Illuminating Matriarchs is a collection of short digital works by artists curated by Rebecca Singh and Derek Kwan and commissioned by Common Boots Theatre. It was inspired by Rebecca’s ongoing project Lifting As We Climb, a series of accessible chapbooks created by Rebecca Singh and illustrator Ruth Tait to uplift little known women in Canadian and Indigenous History.

Inspired by a prompt provided by Rebecca Singh, four intersectional artists were asked to respond by creating short digital pieces. These are presented here in a number of accessible formats. The artists are: Raoul Bhaneja, Vivian Chong, Tsholo Khalema, Janis Mayers.

Funding for this project was provided by TD Bank Ready Commitment.

Logo for TD Ready Commitment

The following teaser video features project co-curator Rebecca Singh introducing the project and the commissioned artists. This video contains spoken English with open captions.

About Lifting As We Climb

Soon to be published, Lifting as We Climb is a one-of-a-kind collection of chapbooks and graphic shorts that illuminate amazing women who have contributed to Canadian history. Featured in the series so far are Anna Greenup, Bessie Hall, Wanda Robson, Jackie Shane and Dr. Emily Stowe. Delivered in epub 3 format, the series is fully accessible and includes several short films on the subjects.

Click below to order the first instalment, Sister Sailor: The Remarkable Journey of Bessie Hall.

For more information on Lifting As We Climb and to receive updates, click on the link below:

Commissioned Pieces

Jackie Richardson: Weaver of Dreams (Raoul Bhaneja)

Commissioned artist: Raoul Bhaneja
Featured person: Jackie Richardson

Jackie Richardson: Vocals
Raoul Bhaneja: Vocals
Jesse Whiteley: Piano

Nika Belianina: Cinematographer
Raoul Bhaneja: Director and Editor
Closed Captioning: Suchiththa Wickremesooriya
Audio Description: Superior Description Services
Written and voiced by Janis Mayers with consultation by Christine Malec

Know Your Elders (Janis Mayers)

Commissioned artist: Janis Mayers
Featured person: LeZlie Lee Kam

Camera Operater: Ana Figo
Director/Editor/Writer: Janis Mayers
Music: Sound Stripe
Additional Support: Golboo Amani
Closed Captioning: Suchiththa Wickremesooriya
Audio Description provided by Superior Description Services.
Written and voiced by Rebecca Singh with consultation by Vivian Chong and input by Janis Mayers
Audio Engineering by Cecilio Escobar

Strong Woman (Vivian Chong)

Commissioned artist: Vivian Chong
Featured person: Claire Kearns

Video Recording/Editing: Vivian Chong and Jeff Dusome
Closed Captioning: Suchiththa Wickremesooriya
Audio Description provided by Superior Description Services.
Written by Rebecca Singh with consultation by Christine Malec

Tighter Than A Granny’s Knot (Tsholo Khalema)

Written and Performed By: Tsholo Khalema
Open Captioning by: Suchiththa Wickremesooriya 

Audio-Prioritized Versions of All Pieces



STRONG WOMAN (Vivian Chong)


Visual-Prioritized Versions of All Pieces



STRONG WOMAN (Vivian Chong)


Illuminate a Matriarch

Do you have a matriarch you’d like to uplift? She may be a family member, a mentor, a community builder, or a great friend. Share a story, a picture, or a full-blown biopic on social media and tag us. We’d love to learn more about the incredible women surrounding us every day that deserve to be illuminated!

Tag us and use the hashtags:
@commonbootstheatre #IlluminatingMatriarchs #WomensHistoryMonth #WomenInHistory #HerStory #WomenWhoLead #InspirationalWomen #StrongWomen #theatre #Torontotheatre #theatrelife #YYZ #Toronto #theaTO

Your support helps with our efforts to make our work more accessible and welcoming, including: removing barriers by providing free admission, and providing accessibility through ASL, audio description, captioning, and other initiatives.

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Artist Bios

Photo of Yolanda Bonnell. Yolanda is a fat, brown skinned femme wearing a colourful scarf on her head and a yellow strapped shirt. She turns to look at the camera with her hands and arms visible. A tattoo of leaves is visible on her shoulder. Her picture is surrounded by a border of darker greens and her name in light green bubbly letters.

