Tanya Kalmanovitch named to the Grist 50 Fixers

Tanya Kalmanovitch


She grew up next to the biggest bitumen oil reservoir in the world. Her neighborhood in Fort McMurray, Alberta, is informally called Petrolia, the nearest professional hockey team is the Edmonton Oilers, and a local playground has a pumpjack. Oil, Kalmanovitch says, “paved the way for my family to go from being rural poor people to entering into the middle class.”

Kalmanovitch put oil behind her 20 years ago, when she left town to become a professional musician. When the Keystone XL pipeline controversy erupted in 2015, she had to reckon with her past. “It unlocked something inside of me,” she says — a mix of pride, sadness, and indignation.

She turned to theater to create a dialogue between people on all sides of the issue: industry executives, First Nation communities, and family members. For her new documentary theater piece, The Tar Sands Songbook, she composed the music and she plays the lead. It debuted in March at The New School in New York City.

Documentary theater puts true stories on stage, with real life as source material. Kalmanovitch is teaching communities how to bring their own stories to life. She’s raising funds to take the project to the massive Edinburgh Festival Fringe — and hopes to also perform in town halls, school auditoriums, and local theaters.