest round of awards in the NSI Online Short Film Festival.

The jury had this to say about her work:

Hot Docs/Toronto After Dark Film Festival programmer Shannon Hanmer: “Ji-Min’s charismatic and subtle performance makes her stand out as a solid and memorable actor.”

Film promotion and exhibition expert Joy Loewen: “Kwak Ji-Min’s quiet yet bold intensity in a supporting role leaves an indelible and pleasing impression.”

Recent winner of the A&E Short Filmmakers Award Aidan Shipley: “Ji-Min delivered a beautiful performance filled with subtlety and quirkiness [in] a role that could have easily been overshadowed.”

Kwak Ji-Min said, “Firstly, I was surprised at winning this award – thank you! I appreciate the support for Korean films and actors, and a special thank you to director Samuel Kiehoon Lee.”

Visit the NSI Online Short Film Festival for more great Canadian short films.

Ambrose Liao and Tyler Parr win $1,000 Brian Linehan Actors Award


Ambrose Liao and Tyler Parr both won the $1,000 Brian Linehan Actors Award for their work showcased in the NSI Online Short Film Festival.

Ambrose Liao (pictured above) won for her work in Home. The jury had this to say about her work:

Media executive Tara Ellis: “Ambrose Liao’s beautiful performance has a delicacy that draws us into her intimate world and makes her emotional journey ring so true to the audience.”

Programmer Laura Good: “Ambrose Liao is captivating in this complex yet understated portrayal of a young woman on the brink of adulthood.”

Recent winner of the A&E Short Filmmakers Award Aaron Mirkin: “Ambrose Liao’s naturalistic performance is the centrepiece of this wonderful film.”

Ambrose Liao said, “It’s a big surprise to me because this is the first prize [I’ve won] in my life and it’s really appreciated. Thank you NSI!”


Tyler Parr (pictured above) won for his work in Ironied.

The jury had this to say about his work:

Programmer Agata Del Sorbo: “Tyler Parr conveys a vast range of emotions playing two roles in Ironied, skilfully navigating both comic and dramatic moments.”

Harold Greenberg Fund President John Galway: “Writer, director and performer in two roles … needless to say a real (and dedicated!) talent here. Tyler’s transformation to play both Donald and Charlie is amazing.”

Recent winner of the A&E Short Filmmakers Award Athena Han: “Tyler Parr’s performance delicately shows the internal struggles and vulnerability of the character Charlie in this poignant short.”

Tyler Parr said, “I am truly humbled! Brian Linehan was an exceptional human being and receiving this award in his name is an honour. Thank you, most sincerely.”

Visit the NSI Online Short Film Festival for more great Canadian short films.