Friday, 24 February 2017

Ontario Off Stage

by Brandon Moore, Community Theatre and Communications Manager

Conversation Starters

Behind the Scenes at Ontario’s Theatres


In Case You Missed It

Thursday, 23 February 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 four stories:
The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 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: Heather Davies

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

Heather Davies will train in artistic direction with Gil Garratt at Blyth Festival

Life is a Wiggly Path

(January 12, 2017)  I’m writing this blog while sitting in the rehearsal room, looking out at Highway 4 in Blyth, Ontario, which is also known as Queen Street. It’s part of the six-block stretch that forms the main street here. Over the coming months I’m going to be spending a lot of time at the Blyth Festival and I’m absolutely delighted.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Theatre Ontario and the Ontario Arts Council for this grant. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to enrich two of my artist passions through being mentored by Gil Garratt at the Blyth Festival. And thank you Gil for guiding my artistic and leadership growth during this time, while continuing to lead the company during an extraordinary period of growth and development for the festival.

The focus for my Professional Theatre Training Program is to concentrate on the specific skills of running a company like Blyth, while also experiencing the dramaturgical process practised here by writing a draft of one of my stage adaptations, Judith (original novel by Aritha Van Herk). 

Because the Blyth Festival is a cradle for Canadian theatre writing of the highest caliber, the quality of training I am being afforded through this PTTP mentorship is providing an extraordinary opportunity for profound enrichment of both my creative and arts leadership skills as I grow and progress toward my desired aim of becoming an arts leader in Canadian Theatre. 

I’m going to be spending an average of three days a week at Blyth between now and June. We’ll pause here when I go into rehearsals for the production of Colours in the Storm that I’m directing at The Grand in London, ON in late March/April. I’ll then return to Blyth for a residency leading up to the season opening. With this expanse of time here I’ll experience the season preparation as well as the intensity of moving into simultaneous rehearsals for the season’s new plays. I’ll also be here for the beginning of the season and complete a new draft of Judith.

Yesterday was the first full day of this mentorship and Gil and I dove into a fantastic conversation. We caught up about my recent creative work and Gil illuminated the research, community engagement and dramaturgical nuances of each of the plays (three world premieres) in preproduction for Blyth’s 2017 season. We also talked about the on-going themes of running the festival and the particulars of the building renovation that the Blyth Festival is currently undergoing. Overall, the next few months will be dynamic and I am eager to follow all the projects, campaigns and renovations as they move forward.

And now, a little about the wiggly path that lead me here.

I began attending the Blyth Festival when I moved to London, ON in Sept 2009. Prior to that I was based in the London, UK for nearly twenty years working there as an actor and then as a director. I had wonderful experiences working in the West End, for nearly three years at the Royal Shakespeare Company (as a resident director) and directing in regional theatres in the UK and Germany. After many rich adventures I returned to Canada to be closer to my family.

The approach to theatre creation and quality of work I have experienced at Blyth, and particularly the celebration of local stories, resonates with me as it reflects one of my core values: the absolute belief that culture and great stories can be found everywhere. Since 2009 I have had an on-going passion for Blyth’s work. I also have a desire to understand the new play development process and the artistic leadership practices that support and foster the company. I am curious to know more about the theatre’s relationship with the local and regional communities. These resonating, compelling interests are the reason I asked Gil about applying for the Theatre Ontario PTTP for a training residency here. 

The Blyth Festival’s mandate to “produce professional repertory theatre that reflects the culture and concerns of the people of southwestern Ontario and beyond” is one that is close to my heart. Since 2009 I have been based in London, Owen Sound and Stratford and am inspired and enriched by the creativity and stories I have encountered. Having previously lived in intensely urban environments for many years, I aspire to foster and celebrate creativity by leading a theatre company in a rural or small town environment. 

My long term aim is to contribute to Canadian culture by running a regional theatre company with rich community relationships which are embedded in, and valued by, the community it serves. I am passionate about the creation of new work that reflects local stories that can also speak to audiences across Canada. As a regional artist I wholeheartedly believe in creating relevant, high-quality theatre programming for people to experience locally: forging creative opportunities outside of urban centres. I also believe in the lasting value of engaging communities through theatre experiences that resonate both specifically and universally for local audiences. I find it particularly thrilling and rewarding when all facets of artists and community come together and share a proprietary ownership in the finished creation and performance. This is where the Blyth Festival excels. This is a large part of why I am incredibly excited about this PTTP residency at Blyth. 

Another reason that I’m excited about being here at this time is Gil Garratt. I met Gil while working at The Grand and have followed his career since that time. I value all the skills and wisdom that he brings to the roles of AD and theatre creator and look forward his mentorship, while also diving into more lively, wide-ranging, rigorous conversations about leadership, creativity, community engagement and more!

