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Black Designers' Conference

March 28th, 2021 - 11:00am to 4:00pm EST. A free, live, virtual event for Black-identifying students in grade 11 and 12 with an interest in visual arts and design. Register by March 20.

Calling all Black-identifying high school students with an interest in art and design!

The Black Designers’ Conference will introduce students to design for performance through workshops from Canada’s leading Black designers.

In these online experiential sessions in costume, set, lighting and sound design, participants will get to participate in the creative process of storytelling through design. Participants will receive supporting materials by mail, to ensure that the sessions will be interactive, informative and fun. There is a maximum capacity of 15 students per session so that students get individualized attention.

At the end of the session, participants will have an understanding of the uniqueness of designing for performance; the collaboration and storytelling that creates its magic. Participants will have interacted with materials or tools to a specific discipline (set, costume, sound or lighting). They will also have a sense of what training and a career in design for performance is like.

Each participant will be mailed a Spec Box with interactive materials specific to the workshop they will be attending during the online Black Designers' Conference.

An open cardboard box with light pouring out

Breakout sessions will be lead by:

Set Design

Rachel Forbes

Rachel Forbes is an award-winning set and costume designer creating for theatre, dance, opera and film. Her work has been seen across the country on stages big and small including the Shaw Festival, Buddies in Bad Times, Obsidian Theatre, Neptune Theatre, YPT, Centaur Theatre and many more.

Rachel is a graduate of the Production + Design Program at Ryerson School of Performance, and currently teaches design courses at her alma mater.

Costume Design

Nadine Grant

Nadine Grant is an award-winning designer, whose work has been featured in Canada, the US and England. Notable Designs includes da Kink in my Hair seen in Toronto, and at National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina, and the Canadian Premier of Ruined with Toronto’s Obsidian Theatre.

She received her MFA in Costume Design and Technology from the University of Missouri – Kansas City, and received a Dora Nomination for Costume Design (Toronto) 2010.

Lighting Design

Shawn Henry

Shawn Henry is a Toronto based Production Manager and Lighting Designer. She is currently the Production Manager for Tapestry Opera’s 20/21 season. Most recently Shawn has designed for Obsidian Theatre’s 21 Black Futures and Maman La Mer. Her Theatre credits include; rock.paper.sistahz., Saltfish Girl, Wise Woman, Hook up, How to succeed in business without really trying, I Marcus Garvey and Love & Marriage. She is also the resident Lighting Designer for the Ismailova Theatre of Dance.

Sound Design

Stephen Surlin

Stephen Surlin's previous work has included sound production work with Obsidian Theatre Company, Live-Coding performance with the Cybernetic Orchestra, interactive audio-visual installations at Toronto's Nuit Blanche and outdoor musical theatre at the SummerWorks Festival. He holds a Recording Arts & Technology Diploma from Recording Arts Canada (Toronto), a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree (University of Windsor), and a Master of Design Degree (OCAD University).

Chris Dennis - Production Director, San Francisco Ballet

Keynote Address

Christopher Dennis is currently in his 10th season as the Production Director for the San Francisco Ballet, and has been working in the performing arts industry for over 20 years. Prior to his relocation to the Bay area, he served as the Resident Lighting Designer and Lighting Coordinator at The National Ballet of Canada for 14 seasons, where he created memorable and evocative lighting designs for many of the The National Ballet of Canada’s productions, including Azure Barton’s Watch Her, James Kudelka’s Cinderella, Matjash Mrozewski’s A Delicate Battle, and Jean-Pierre Perreault’s The Comforts of Solitude. His Lighting design work  work for San Francisco Ballet includes Yuri Possokhov’s RAkU, Francesca da Rimini, The Rite of Spring, and Optimistic Tragedy; as well as Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s Trio and Caprice.

As Production Director he sits on the Executive Team and manages 4 labor unions. In addition,  he oversees all of the technical logistics on major tours both nationally and internationally to all parts of the world including, but not limited to, Copenhagen, New York, Italy, Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Shanghai, Washington, D.C. and Sun Valley Idaho. Most recently he was Executive Producer for San Francisco Ballet's 88th Virtual Gala Season and their 2021 Digital Season's dance films COLOFROMS by Myles Thatcher and Wooden Dimes by Daniel Rowe.

His lighting designs are in the repertoires of ballet companies around the world, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Joffrey Ballet Chicago, American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, West Australia Ballet, Coleman and Lemieux & Compagnie, ProArteDanza, and Moonhorse Dance Theatre, Canada. Christopher also served as President for The Associated Designers of Canada for 2 years.

In addition to his work in dance, he has designed lighting for the Shaw and Stratford Festivals as well as other regional opera, theatre, and film productions throughout Canada. He also served as Lighting Director for Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project and was Assistant Resident Lighting Designer for the Metropolitan Opera.

Lisa Cox - Assistant Professor


A graduate of Concordia University's Interdisciplinary Studies program, Lisa Karen Cox relishes work that combines music, movement and heightened language. Often playing men and other mythical creatures, theatre credits include: The Penelopiad (Royal Shakespeare Co/NAC); Friar Laurence in Romeo & (her) Juliet and Manfred Karge’s Man to Man (Headstrong Collective); Horatio in Hamlet (Beyond the Cubical Productions); Brutus in Julius Caesar (Spur-of-the-Moment Shakespeare), Katherine in Das Ding (CanadianStage/Theatre SMASH), Flo in Now You See Her (Quote Unquote Collective/Why Not/Nightwood) and 2 seasons at the Stratford Festival of Canada. Lisa was also the choreographer for Nightwood Theatre's Bear with Me and Comedy of Errors, the Assistant Director for We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia...(Theatre Centre), and Salt-Water Moon (Factory Theatre), and the Associate Director for Why Not Theatre's Like Mother, Like Daughter. She has also worked with emerging playwrights through Playwriting Units and Festivals; and explored playwriting and dramaturgy during the creation of Now You See Her (Quote/Unquote Collective/WhyNotTheatre/Nightwood).

Lisa is also on the Teacher Advisory for the Canadian Opera Company and a Board member for Theatre Direct.