Dawn Jani Birley is an award-winning Canadian-Finnish actor with more than 15 years of experience. With a strong background in physical theatre and versatile acting abilities, Birley has starred in numerous roles. Most notably, she received the Toronto Theatre Critics Award 2017 for Best Actress in a Play for her memorable role as Horatio in Prince Hamlet in Canada. Alas of note, was her role as Sarah in Sanaton Rakkaus (aka Children of Lesser God) opposite Santeri Kinnunen in Finland in 2019. Birley starred in The Black Drum, Toronto Canada, first full feature signed musical. Produced by the Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf, it was selected to be the featured performance at Clin d’Oeil, Reims, France 2019 and virtual tour 2021.
To pursue her dreams of becoming a professional actor, Dawn Jani left Canada for Scandinavia, where she was classically trained by prominent theatre practitioners like Josette Bushell-Mingo, Debbie Rennie and Marianne Aro. After years of work with Teatteri Totti in Helsinki, Riksteatern Teater Crea in Stockholm and Teater Manu in Oslo, Birley went to London, UK where she received her Master of Arts degree in Physical Theatre with Merit from St. Mary’s University. Her thesis explored the creative process of using intersectionality to bring the Deaf and hearing actors together on stage.
Birley was named Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf Person of the Year in 2017 and Swedish Riksteatern’s Artist of the Year in 2015. Her performances have received stellar reviews: “As Horatio, Hamlet’s steadfast comrade, Dawn Jani Birley is the most riveting person in the room,” and “her onstage energy is unrivalled.” For her role as Joan in The Black Drum, an extraordinary, signed music musical, Toronto’s BroadwayWorld quoted, “As the heroine of the story, Birley delivers a powerhouse performance throughout the show.” And in Finland, “Sanaton rakkaus on ehdottomasti Birleyn näytelmä. Toivoisin näkeväni hänet jatkossakin muissa teatterituotannoissa.” (“Children of Lesser God is definitely Birley’s play. I hope to see her in other theatre productions in the future.”)
Dawn Jani Birley was born in Saskatchewan to a third generation Deaf family and identifies herself as culturally and linguistically Deaf. Fluent in 9 languages with an uncanny ability for storytelling, she established 1s1 Deaf-led theatre company with the mission of bringing more Deaf-led stories to stage. Birley also stars in I am Puff, animated digital series for children that talks about differences, diversity and acceptance. It is a children’s cartoon wen series that combine live-action and animation, with American Sign Language, spoken English and captioning. Originally created by a Deaf writer in Finland, it was adapted by 1s1 Theatre in collaboration with Why Not Theatre to the “I am Puff” series online.
In addition to being an actor and theatre founder, Birley was a world-class Taekwondo athlete and represented Canada internationally for 5 years.