Thursday, 21 August 2014

PTTP Profiles: Exploring Projects Funded by the Professional Theatre Training Program

Eight individuals were chosen as recipients of Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program grants during our Spring 2014 application round.  This month we check-in with two of the recipients at the end of their projects.

Rob Kempson trained in Directing with Ashlie Corcoran at Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque

Cast, creative teams, and admin staff on the first day of rehearsal
for She Loves Me at the Thousand Islands Playhouse.
Rob Kempson is in the centre in the green pants.
My experience in Gananoque with Ashlie Corcoran was nothing short of life-changing. That may sound hyperbolic, but at the least, it has certainly charted my course in a very new way—both in the immediate and in the long term. Gananoque is beautiful, and the Thousand Islands Playhouse is an incredibly special community. The community feels like the crossroads of summer camp and the happiest office environment of all time. The work at all levels is creative and collaborative, and one immediately feels like they are part of the family. Add the fact that Ashlie demands the highest levels of artistic integrity and quality from everyone involved in each production, and you have an organization that is amazing. I feel so lucky to have been able to use the Professional Theatre Training Program to connect with Ashlie and the Playhouse in this way.

Our work on She Loves Me was rigorous. Ashlie was busy managing a very large cast in a very complicated show, limited by a modest production budget and a smaller house than is normally used for this show. However, her capacity for creative problem solving is nothing short of miraculous. I learned a great deal about the prep work required to take on such a task. Ashlie is meticulous in creating and solidifying every aspect of the world of the play. She guides the actors through this process, without dictating it to them. This is the real balance of directing I think: to be collaborative with the actors (and the team in general), while also ensuring that everything serves your overall vision for the piece. Ashlie also let me in on her process of leadership. She has a great capacity for truly hearing all of the members of the production team. That made for an incredibly collaborative team environment—one where everyone feels validated in their own work, but also feels committed to making the project happen. I was also able to work closely with Shelley Stewart Hunt, the choreographer, and learned a great deal about stylizing movement without necessarily “dancing.” She Loves Me is a HUGE undertaking, and it was incredible to be able to be a part of it in any way.

She Loves Me at Thousand Islands Playhouse
Rob Kempson, Shannon Coulter, Alan Kliffer,
Margaret Thompson, Antonette Rudder, Michael Hughes
Photo by Jay Kopinski
Near the end of the rehearsal process, my “way” took a drastic turn. One of our male ensemble members broke his foot during rehearsals, leaving an essential track open. By this point in rehearsal, the transitions, quick changes, and backstage duties had all been assigned (and tracked by me as Asst. Director). So after some discussion, and the trip to the hospital, it was determined that I should take over. While I am a performer, I’m not all that experienced as a dancer, so it wasn’t the easiest track to pick up. But I was ready for the challenge, and I ended up performing in the show for the entirety of the run. The ensemble member is a multi-talented guy who ended up playing Electric Bass in the band.

This “extension” of my original role meant a very busy tech week as I was learning the part more clearly, performing during runs and Q2Q, and also acting as an Assistant Director. Seeing the inside of Ashlie’s process as a performer gave me great insight into just how effective she is as a director, and I learned even more from being able to serve both roles during tech week.

Staying on for the run was another great learning opportunity for me. I was able to have broader conversations with Ashlie about her role as Artistic Director, and how she balances that work while also directing shows in the season. I was also able to audit some of the rehearsals for The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Daryl Cloran. I enjoyed seeing a very different directorial approach, and for a very different play.

In short, this opportunity led to other opportunities, which took me further in my understanding of the world of directing. But it was also inspiring to spend so much time seeing Ashlie’s work in action. The work at the Playhouse responds to the community, but also pushes them further in their appreciation of contemporary aesthetics. The work is high in integrity and rigor. The work is passionate and oriented around making a real experience for artists as well as audiences. And I’m so happy to have been a part of it all. Ashlie is an inspiring mentor, a supreme supporter and also a friend; I cannot wait for our artistic paths to cross again soon.

Kat Horzempa trained in General Management and Tour Coordination with Natalie Ackers at Roseneath Theatre in Toronto

Sitting in Natalie’s office for the last time as a PTTP intern, it is with mixed feelings that I reflect on the past few months. I feel a sense of accomplishment and preparedness for moving forward, but also a touch of disbelief that this mentorship has already come to an end.

The past few months have been filled with challenging projects, introductions into vital management processes, and insightful conversations about this industry and my course in it. I have routed a key ten-week Southern Ontario school tour, developed and implemented a stewardship strategy for nurturing relationships with donors, contributed to creating final reports for major funding sources, reviewed the process of contracting artists, and had a necessary introduction into the wonderful world of CADAC (Canadian Arts Data / Données sur les arts au Canada), among other things.

Reporting budget and statistical data to CADAC can be a very involved process, and is certainly one that most theatre companies have to confront each year. I believe this process really highlights the value of keeping accurate and thorough data throughout the year, which not only makes reporting-back easier, but provides an opportunity to clearly see the impact your work has on the community you serve.  I've come to understand that reporting to CADAC is made easier if a company’s accounts in QuickBooks are lined-up with those used by CADAC. My inclusion in this process provided an excellent introduction for me to QuickBooks, which I have no doubt will prove to be one of the most directly applicable tools I’ll have gained from this experience.

Above all, my mentorship with Natalie has really allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the relationship between a General Manager and company stakeholders. From working in conjunction with an Artistic Director, reporting to the Board of Directors, and managing staff and volunteers, to ultimately serving audiences and the wider community, the role of a General Manager comes with a great deal of responsibility and requires an unarguable ability to balance everything from budgets to people.

I would like to thank Natalie Ackers, Theatre Ontario and the Ontario Arts Council for what really was a fantastic learning experience. I have benefited from this experience tremendously, and know I won’t have to wait until I've become a General Manager or Tour Coordinator to implement what I've learned - juggling a full-time job with at least two upcoming projects has me already benefiting from an improved ability to schedule and balance. Moving forward in my career, I look forward to applying these new skills in every opportunity that arises.

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 1, 2014.
Read 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.

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