Thursday, 17 August 2017

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Today we feature five stories:
The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 2017.


Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Erin Gerofsky

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Erin Gerofsky trained in set and costume design with Judith Bowden

(July 19, 2017) At long last, my rambling journey through Design for theatre with Judith Bowden through the Professional Theatre Training Program has come to close. Over the past seven months I have had the great fortune to go fabric shopping in NYC, observe the differences of American theatre in Washington D.C., collaborate with Judith as Associate designer on The Emancipation of Miss Lovely—the first show I have worked on to be nominated for a Dora award, return “home” to the Shaw Festival for tests on a tech heavy production of Saint Joan, and have my first experience backstage at the Stratford Festival to tech The Changeling. Each of these experiences gave me a particularly useful tool to carry with me through my career, two of which stand out as having equipped me with skills I have already had the chance to put into practice in my design work, leading to more successful completed pieces as a direct result of my experience with the PTTP.

Fabric shopping in NYC was incredibly informative and helped me to get a handle on the tools I needed in order to stay organized in the face of great, great, GREAT variety. Keeping clear notes and organizing swatches with a clear system will help differentiate two similar fabrics when you are sorting through the options and have to make a decision based on budget and availability. Notes like these should stay accessible throughout the build process, as you never know when you will need to source a fabric at a late stage, and having this information already available saves you valuable time. I was able to put such skills into practice when shopping for The Penelopiad, for which I designed the costumes at George Brown Theatre School this spring. The Penelopiad was the first show I ever had built from scratch, and as such, fabric shopping was particularly important to the success of the project. Walking into Affordable Textiles on my first day of swatching, equipped with my binder ring of manila tags and stapler, I felt confident in my ability to shop for what we needed, make smart choices based on budget, and gather enough information to present to my head of wardrobe to put her at ease as I was a first time designer with the company. Thanks to those three days of shopping in NYC I was in a position to exceed their expectations, and was invited to design a show in their next season as a result.

The Emancipation of Ms Lovely was an unexpected addition to our “curriculum”; a one woman (plus two musician) show being given a more production-heavy treatment after a couple of more “bare bones” runs in previous years. Judith was asked to design the set with a tight timeline, and an already rather full plate, so she asked me to take on some more of the conceptual responsibilities than normally asked of an assistant, and associate or co-design the set with her. This meant I was in on the design conversation from nearly the complete beginning, allowing me to contribute more fully to the vision and be of more use to fill in the gaps without supervision as we pieced it all together in the space. This also means when there wasn't the money to hire a scenic artist, Judith and Zack and I all rolled up our sleeves and painted the set ourselves (simple flat or glossy black only, thankfully).Two of my main concerns with the set were making our seat count while maintaining fire code standards and drafting the set and communicating with the builders at McWood. Having never heard the word “egress” or hired an outside build team before, the learning curve on much of that was immediate, but I was glad to have had Judith and the rest of the team to get me up to speed. This experience was particularly useful in preparing me for my first opera this June. Having some idea of what percentage of my budget I should be allocating to different elements helped me keep the show on track throughout a long build process, and my previous experience with McWood made me feel confident in working with them on the build for the opera. Plus, when we were worried about meeting the fire code standards with our ginormous orchestra, I had a few suggestions ready. Without the experience of working on Ms Lovely, and seeing the incredible extent of teamwork that accomplishes a project of that scope in such a short amount of time, I think I'd have torn my hair out for the stress of the sheer size of the opera; instead, once again, I was in a position to exceed the company's expectations, and was able to turn a boat load of work into a really fun and fulfilling experience.

While those previous two examples offer neatly packaged examples of a direct cause-effect benefit due to this mentorship, there have been countless moments that have strengthened my approach to collaboration, simply by way of observing how these shows have been put together. Dozens of anecdotes that have helped to begin filling the gaps between the work I am doing and the work I would like to be doing. Not all of it is yet within my grasp, but I feel started on a path with a newly refreshed sense of purpose.

Related Reading:

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 2017.


Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Valerie Hawkins

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Valerie Hawkins trained in direction with Jillian Keiley at the the Stratford Festival

(June 27, 2017) Where does one begin when one is at the end? It's been three months of exciting process on every front. I wasn't sure if being a directing shadow might frustrate me. Before we began I had worries. Would I feel like more than just a silent partner? Would I feel like I had made a contribution? What could I learn from being in the constant sidelines? Those doubts were quickly put to bed early on. In their place came real revelations about just how much I would come away with...and I have....come away with so much from this enormous and gratifying project. Thank you Theatre Ontario for making it possible!

The final couple of weeks were especially challenging given the nature of scheduling at the Stratford Festival. A 10-out-of-12 followed by two days of no Bakkhai rehearsal as the actors were needed for their other repertory shows as they too made their way towards first preview. My admiration for these actors goes deep. So much focus, so much work is required of them, and they're juggling so many hats. The first tech dress was May 19th—first time in costume and wigs—still working out some very technical use of props, paint, and lighting etc... Jill asked me to try and watch the show with a critical eye—to try and flag any moments that I didn't understand or that didn't make sense to me. I did. It's amazing how personal self-doubt can creep into my experience—I was faced with my monkey mind asking me "What do you have to say?" "How do your thoughts and opinions have relevance?" We truly are our own worst critics! Jill was treating me as a director—with valid comments to make! To say the least—I felt honoured—and she even said my notes were smart. Amazing how words of encouragement from one I respect so much can positively resonate to the core.

The second dress happened May 24. Incredible to witness the lift, the arc, the advancement both for the cast and tech. Then another leap into the first preview May 27.

Then it was all about the fine tuning and tweaking and opening night, June 16, was upon us. It was nothing short of electric and I felt incredibly proud of everyone involved in making this extraordinary production come to life.

Bakkhai at the Stratford Festival
Lucy Peacock (centre) with members of the company.
Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
It's clear to me that I know more about being a good director than I thought I knew before this shadowing experience. When to give an actor space, when to reign them in, helping to hone a performance and the collaborative nature of making that happen are skills I realize were in my tool box already. However, there is also the question of what I didn't know I didn't know. Much of that for me was found in discovering the immense research, preparation and work that had gone on in pre-production. Jill had been thinking about the story she wanted to tell with Bakkhai a year before rehearsals started. Seeing the amount of digging and thought she had put into the project over that period was a huge eye opener for me. It has given me great pause and an even greater respect for her as a director and for the job of a director in general.

Jill asked me some great questions around directing too. What did I want to direct? What stories did I want to tell? What is important to me or for me to say? I'm not sure I have full blown answers to these questions as yet but I'm much closer to answering and that's a very exciting realization.

Just as the Bakkhai "shed their looms" and essentially their lives to go live free on the mountain—so I have the desire to explore new possibilities for how to inhabit our precarious world.

I believe now more than ever that theatre has the magic and power to portray or suggest massive shifts in present paradigms and thereby hopefully influencing the way people think and live. To a very important extent the director's vision and pursuits end up being the primal force in that expression and I take that very seriously.

As for me personally, these past few months shadowing have been a much needed distraction from my cancer treatment and as I now enter a period of chemo free months I will be able to devote myself to these questions and expect to explore the stories I want to tell.

Related Reading:


The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 2017.

Learn more about Theatre Ontario's Professional Theatre Training Program

Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Victoria Stacey

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Victoria Stacey began training in directing with Thomas Morgan Jones at Theatre New Brunswick in Fredericton NB

(June 26, 2017) Since receiving the good news from Rachel Kennedy and Theatre Ontario that I would get to pursue training in directing with Thomas Morgan Jones at Theatre New Brunswick I have been reading, reading, reading, reading, watching, listening, reading, reading, reading. Thom was kind enough to provide me with a whole list of sources that he has found useful throughout his career and even with the amount of reading I have been doing, I have barely scratched the surface. I am doing my best to become a sponge and soak up everything around me. Not just academic theatre texts but plays, novels, interviews, videos, radio, paintings, music, and on and on and on. There is so much to take in and so much to learn. Though my training has barely begun I feel like this is an important lesson/reminder. Directing is about much more than being a leader or the guiding voice in the room; directing is about intense observation and listening. Inspiration can come from anywhere.

