Thursday, 13 August 2015

PTTP Profiles: Exploring Projects Funded by 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.) These are some of the recent participants' experiences.

Neil Silcox trained in directing with Matjash Mrozewski at Canadian Stage (Toronto)

The cast and crew Comedy or Errors at Canadian Stage’s Shakespeare in High Park must have done something to make the rain gods happy on opening night. It had rained constantly, and hard, for 24 hours but finally the clouds parted and the rain stopped just long enough for us to squeegee the stage dry and put on a great performance for the 100 or so people who came out (100 is a small-ish crowd for the park, but I’ve learned that the kind of people who will come out after a day of pouring rain tend to make a small house feel like it’s packed).
Rained out at the park on tech-dress day, the cast of
Comedy of Errors huddles together to run their lines.

The weather had already caused us some trouble in this process. We lost two of our three tech days to rain, and although our great technical crew were able to do great things without that time, it was still sorely missed. Plus we had endured rehearsals in the blistering heat and when it was very cold. Plus the armadas of mosquitos were pretty much non-stop.

All that being said, however, the show was a great success. And although as Assistant Director I was never really steering the boat (so to speak) I still feel like I had a part in creating a great show. Small acting choices from the actors came out of my discussions with them about their tactics and state of being, one or two larger blocking moments arose directly from discussions I had with Matjash, our director, and I hear the clarity of language and communication that came from my work with the cast on figuring out Shakespeare’s language.

While I feel very happy and satisfied with the contributions I was able to make to the show, I’m even more happy about the many things that I learned from working on this production. My director and mentor, Matjash, has recently come to theatre from a very successful career in the dance world, and as a result he has a great sense of space and of how bodies can move through it. Mat talked often with me of the “Poetry of the Space” and created a blocking which mirrored in many ways the poetry of the verse: mixing stillness and frenetic movement, proximity and space, strength and delicacy. And while all these ideas sound like they could result in a pretty piece of fluff, Mat managed to use all of these tools to make a fun, rollicking (and sometimes slightly naughty) comedy which remains rooted in a vulnerable and honest examination of the human condition—not an easy task!

I also learned from Mat the value of patience. I know, this sounds a little tired and trite, but seeing the ways in which Mat was able to be patient and understanding with the cast, and with himself, I understood how nurturing in oneself this kind of patience has helped Mat be a better artist. When time was tight (and it was always tight in this process) and we had a lot to do and an actor had a question or an offer to make, or just needed to talk something out, Mat always took the time to make them feel like they were heard and understood. And even when he couldn’t offer an immediate answer to their question or concern, he would make them feel that he cared and would think about it.

Mat’s patience with the cast was matched with his patience with himself. A process such as this one is always filled with emotional highs and lows, and even when he was in the lowest of the lows Matjash was able to continue working at his best. He accomplished this in a very brave way: by openly acknowledging just how he was feeling to the cast and then charging ahead with the work. If he needed to cry he would say to the cast, with an open heart: “I’m just having a little teary moment, but let’s move ahead.” This runs so counter to my own way of working that it was a real revelation to me. I put so much effort when I direct to be in control of how my emotions are revealed. To always show a happy face even when I’m in the depths of despair (and what director hasn’t been there). Mat showed me that by being up front and honest with your emotions, not only can you accomplish better work in that moment, but it creates an environment in which emotions are allowed, but they are not allowed to derail the process. This was a gift, I think, to the team, and it allowed us to make the most of our short number of rehearsal hours.

Mid tech-week, Matjash and Neil are hard at work.
Photo by Lyon Smith
Mat’s generosity of spirit shone through in every aspect of this rehearsal. He is unfailingly kind to everyone at every level, not just the actors and stage management team, but even the lowly volunteers who help make Shakespeare in High Park happen. I remember in particular one day where, after a very difficult 10 hour rehearsal day in the blazing sun, we had a lighting call until 1am. Despite how tough and long the day had been Mat was so welcoming and gentle with our two volunteer light walkers, Alana and Janice, that I overheard one tell the other how much fun they were having and how kind Mat was. Considering they had just spent three hours, in the middle of what had become a very cold night, swatting mosquitos and having directions shouted at them from a lighting booth fifty meters away, I’m sure it was Mat’s determination to make them feel appreciated that had made it fun for them.

