Winner — 2016 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Performance, Ensemble (Opera Division)

We shook the dust off the Handel favourite and remounted our barefoot, costumed, choreographed musical work in a surprise venue: the Harbourfront Centre Theatre in partnership with the Corporation of Roy Thomson Hall and Massey Hall.

In 2013, we drew critical praise when we debuted our refreshed Messiah at the east-end rock hall, The Opera House. Handel’s score remained intact, but we ditched the “stand and deliver” performance, tuxedos and choral folders, and mounted a barefoot, choreographed oratorio — one which walked the line between edgy and faithful. (And one that audiences could enjoy with a beer and poutine.) In 2015, AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivany and Music Director Topher Mokrzewski reteamed with choreographer Jennifer Nichols to give the piece new movement. This is not your grandma’s Messiah (but she would love it, so bring her).

The show is sung in English. 18-piece orchestra and 16-member chorus.
Duration: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.

Video by Roger Rousseau | Lead photo courtesy of Matt Barnes | Performance photos by Darryl Block


December 16–19, 2015
Harbourfront Centre Theatre
235 Queens Quay West, Toronto


Toronto (2015 Production)

What I learned by attending three Toronto Messiahs in one night | Musical Toronto
“This was a hip, exposed-brick Messiah… The young singers, all in barefoot, sang from memory that heightened the drama by removing barriers between performer and audience.”

Rehearsing “a Messiah that moves” | Schmopera
Schmopera’s Jenna Douglas takes you behind the scenes of a dancing Messiah rehearsal.

Against The Grain Goes Full On Oratorio | Musical Toronto
“I see a lot of Messiahs every year, and each is amazing in their way. But a special shout out goes to AtG’s Messiah, as it made me rethink the fundamentals of related musical form and the meaning they present us. It’s refreshing to say the least.”

A Tale of Two Messiahs | La Scena Musicale
“It made a surprisingly powerful impression… the chorus sounded and looked like they lived every note and every word.”

AtG’s Messiah | Stage Door
“No ordinary production: Against the Grain has indeed liberated Messiah… Let’s hope AtG revives it again soon.”

A Joyful Noise | Play Anon
“Baroque music: ballsy, brave, and… fun? In AtG’s hands, you bet.”

Review: AtG’s Messiah | Opera Going Toronto
“Dynamic indie collective Against the Grain Theatre rocks Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre Theatre with a fresh, restyled revival of its 2013 dance-drama Messiah.”

Concert Sampler: AtG’s Messiah | Toronto Star
“Against the Grain’s nu-opera is the most exceptional of exceptions.”

Barefoot Messiah | Opera Ramblings
“This is a very different Messiah and one that’s come a long way since the 2013 edition.”

Toronto theatres offer three unique versions of Handel’s Messiah | Musical Toronto
“For those with an affinity for the avant-garde, an excellent choice is the re-imagining of Messiah by the stage director Joel Ivany and his Against the Grain Theatre.”

Toronto theatres offer three unique versions of Handel’s Messiah | The Globe and Mail
“The ATG Messiah promises to be a bit slicker this year, moved to the Harbourfront Theatre with four performances, but retains the spirit of adventure and enjoyment that characterizes all the work of this company.”

How Do You Like Your Messiah? | Toronto Star
“Joel Ivany, co-artistic director, says the singers are in modern dress and are barefoot because “it is earthy and grounded.””

What’s On | Toronto Life Magazine
“The ever-inventive Against the Grain Theatre troupe’s take is the most original—barefoot, costumed, choreographed, memorized and even occasionally funny (watch for the All We Like Sheep chorus).”

VIDEO: AtG’s Messiah: A Preview | Schmopera
“We caught a few moments of rehearsal, and chatted with the soloists and a few keen chorus members about adding movement and new meaning to Handel’s masterpiece.”

Straddling the Old and New | The Whole Note
“It lives more in the world of ballet and contemporary dance. This Messiah will be the largest-scale production AtG has ever mounted…”

Going Against the Grain: Holiday Edition | Soundboard Magazine
A feature interview with Joel Ivany conducted by Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall’s editorial team.