I want to share with you now something that I frantically typed into the notes app on my phone while devouring the script Fortune of Wolves for the first time. 
It feels personally transformative to go through an entire year with this main character, Lowell, as he processes his grief and tries to heal himself. I feel as though I am healing with him. Travelling as part of a personal journey is so indicative of the Canadian experience. 
Here’s some context: The main character in the play I will be assisting on encounters great loss and a period of depression before making the decision to journey across the country beginning in Nova Scotia and hoping to make it all the way to Tofino, British Columbia. Along the way, Lowell writes and he listens to the stories of the people around him. I feel so connected to this character because I am about to travel from Toronto to New Brunswick, about to travel a significant distance by myself for the first time in my life, take a plane alone for the first time in my life hoping to find inspiration, contribute to an artistic process, and have my own personal journey.

As I continue to dig into Ryan Griffith’s play Fortune of Wolves, I will map out all of the places that Lowell travels to and research each tiny town, or bustling city centre that he stops in along his journey. I want to find out what makes each place unique. I want to find out how the characters he meets are distinctly different because of the way their landscape has imprinted on them. With 51 different locations and even more characters I have my work cut out for me. I cannot wait to see Thom tackle staging a play with this many different settings, characters, transitions, and monologues.

Before rehearsals begin I will be participating in Viewpoints and Suzuki Training alongside Thom and many other artists. This training, led by Ellen Lauren of New York City’s SITI Company, begins in one week! I am really looking forward to expanding my vocabulary, brushing up my creation skills, and getting back into my body. At the same time, the things I am most excited about are also the things I am most nervous about. I have always been a very physical artist and creator but this February I suffered a pretty serious ankle fracture which left me fairly immobile for months and my body is only now beginning to get back to where it was before the injury. Things that were second nature before are now difficult. Things like: balance, finding my centre, feeling the floor, running, jumping, and staying grounded. I have less confidence in my body as an instrument for creation. So, I suppose my job will be to listen to where my body is at each day and start from there. Use the limitations as fuel or creative challenges, which just like when working on a show, end up leading us towards some of the strongest choices or most interesting moments.

I am extremely proud of the decision Thom and I made to participate in this physical training together. Through our shared experience in the workshop I hope we can develop a shorthand or shared language that we can draw upon during the rehearsal process in the fall. Thom has been studying these disciplines for six years, and so there is a lot I hope to learn from how he incorporates them into his directing practice. 

Finally, I wanted to take a moment to express my gratitude to Theatre Ontario, the Ontario Arts Council, Thomas Morgan Jones, and Theatre New Brunswick for saying yes and providing an opportunity for me to learn and grow. Without the Professional Theatre Training Program, focused mentorships like the one I am about to begin wouldn’t be possible. 

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 2017.


Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Andrea Runge

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Andrea Runge training in directing with Ashlie Corcoran at Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque

The other side of the table

(June 23, 2017) As an actor, before rehearsals begin, I experience an excited anticipation as I work on the script, looking forward to a world as yet undiscovered.  I work on plotting the story and charting my character’s function within it: breaking down the scenes, clarifying my character’s point of view. 

A somewhat self-centered preparation is required of the actor—the study of one character, with only one set of eyes through which to see the world of the play, and the other characters in it.

It’s very interesting now to work on the script of Leading Ladies from a director’s perspective instead of an actor’s. Now all 8 characters are equally important. The given circumstances must be seen through 8 pairs of eyes as opposed to only one. There are 8 journeys to track, 8 super-objectives to investigate, and countless conflicts, arcs, and obstacles to clarify. Then there is the weaving in of the designs (very fun to get to see the costume renderings and set models before rehearsals begin!) and the technical elements—every light and sound cue, set changes, quick changes, props—all needing to be considered. Reading the play with all of these elements in mind is like unravelling an intricate web, which will eventually come together as one cohesive piece in the rehearsal hall, to then be clearly communicated and shared with the audience.

I am really looking forward to exploring this play from the other side of the table, particularly alongside Ashlie and her fantastic team of artists. To see the whole picture, and to watch the entirety of the piece be put together day by day, choice by choice. Looking at all elements technical and artistic is daunting in the most exciting way, as is using my knowledge of the theatre as I look at this play through a new and different lens. 

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 2017.


Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.