I am thrilled that the wiggly path of life is allowing me, through the support afforded by this Theatre Ontario PTTP grant, to be here, looking out at Queen St. while sitting in this rehearsal room. Soon it will be filled with new scripts, actors, stage managers, designers, directors… the excitement is just beginning.

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 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: Jennifer Stewart

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

Jennifer Stewart trained in directing classical theatre with Jeannette Lambermont-Morey at Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie.

The Libertine—Road to Opening Night!

(January 17, 2017)  The road to opening night of any play is rarely smooth. During the technical rehearsals the job of the director is to solve problems as they occur—a creative problem solver of sorts. By this time in the rehearsal process the play has been staged, the actors know their lines and intentions and the sets, costumes and props have been built and created. This is the case in an ideal world, but of course in the theatre (where budgets are low most of the time and manpower unavailable), the tech side of the process can often fall behind schedule.

Therefore, the importance and care in choosing an excellent creative team is of the utmost importance for any theatre director, no matter the size, genre or scope of the production. From this production specifically I realized the importance of a competent, hard-working and knowing production manager and creative team. The director must have a designer whom they can trust and work with closely to create the world of the play. During tech week the stress levels are high and the director and designer must get along well in order to work together and to stay on speaking terms. As the assistant director, on this production, I offered up my skills in as many areas as possible, to help where help was needed. 

Jeannette Lambermont-Morey is the kind of rare director who is able to communicate what she wants, stay true to her vision, guide her actors and work closely with her creative team to keep the production on track, so as to be ready and on time for the preview and opening night. Our designer Cathy Elliot was responsible for the set, costumes and props (an insurmountable amount of work in the most ideal of situations). Jeannette delegated well and communicated with Cathy, myself and our production manager Garion Scott when we were down to the last days before the first preview on Thursday January 5, 2017. I was able to help Cathy with the costumes (sewing on buttons and hemming cloaks and skirts) as well as painting the set after rehearsal had finished in the evenings.

A director can have the greatest actors, working on the most brilliant of scripts but if they cannot work well with their creative team and help everyone collaborate effectively together then all will be lost and the production and vision of the director will be in vain. A good director must let go of the ideas that do not work, for the good of the show, and all involved. Sometimes keeping things simple is the most important overall goal for the director. It is better to keep the play simple, with a focus on the story and characters than to have many half-finished ideas muddying up the playing field and creating a mess of the whole production. These were the most important aspects of this mentorship that I learned working with Jeannette on The Libertine for Talk Is Free Theatre in Barrie.

As a director I have grown in confidence when working on a play as opposed to a musical. I understand the contrasts and differences between the styles and techniques of acting in a play more clearly now. I understand more of what the actors need and how I must allow them to discover the world of the play and how their characters fit into this world. I understand the importance of repetition, not just in running the play over and over but in rehearsing bits and pieces of scenes, thus allowing the actors the opportunity to try out new ideas and in turn make each moment as specific as possible.

My mentorship with Jeannette was inspiring and refreshing. She has a certain joie-de-vive that is difficult to express with words. Her energy and passion for the work (a Jacobean play that is bloody and gruesome) was contagious and her actors always felt confident that she was leading her cast and creative team forward with ease and precision. I always felt included in all of the conversations and decisions regarding the play. She was expressive, forward thinking and extremely well organized. I really could not have asked for a better partnership. Her knowledge of this specific time period and this text was invaluable to both myself and our actors and her process was clear and efficient. It was a pleasure to be in the room with her and to witness her work. My time spent with Jeannette will serve me exponentially as I begin my own journey as a theatre director.

My goals as a director are vast. I want to direct musicals, classical plays, contemporary plays, one-person shows, and perhaps dance and opera. I feel that at the beginning of this new adventure as a director I do not want to limit myself to one style or genre. I want to take risks and experiment with the theatre that I create. I want to inspire my actors and my audience with new ideas through live theatre! I want to create work in Toronto and Canada for the talented theatre artists that we have in this country. I feel that our potential, as artists, is ready to explode and now is the time to create lasting theatrical experiences that with enrich the lives of Canadians with passion and life through art!

Related Reading:

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 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: Kevin Matthew Wong

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

Kevin Matthew Wong will train in artistic direction with Marjorie Chan at Cahoots Theatre in Toronto.

(January 17, 2017)  I want to begin this entry with gratitude. Gratitude for the immense privilege I have in training with Marjorie Chan—an artist whose practice I deeply admire, who works tirelessly toward improving inclusivity in the Canadian theatre ecology, and whose belief in mentorship is both unending and endlessly inspiring. I must also begin this entry with gratitude that I may live, work, love and learn on Turtle Island. I am grateful toward the traditional keepers of Tkaronto: the Huron Wendat, the Anishnaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit. Our land protectors past and present, documented and undocumented; the original storytellers of this land.