Rockin’ barefoot Messiah to play at Harbourfront Centre | Toronto Star
“Against the Grain artistic director Joel Ivany says the troupe’s gamble to take traditional works and present them in a modern way, while respecting the text and music, has paid off.”

Annual Battle of the Messiahs Just Got A Little More Serious | Musical Toronto
“…an impressive Against the Grain Theatre came out with an unorthodox production that reminded us that it is not the size that counts, but the creative vision behind it.”

From rape to crucifixion | Opera Ramblings
“AtG’s Messiah was a blast the first time round, especially Geoff Sirett’s sheep impersonation. This will probably sell out fairly quickly.”

Toronto (2013 Production)

What makes Messiah endure? | The Globe and Mail
“The most exciting Messiah over the past week or so may well have been that of the small, experimental musical/theatre company Against The Grain.”

Messing with Handel’s Messiah | Toronto Star
“Against the Grain Theatre is producing a dancing, barefoot, costumed, shortened Messiah this weekend at the Opera House on Queen St. E. Not only will half of the hundreds of patrons be standing, but they’ll be drinking alcohol and eating poutine as well.”

A different hallelujah | NOW Magazine
“This was not a stand-and-deliver performance, but one filled with gesture and movement by soloists and chorus. The four solo singers – soprano Jacqueline Woodley, alto Krisztina Szabó, tenor Isaiah Bell and bass Geoffrey Sirett – were all put to untraditional use; they were barefoot for most of the production.”

Review: AtG’s Messiah | Mooney on Theatre
“Though Against the Grain‘s Messiah was only two nights, they have won me over. I will be sure to catch their next productions.”

Messiah Review | Opera Going Toronto
“Toronto’s inventive musical co-op, Against the Grain Theatre, shakes the dust off the perennial Handel favourite with a new, decidedly untraditional offering rich in originality and surprise.”

Review: (Toronto) The Messiah | The Charlebois Post Canada
“Stage director Joel Ivany masterfully walks the line between edgy and faithful without rupturing the spirit of Handel’s Messiah, and Jennifer Nichols’ choreography brings clarity and artistry to the work.”

AtG’s Messiah | operaramblings
“So, in two years we’ve gone from an upright piano to piano quintet to an eighteen piece band with trumpets and timpani. It sounded great and Topher conducted with a suitable combination of precision, delicacy and passion.”

AtG’s Messiah: without a net | barczablog
“We were promised something different, and they delivered. Against the Grain Theatre’s Messiah took a familiar piece and added something without disturbing the essential gold.”

Musical Toronto | Preview: Against the Grain Theatre turns to a Messiah with movement
“Given the dozens upon dozens of amateur and professional Messiahs we can choose from in southern Ontario every December, experiencing it anew is at once a welcome proposition and a direct challenge to a Christmas tradition — and few traditions are more sacred than our personal and collective Yuletide habits.”

10 Questions for Joel Ivany | Barczablog
Our artistic director, Joel Ivany, talks with Leslie Barcza about AtG’s Messiah.

Rejoice Greatly | Opera Ramblings
John Gilks at Opera Ramblings looks forward to AtG’s Messiah.



Stephen Hegedus

Bass soloist

Bass-baritone Stephen Hegedus is a native of Toronto. A prize-winner in the New York Oratorio Society competition, he made his Carnegie Hall debut singing Bach’s Mass in B-minor. His credits include the title role in Le nozze di Figaro, Leporello (Don Giovanni), Colline (La Bohème), Guglielmo (Così fan tutte), Albert (Werther) and Nick Shadow (The Rake’s Progress). He has been engaged by the Teatro Municipal de Santiago, Canadian Opera Company, Vancouver Opera, L’Opéra de Montréal, Opera Atelier, Pacific Opera Victoria, Edmonton Opera, and Opera Hamilton. Equally at home on the concert stage, he has appeared with Against the Grain Theatre in Figaro’s Wedding and Death and Desire, the Toronto Symphony, Montreal Symphony, Vancouver Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Houston Symphony, and the Grant Park Festival.

