Jon Kaplan Legacy Fund Awards give hope to Toronto theatre industry

Virgilia Griffith, athena trinh and Haneul Yi receive awards and money from the fund named after NOW’s late, beloved theatre writer

The theatre industry has been devastated by the pandemic, but thanks to one legendary theatre lover, there’s a glimpse of hope and optimism this spring. The Jon Kaplan Legacy Fund, named after NOW’s beloved long-time theatre writer, has announced the recipients of its annual awards: Virgilia Griffith receives the JKLF Award for Canadian stage performer, which comes with $2,000; athena trinh receives the JKLF Award for young Canadian playwright and also receives $2,000; and Haneul Yi receives the JKLF Award for Graduating student from a Canadian Theatre School, which comes with $1,000.

Virgilia Griffith (left), Haneul Yi and athena trinh are this year’s recipients of Jon Kaplan Legacy Fund Awards.

The awards, now in their third year, were established to support theatre makers in all stages of their careers. They are being presented today (May 17) on what would have been Kaplan’s 74th birthday. 

Griffith, a versatile actor and choreographer, won a Dora Award two years ago for her staggering performance in Harlem Duet, and was singled out early in her career by Kaplan in his list of 2016’s Top 10 theatre artists. Trinh is a Dora-nominated, queer, Chinese-Vietnamese actor, writer and spoken-word poet. Yi is an actor-musician, music director, composer/arranger and multi-instrumentalist who recently graduated from Sheridan College’s Honours Bachelor of Music Theatre Performance program. 

“We received more applications than we had in either previous year,” says Don Cole, Kaplan’s husband and president of the Jon Kaplan Legacy Fund. “The truth is, I’d love to give all the applicants money and awards.”

The awards are based on merit and need and are determined by a rotating panel of theatre professionals. Each year the Fund chooses a specific theatre school, with faculty members nominating graduating students. 

The awards are being launched with an interview with Cole and actor Maev Beaty. 

During the pause in live performance, I’ve often wondered how my friend and colleague Kaplan – who saw more live theatre than anyone I know – would have fared.  

“He would have hated it, but he would have moved it all online,” says Cole. “He would have been a Zoom queen. He would have hated not being able to see theatre. But his connection to people would have continued. And he would have done everything he could to promote them and what they were doing.” 

To recognize the challenging times currently faced by theatre companies, the Jon Kaplan Legacy Fund is also making limited grants of up to $1,000 each available to “small, independent Canadian theatre companies.” Since early 2020 the Fund has helped out several companies and will continue to do so up to a yearly limit of $5,000.

“There’s no formal process yet,” says Cole. “We’ll often hear about someone who’s struggling or a production that needs funds to put on a show.” 

Interested theatre companies can inquire at info at jonkaplanfund dot com. Donations can be made here.


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