I could go on and on about the things I learned on this show. About the importance of the rhythm and rhyme in Shakespeare’s verse, and how it can determine whether an audience can follow a fast-paced comedy; about how the zanier the action gets the more important it is to play the honesty and logic of a scene; or or about the importance of understanding the strengths and limitations of each of your actors and crafting within those constraints. But I think the most important things I learned were about allowing yourself to be vulnerable, being kind and open to every single person on the team, and fostering in yourself a vast store of patience.

I have several projects coming down the pipeline now, as an actor, as a director and as a teacher working with young people and I hope that I can bring the lessons that I learned from Matjash about honesty, vulnerably and kindness into everything I do.

Alexis Scott trained in artistic producing with David Whiteley at Plosive Productions (Ottawa)

My mentorship with David Whiteley at The Gladstone has brought to light a lot of realities of what it is like producing theatre in Ottawa. What truly goes in to every show at the theatre is a labor of love. Going into the mentorship, I had frustrations with the theatre scene here and now I see the reasoning behind many of the choices that are made. I have not only learned a lot about what producers do on a day to day basis but have also learned a lot about myself as an artist and the kind of work that excites me.

The Gladstone is located in the heart of Ottawa’s little Italy, and in an effort to draw more customers to this area David and myself created a mutually beneficial program for the theatre and restaurants in the area.  By being a Gladstone Restaurant Partner, patrons of restaurants in the area can receive a 10% off coupon to their first show at The Gladstone when they dine.  I went out and spoke to restaurant owners, getting to know the people in the area and telling them about the theatre. Through this I learned how personal connections are so important in theatre. I also helped a bit with organizing next years Gladstone season, getting all the groups requested into time slots that work together and showing new companies the space.

Next up, I am working as PR coordinator with Bear&Co. in this year’s summer production of The Tempest. I’ve no doubt that the work I’ve learned through this mentorship will serve me well!

Alysse Rich trained in dramaturgy with Brian Quirt at Nightswimming (Toronto)

Nightswimming's Why We Are Here! a pop-up choir event
Photo by Erin Brubacher
In my last several weeks working with Brian Quirt at Nightswimming, we wrapped up Why We Are Here!, the pop-up choir event. Following its conclusion, I was invited to attend and contribute to meetings with members of the creative team as they reflected on the five performances and considered  the future of the project.  Similarly, I was invited to sit in on post-workshop meetings about Anita Majumdar's Same Same But Different, following the workshop of the script.  It was a great experience to not only have participated in both of these projects, but to also be included in the wrap-up discussions and hear the reflections of the creation teams.  I am excited to see what the future holds for both of these projects.

I was also able to join Brian and Rupal at the LMDA mini-conference held at Tarragon Theatre.  At the mini-conference I attended panels and was able to network with dramaturgs and literary managers in various stages of their careers from across the city.  A particular highlight of the mini-conference for me was a panel on failures, in which the speakers shared their thoughts on projects that had not been successful (this included, of course, a discussion of their own definitions of success and failure).

In addition to wrapping up the major projects described above and attending the mini-conference, I spent my last several weeks at Nightswimming honing my skills of new play development.  In particular, I focused on two areas that were outside the realm of my previous experience: communication with playwrights during the process of development, and play analysis/evaluation.  By writing notes to playwrights and creating play reports, and through Brian's generous and constructive feedback, I improved my skills in both of these areas.  It was a real privilege to benefit from Brian's vast experience supporting playwrights.

While I expected to learn about play analysis and development during my eight weeks at Nightswimming, what has surprised me is how much the process of new play development is actually about building relationships.  Brian and Rupal have allowed me 'insider' access to the different processes they create in collaboration with playwrights, and I have been able to experience firsthand the care they take in developing processes that suit the creators with whom they work.  Not only have my dramaturgical skills improved during my time at Nightswimming, but I have a much firmer grasp of the variety of things that 'new play development' can mean.