Raoul Bhaneja

Creator: Jackie Richardson: Weaver of Dreams

Raoul Bhaneja (he/him) is an actor, musician, writer, and producer based in Toronto and Los Angeles. He is a graduate of The National Theatre School and has appeared on stages across Canada, including touring his own productions Hamlet (solo), Life, Death and The Blues, and the Pulitzer Prize winning Disgraced, opposite his wife and Hope and Hell Theatre Co. co-founder Birgitte Solem.  He has appeared in over 130 different film and television projects on both sides of the border and has been the front man of Raoul and The Big Time, an award-winning veteran band of the Canadian Blues scene for over 25 years.

Natasha is an Ashkenazi Jewish woman in her 30s with shoulder-length brown hair. Her picture is surrounded by a border of darker greens and her name in light green bubbly letters.

Vivian Chong

Creator: Strong Woman

Vivian Chong (she/her) is an artist, singer/songwriter, playwright, theatre creator, actor, dancer, drummer, filmmaker, comic book author, and tri-athlete. She is a Dora award nominee and finalist for the Toronto Book Award. Her graphic memoir Dancing After TEN was the winner of US Library Journal award, and recommended by The New York Times and NPR. The accessible audiobook for Dancing After TEN is available at The Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA). Vivian teaches accessible yoga and is the youth leader for the blind and partially-sighted community.  Vivian is passionate about accessible theatre and art, she is an audio description consultant to help others to enjoy art.  In 2015 Vivian’s one-woman show The Sunglasses Monologue was spotlighted at Second City, followed by her tour of the show to Canmore, Alberta.  Her show Dancing With The Universe, featuring her original songs, choreography and monologue, was part of the CoMotion Art and Disability Festival. She was a keynote speaker in Mexico for Otros Territorios Encuentro de Artes festival.  In February 2025 her new show Blind Dates will be showcased at Theatre Passe Muraille.

Yousef is a tall Arab man in his late 20’s with long black curly hair, circular glasses, and he wears a black prosthetic leg on his right leg below the knee. He wears glasses and smiles at the camera and is wearing a shirt with flowers on it. His picture is surrounded by a border of darker greens and his name in light green bubbly letters.

Tsholo Khalema

Creator: Tighter Than A Granny’s Knot

Tsholo Khalema (he/him) is an artist based in Tkaronto. He is dedicated to intertwining his artistic expressions with a commitment to social justice. As a multi-hyphenate of the arts, Tsholo recently served as the Assistant Director and dialect coach for Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and Assistant Director for The Guide To Being Fabulous. Selected Film/TV/Media credits include Director of two episodes of The Fabulous Show with Fay& Fluffy, actor in Extinction as a Dugong, Y the Last Man as Jack, and SortOf as Nurse. Recent theatre credits include The First Stone as an ancestor, Cake as Mabo, Lilies, or the Revival Of A Romantic Drama as Simone, and musicals like The Drowsy Chaperone as Trixx and Little Shop Of Horrors as Christal. In May 2024, Tsholo will be making his TYA debut with the original work BLANK created by AMAVA Collective (Jan Jennings & Tsholo Khalema), originally commissioned and supported by Theatre Direct. Tsholo is also a Facilitator for Theatre Passe Murraille’s VUKA creative program. For more updates on Tsholo’s artistic journey and upcoming projects, please visit

Natasha “Courage” Bacchus is Tkaronto-Guyanese Black Deaf Female Queer, with red-dyed short hair, heart-shaped earrings, colourful beads, and velvet beige dress. Her picture is surrounded by a border of darker greens and her name in light green bubbly letters.<br />

Janis Mayers

Creator: Know Your Elders

Janis Mayers (she/her) is an afro-Indigenous and European settler Toronto-born multi-disciplinary artist. She is a graduate of Seneca College’s Corporate Media Production program. She transitioned to the arts sector in 2018 and has since produced 2 short films: Park Life Chapter 1 and 2, as well as 2 documentaries: Pile of Dirt and Know your Elders. From 2019 to 2020 she worked in two collaborative projects The Solitudes produced by Aluna Theatre and Derives produced by Sans Productions. During the creative process, she had the opportunity to explore physical performance and write her own material, allowing her to incorporate two strengths: poetry and her passion for bodybuilding. This inspired her to bring these together to pursue a project titled Park Life, a play based in 1990’s Regent Park, its people, and its community. A 20-minute excerpt of the Park Life was presented at the 2023 Caminos festival.