Thursday, 5 June 2014

Engaging Youth at our Theatre Ontario Provincial Youth Forum

By Elizabeth Stuart-Morris

On Monday May 5th 2014, Theatre Ontario held its first ever Provincial Youth Forum, and I was fortunate to have been selected as one of a few youth representatives to participate, many of whom came from all over Ontario. The forum was one of Theatre Ontario’s newest developments—a youth engagement strategy, designed by the Youth Advisory Committee—to determine service gaps in theatre programming, to develop ways of helping youth become the next generation of theatre practitioners, and to develop equal opportunity and resource accessibility to young theatre practitioners across the province.

I signed up for the Forum knowing it would be a wonderful learning experience because of the kind of workshops held throughout the day, and that it would be a wonderful networking experience because of an interactive opportunity with Theatre Ontario staff in the evening. But what I didn’t expect was how important our role would actually be in finding solutions to better engage, educate, and support youth interested in creating theatre in Ontario. This was a really exciting and unique opportunity, and I soon realized that my opinion truly mattered and my voice was certainly heard.

The final workshop of the day was one that really excited me because it challenged us to think of ways in which we could ensure theatre accessibility, participation, and professionalism are available in all parts of the province. We brought up barriers and brainstormed solutions to increase the amount of theatrical possibilities in local communities, and to further enrich the quality of the theatre created in, by, and for these communities. We also discussed how young theatre practitioners could develop their careers while remaining in or returning to their local communities, bringing the quality of the theatre produced in these areas to a higher professional standard. Overall we began to look at ways of uniting Ontario through our love of theatre and our desire to make theatre a part of Ontario’s way of life.

The evening in many ways reviewed and extended the last workshop of the day. Small group discussion among Theatre Ontario members and the youth representatives, lead by the Youth Advisory Committee, (mixing the young and old, the experienced and emerging), lead us to examine why we have an interest in theatre, what we think needs to be done to make theatre a more satisfying experience, and how we can better address youth integration into currently established models. The exercise allowed us to begin building the necessary bridges among groups, and bring clarity to each other’s point of view. It allowed youth to express their challenges in starting a professional career, or in living in certain areas of Ontario where theatre is not as accessible or encouraged. It also allowed current practitioners to begin to aid youth in understanding why gaps may exist in accessibility, and what challenges are involved in initiating youth into the professional world. Most importantly and excitingly, we discovered how similar we are as theatre lovers and tireless workers attempting to make a difference in our communities and in the quality of theatre that is produced in Ontario.

My experience on this day has not only made me more excited about my personal journey, and more able to take initiative in my career through new-learned skills, but has made me realize that as an emerging youth I HAVE a voice, and that my voice is heard through the work Theatre Ontario is doing. The experience of the Forum has made it possible for youth representatives and Theatre Ontario members alike to see the importance of developing a strong theatre community, and that by building the bridges, be they geographical distance, age, or experience, we will begin to make stronger connections and have a more dynamic, supportive, and overall invincible theatre scene that is an integral part of the thread that makes up Ontario.

If you’d like to become involved in Theatre Ontario’s Youth Advisory Committee or know someone who would, please contact Mairin Smit, Program Coordinator, at or 416.408.4556 x.12.  We are planning lots more youth events moving forward, so check back with us to see how you can be involved.

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