Miriam Khalil

Soprano soloist

One of Canada’s rising sopranos, Miriam Khalil is a founding member of AtG and an alumna of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio. Her roles with AtG include Mimi (La Bohème), the Governess (The Turn of the Screw), Susanna (Figaro’s Wedding), Mélisande (Pelléas et Mélisande), and Elvira (#UncleJohn). Other credits include Almirena in Handel’s Rinaldo and Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare (Glyndebourne Festival Opera), Mimi in La Bohème (Opera Hamilton), Musetta in La Bohème (Edmonton Opera), Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro (Pacific Opera Victoria and Opera Lyra Ottawa), and various opera galas with The Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, Sudbury Symphony and L’Opéra de Montréal.

Owen McCausland

Tenor soloist

Canadian tenor Owen McCausland was born in Saint John, New Brunswick and is a recent graduate of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio. He has appeared in many COC mainstage and Ensemble Studio productions. He debuted with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra singing Bach Cantatas and with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra singing Howard Blake’s The Bear. He was a finalist and winner of the Canadian Encouragement Award at the 2015 George London Singing Competition and also a semi-finalist in the 2015 Montreal International Music Competition.

Andrea Ludwig

Alto soloist

Hailed by Halifax Chronicle Herald critic Stephen Pedersen as having “tones of silver and gold”, Andrea Ludwig has appeared with the Canadian Opera Company in numerous roles including Nireno in Handel’s Julius Ceasar, the Second Niece in Britten’s Peter Grimes, Flora in The Turn of the Screw, Moira in Paul Ruder’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Liesgen in Bach’s Coffee Cantata. Very much in demand for contemporary opera, she has been involved in many of Tapestry New Opera’s productions, and the Dora-nominated Queen of Puddings production of Svadba — The Wedding.


Meher Pavri


Vanessa Oude-Reimerink


Whitney Mather


Tessa Laengert


Michaela Dickey


Christina Campsall


Rebecca Russell


Samantha Pickett


Joshua Wales


Daniel Wheeler


Christopher Wattam


Jonathan MacArthur


Micah Schroeder


Gianmarco Segato


Gregory Finney


Robert Rawlins


Creative Team

Joel Ivany

Stage Director

Joel Ivany is the founder and artistic director of AtG, and is the program director of The Banff Centre’s “Open Space: Opera in the 21st Century”. His directing credits include productions of Verdi’s Macbeth (Minnesota Opera), Carmen (Vancouver Opera), Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Edmonton Opera), Gavin Bryars’ Marilyn Forever (Adelaide Festival) and Le nozze di Figaro (Norwegian National Opera). He is the recent nominee of the Dora Award for Outstanding New Opera/Musical for AtG’s #UncleJohn and the recipient of the same prize for Figaro’s Wedding. His 2015/2016 engagements include mainstage directing debuts at the Canadian Opera Company (Carmen) and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (Mozart’s Requiem), the premiere of AtG’s A Little Too Cozy at The Banff Centre, and a revival of #UncleJohn at the Ottawa International Chamber Festival.

Christopher Mokrzewski

Music Director

Pianist, vocal coach and conductor Topher Mokrzewski is a steadily rising figure in the worlds of Canadian opera and chamber music. He was recently appointed Resident Conductor of Calgary Opera, and is the founding Music Director of AtG. A graduate of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble Studio, he is frequently sought as a soloist, collaborator and music director. His 2015/2016 season includes conducting Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortilèges, and serving as assistant conductor for LakméDie tote Stadt and Die Zauberflöte with Calgary Opera. He also returns to the faculty of The Banff Centre’s “Open Space: Opera in the 21st Century” opera program this summer as Music Director of A Little Too Cozy, the latest instalment in AtG’s Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy adaptations.

Jennifer Nichols


Jennifer Nichols is a professional dancer, choreographer and founder of The Extension Method™. Jennifer’s Extension Method Class has been profiled with glowing reviews in the National Post, The Toronto Star, FASHION Magazine, and more. Jennifer’s work has extended to the realm of professional sport, and she has developed cross-training programs for national competitive synchronized swimming and figure skating teams. She continues to dance professionally, both onstage and in film and television, as an independent artist and co-director/ founder of the dance company ‘Hit & Run Dance Productions’.