I had hoped that the PTTP grant would offer me the concrete experience I needed to transfer my academic skills into dramaturgical skills, but I feel that I have learned so much more than that.  As I work to build my career as a professional dramaturg, I know that this experience has shaped the way that I will approach my work, the way that I will collaborate with writers/creators, and the way that I will reflect on my own process.

Mary Elizabeth Willcott is training in directing with Kelly Thornton at Nightwood Theatre (Toronto)

So, here I sit, a few weeks away from embarking on a new path in my career. There is a cornucopia of emotion sweeping through me these days when I think about my upcoming endeavor. Nervous is one of them. There’s a little bit of “Can I do this?” in there too, but mostly I’m excited, thrilled and honored when I think about the opportunity I’ve been given. I am about to step into a room of wonderful, talented  people; in particular a team of women I have a lot of respect for. Meeting the team, developing a rapport with them, and gaining a whole new set of skills for my career, is going to be so rewarding as a person and as an artist, I can’t wait to get started.

There are so many things that I am looking forward to doing and seeing and experiencing during this internship. Foremost among them is the chance to dive into the position of assistant director on a level that I’ve never experienced before. In the past I have taken the role of actor in the room. The chance to witness and develop the skill of looking at the story through the director’s eye is one I am particularly enthusiastic about. As a future director I need to begin to develop my voice and philosophy, and how I look at a script is a large part of that. But, I know going into this that theatre isn’t just about the creative parts. A director needs to navigate so much more when it comes to the design team, working with producers and a myriad of other logistical concerns that may come up. So, by working with and observing how Kelly plies those waters, I will gain invaluable insight into how I can go about doing that in the future with success. By the end of this, I hope to walk away with confidence and the beginnings of an understanding as to what is really needed to be a great director.

I am so grateful that Kelly is going to be the one to start me on that path. But, why Kelly Thornton and Nightwood? Last Fall, I was accepted into the Young Innovators Lab at Nightwood Theatre, a collaborative project involving 26 emerging female artist all from different theatre disciplines. In that time I met Kelly and was blown away by the positive and supportive environment her and Nightwood provided not just for female artists in general, but also for those looking to expand or change direction in their career. Kelly’s honesty and keen eye and ear for detail in the development of a new script, plus her ability to collaborate with artists and shape a piece of theatre with respect and integrity is something I very much admire. She is not afraid to say what she is thinking, and that is something that I personally and professionally am striving to develop. I think Kelly’s skills and attitude will lend to an ideal learning environment.

I’m looking forward to seeing and learning from how Kelly interacts with the actors, given that I have only experienced that from the actor’s side of things. It will be interesting to see how she communicates, and most important, how she develops a working rapport with them too. How Kelly conducts dramaturgical sessions with the playwright Diane Flacks is something I’m especially intrigued to see and be a part of. It will be illuminating to see how the two of them approach scene work, break downs of the script, and action work.

When Kelly first told me about Unholy, I read the script and knew right away this was a piece that I could relate to. Unholy is about a spirited debate amongst a group of women from various religious backgrounds. They discuss with humor, wit, and honesty the position women have in religion and asks the highly relevant question: “should women abandon religion?” I come from a very religious background being raised Roman Catholic by my parents who are both from small fishing villages in Newfoundland. Faith and religion was the base of my core values growing up. This was something I have always had strong feelings about, so a play about a religious discussion is right up my alley. I felt a personal connection to Unholy not only because it focused on religion, and I felt that my upbringing gave me a unique perspective on that, but also because this show focuses on finding the female voice within a very male-dominated institution. I have always had strong feelings about this but I was never allowed to question it. Unholy asks all those questions.

I have always been fascinated with different religions and faiths and it is something I’m currently exploring in my own life. I feel I bring a valuable perspective to the project as a result of my open-mindedness and upbringing. In addition, I bring an excitement to discuss with other women their own experiences and points of view and to dive into the issue of where women stand in religion.

Overall, I can’t wait to start this process and see where it takes me.

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 1, 2015.

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.

No comments:

Post a comment