If you ask Marjorie what our training will cover she’ll probably say, “Everything. Everything in 16 weeks,” and then giggle infectiously. Today begins my first “everything” week as Artistic Director Intern at Cahoots and I’m just beginning to wrap my head around what everything looks like.  

(Nov 30, 2016 – Ottawa) Photo from the rally outside the Supreme
Court of Canada in solidarity with Clyde River First Nation and the
Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. Both groups are fighting for
the preservation and acknowledgement of their land rights. Discovering
what authentic solidarity looks like is a large part of Broadleaf’s current
journey. Michela Sisti’s PTTP entry outlines what the experience at the
Supreme Court was like. You also can find out more about Broadleaf’s
current project, The Chemical Valley Project
To begin to understand our mentorship, I’ll have to explain my practice a bit. I am a theatre creator, a performer, a musician, and also a self-declared environmentalist. The bulk of my artistic practice centres around this last identity and the company I co-founded and artistic direct, Broadleaf Theatre. It’s an organization seeking to authentically merge environmentalism and theatre praxis. We’ve yet to fully realize that goal and, in working toward it, I am constantly questioning, soul-searching and reimagining what Broadleaf is and what it does. What should “environmental” performance look like, feel like, speak to and about? What makes theatre the most appropriate space for these discussions? How can we make urgent, awkward and unheard conversations understandable and accessible?

While Broadleaf is just beginning its soul-searching, Cahoots has been doing its own for three decades now. I’m training with Marjorie to see what that soul-searching looks like: in the artists that Cahoots engages, the communities the company serves, the projects it incubates and produces, and the day-to-day considerations that shape its broader practices.


Marjorie often says that her driving goal as Artistic Director is to make Cahoots’ work irrelevant: to contribute to a future Canadian theatre ecology where genuine diversity and inclusivity are banal common practice. We’ve all got a long ways to go, but in the past thirty years Cahoots’ work has become central to the conversation: its decades long history of producing innovative and diverse Canadian work, its long-running program Crossing Gibraltar that focuses on diverse youth and newcomer outreach, and its new online resource DATT, Deaf Artists and Theatres Toolkit, are just a few examples. 

Cahoots is a place I look to for inspiration—a company chasing ideals, pursuing systemic change and honest conversations.


(December 12, 2016 – Toronto) Marjorie Chan, Jovanni Sy (via
Skype) and Indrit Kasapi reflect upon Cahoots’ history and
the national dialogue on diversity and inclusivity in theatre.
I’ve been lucky enough to take in a few sneak-peaks at Cahoots these past couple weeks. One of these moments was sitting in on an interview between Marjorie and former Artistic Director Jovanni Sy. Cahoots’ upcoming 30th anniversary presents a unique opportunity to reflect on the changing nature of diversity in Canadian theatre. Jovanni and Marjorie discussed the radical developments in representation at the NAC and Stratford over the past decades, they questioned the term diversity and whether work by marginalized and racialized artists should be framed as “diverse” or rather “authentically Canadian.” Importantly, they discussed the future of inclusivity in Canadian theatre: how artists must learn to serve communities that have yet to be widely acknowledged. Jovanni proposed that there will always be marginalized voices needing space, needing their stories told. In this way, Cahoots’ mandate will never truly be irrelevant. 

These next few months I’ll be observing Marjorie’s decision-making on casting, play incubation, season planning, community outreach and day-to-day tasks. The final show of the season, John and Waleed, also coincides with our mentorship. It’s a project where we’ll be exploring the creation of cross-cultural music and performance. Our mentorship ends with Cahoots’ 30th anniversary gala and, leading up to the event, I’ll be lucky enough to continue observing Marjorie’s conversations with Cahoots’ former Artistic Directors. 


I got involved in the environmental movement at 16 when I led my high school’s environmental club: a mighty 150+ membership, or about a tenth of the school’s population. It was thrilling to see the importance of environmentalism among my adolescent peers, who were willing to devote their time, talents and faith to combatting the seemingly insurmountable challenges of climate change. A formative moment from that time was when I spoke to Markham Town Council about preserving the municipality’s “Class 1” farmland, the most agriculturally valuable land category in Canada. The political movement to create this “Markham Foodbelt” failed but I was fascinated by the nature of the discussion around the Foodbelt—I’d never seen citizens of Markham so engaged, at times enraged, vocal and opinionated. I grew my understanding of environmentalism then: how local conversations on climate had to be constructed on the basis that no one is a villain and everyone defends what they think is best for the future.

Changing minds has always taken place at the grassroots level, person-to-person. Improving diversity in Canadian theatre took place through the hard work of companies like Cahoots. Pockets of artists have worked for decades to define and embed inclusivity in our current ecology, our language and norms. I am convinced that action on climate and environment in our theatres will mirror this evolution. I think about Beverly Yhap and the first few years at Cahoots: how it must have felt to champion a radical mandate, cultural inclusivity.

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2017.

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