Jenna Douglas

Chorus Director/Associate MD

Jenna Douglas is the editor and co-creator of Schmopera.com. She’s a pianist and vocal coach, and her work in opera allows her to present a truly insider look at the industry and its artists. She has contributed to Opera Canada, Musical Toronto, and the Canadian Opera Company’s blog, Parlando.

Jason Hand

Lighting Designer

Jason “Legz” Hand is a Toronto-based lighting designer working in theatre and opera. He has designed at major opera houses in Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Minneapolis, and at theatres and festivals including Canadian Stage, Soulpepper, Shaw, Stratford, Banff, Young People’s Theatre and Theatre Calgary. He is the recipient of four Dora Award nominations for Lighting Design, and was the 2012 protégé recipient of the prestigious Siminovitch Prize in Theatre. Beginning with the first Bohème in 2011, Jason has lit six of AtG’s eight productions.

Erika Connor

Costume Designer

Erika Connor is originally from Kerrobert, Saskatchewan. She has worked on Against the Grain’s productions of Figaro’s Wedding,The Turn of the Screw, AtG’s Messiah, and Kafka/Janáček/Kurtág. Previous costume design credits in Toronto include 10 years with Ross Petty Productions. Erika has also worked with Soulpepper, Canstage, Theatre Passe Muraille, Obsidian and Studio 180.

Jenifer Kowal

Stage Manager

Jenifer Kowal, a native of Texas, studied theatre at Indiana University before moving to Toronto, where she joined the stage management team at the Canadian Opera Company in 1992. Since that time she has stage managed notable COC productions including the Ring Cycle and War and Peace. She also stage managed Robert Lepage’s A Nightingale and Other Short Fables and Semele in Toronto and Brooklyn.

Caitlyn Albanese

Apprentice Stage Manager

Caitlyn Albanese moved to Toronto in 2009 to study Performance Production at Ryerson University. Since graduating she has worked as a stage manager with the Lower Ossington Theatre. Credits include Seussical TYA, Spamalot, RENT, Little Shop of Horrors andRocky Horror Show. Apprentice stage management credits include AtG’s #UncleJohn (The Banff Centre), Forgiveness: A Theatrical Poem (Modern Times Stage Company) and Dance Masters 2013 (The Banff Centre). She is currently the Assistant Stage Manager/Metcalf Foundation Intern with Toronto Dance Theatre.

Kirsten LaBonte

Production Manager

Kirsten LaBonte studied Theatre Production and Design at York University. She has years of experience in the performance and live event industry, taking on such projects as the Prague Quadrennial and the World Stage Design festival in Cardiff, Wales. In Toronto, she has worked on large-scale productions like Nuit Blanche, the Indigenous Arts Festival at Fort York, and various theatre productions including How Do I Love Thee directed by Ken Gas. Her passion for the arts an the environment can be seen in her work on projects like vox:lumen which ran entirely on renewable energy.

Autumn Coppaway

Consulting Production Manager

Nicknamed “The Hatchet”, Autumn Coppaway has fearlessly attacked neighbourhood trees in service of AtG’s scenic needs since 2014. Before joining the team as Company Production Manager, she worked as an assistant technical director for The Grand Theatre, production manager for Carousel Players, and technical supervisor for the Luminato Festival’s Hub. Autumn has recently become the Assistant Technical Director for the Canadian Opera Company.

Dana Fradkin

Movement Assistant

Dana Fradkin is an actor, physical theatre performer, stunt performer and personal
trainer. She first worked with Joel Ivany on the Canadian Opera Company’s La
(performing as a clown) and was the “acrobat Valkyrie” in COC’s latest
production of Die Walkure. Her theatre and festival work includes: Odyssey Theatre, Convergence Theatre, Metaphysical Theatre, Caravan Tall ship, Second City Toronto, Theatre Gargantua, Circus Orange, Cirque Sublime, Shakespeare in the Square, Glastonbury Music Festival, Vancouver 2010 Olympics, Calgary Stampede, Antwerp Theatre Festival, Edmonton Folk Festival, Nuit Blanche, Luminato, and Toronto BuskerFest.


Photo credit: Darryl Block. For full captions and media inquiries, contact Cait Coull.

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