Tuesday, 15 September 2015

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.) These are some of the current and recent participants' experiences.

Yunjeong Faline Park is training in theatre administration with Niki Poirier at Roseneath Theatre in Toronto.

I would like to thank Theatre Ontario for accepting me to this wonderful training program. This opportunity will be a new challenge in my career, switching from the design world to theatre administration and I am grateful for having the chance to explore and develop new skills.

My fifteen weeks of training with Roseneath Theatre starts in September and will cover half of their 2015-2016 season, During this time, I intend to learn the entire process of how to produce and manage a production starting from the beginning to the end. My mentor Niki Poirier, Tour & Company Manager along with other staff will be involved with teaching me every aspect of the administration within a theatre company which will include: Production, Tour Management, Stage Management, Human Resources, bookkeeping and payroll, Managing Director, Marketing, etc. Niki and I earnestly worked on the training schedule so that I will be given the opportunity to work with every department for a week or two at a time. This will allow me to carry some responsibilities and lead independent projects.  I hope this will give me a genuine understanding of what everyone has to do and how the company works.  

I have worked with Roseneath Theatre a few times in the past year. Niki was one of my supervisors when I was a Production Assistant for their premiere production of The Money Tree with thanks to the Studio Lab Theatre Foundation. Since then she has become a role model. Her work style and her passionate dedication to producing relevant theatre for children has given me a clear idea of the dedication and skills I need to become an administrator for a performing arts company.  I have complete confidence that her many years of experience in theatre will give me a large variety of information in administrative knowledge to further my career. 

I am super excited and can’t wait to see what I will gain from this valuable program!

Rachel Penny trained in Producing with Aislinn Rose in Toronto.

The third and final section of my PTTP project was the point at which I took on a more independent project, using Aislinn as a resource rather than shadowing her. I found that this was in many ways as daunting as starting the mentorship again! While I felt well-prepared and well-supported to take on a project on my own, I still felt a lot of self-doubt and nervousness. However, the best cure for this feeling is to dive head-first into whatever is making me nervous, and so I did! For this phase, I worked as a producer for the Toronto Festival of Clowns. Working on a festival at this point in my training was a great fit, since I was able to bring together and put into practice many of the elements I’d already worked on throughout my mentorship, including budgeting, partnership management, and fundraising. Most importantly, a festival is a big test of anyone’s project management skills. The TFOC was a great way to wrap up my PTTP, teaching me about a form of performance that I knew little about, and highlighting some potential areas of growth for me. 
The Toronto Festival of Clowns

One of the main takeaways from me after completing my PTTP is the extent to which a producer must take responsibility for every aspect of a project, and be fairly rigorous in terms of keeping everything on track. My instinct when working with others is to trust that everyone will look after their own tracks, and that no news is good news. Learning that this is not always the case has been a slow process for me, but I feel now that I understand much better the boundaries between managing and micro-managing, and where I have to fall on that line in order to be an effective producer. I feel more confident in speaking to collaborators about the work they are doing, and helping facilitate that by managing timelines, keeping an eye for potential problems or pitfalls, and offering help or resources when needed. I’ve also learned to trust my instincts about what’s working and what isn’t. I feel less afraid to take real ownership of a project. 

Perhaps the most rewarding element of this process has been watching the success of the artists I’ve worked with. Those successes have taken many forms, whether it’s a full house, a great review, an interesting conversation with an audience member or even an a-ha moment about what works and what doesn’t. In producing, other people’s success and satisfaction is the reward for your hard work, and there have been lots of thrilling moments this year. 

Aislinn was hugely trusting of me from the get-go and did not hesitate to let me take on a lot of responsibility. I think the main change in the relationship is that her confidence in me has translated to more confidence in myself. I know that Aislinn will continue to be someone that I can go to as I progress in my career. Her opinions are valuable to me, and I find that we often approach things from a different perspective which makes her an important person for me to talk through problems with. The relationship we’ve built during this mentorship has become an important one to me personally and professionally. Her support and advocacy for me as I enter the next stage of my career has been hugely appreciated, and I know we will continue to work together in the future.

Rose Napoli trained in producing with Rona Waddington and Ingrid Bjornson at St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival (SLSF) in Prescott.

It has taken me some time to reflect on my time with SLSF because my PTTP has rolled into a few other opportunities with the Festival.  I have spent the summer working both as an actor with St Lawrence and as an Artistic Associate (made possible by another grant.)

I have learned so much this summer—about what I want, what I don’t want, a true idea of just how much work it takes to run a small theatre. I have been extremely grateful for the opportunity to grow my skills, to have access to the inner workings of the Festival, and to be trusted as an Artistic Associate.

I walk away from Prescott with humility—and an understanding of just how much investment is required of the people who run a small theatre.  I say a small theatre because, as I have observed this summer, when there are few employees,  every member of the team steps outside of the typical duties associated with their position to help things run smoothly.  I have seen Rona wearing rubber gloves cleaning toilets, Ingrid make online invitations for a Prescottonian who wanted to host a party for the company members.  I have been astounded by the work load and have witnessed moments of inspiration: a company of actors on a rain day (when one of their cast mates was injured) staying at the theatre to talk to audience members and thank them for coming, a crew dealing with a hugely complicated show in the blazing hot sun and being thoughtful enough to bring ice packs for the actors. And leaders of the Festival who have borne the brunt of the work with a smile on their face. 

I don’t know that I have a future in arts administration, but I do walk away from SLSF equipped to continue producing my own artistic projects and most importantly, with an appreciation for all the duties and the people that make it possible for the show to go on!

Simon Bloom is training in artistic producing with Philip Riccio at The Company Theatre in Toronto.

This fall will mark my sixth year as an independent artistic producer, and every day still feels like trial by fire. In both the rehearsal hall as well as the office (and by office I mean a coffee shop, or someone’s living room), I spend most of my time making mistakes and learning from them. Without any formal training in artistic producing, and with very little documentation out there on how to run an independent theatre company, it’s been hard to find a less painful way to grow. 

That isn’t to say I haven’t tried. I recently made a list of all of my ‘indie heroes.’ These are companies that I admire for one reason or another - organizations that I want my theatre company, Outside the March, to be inspired by. It’s not that I think we should be these companies, but I want us to develop a better understanding of why and how they have been successful.

I spend a lot of time trying to understand how these ‘indie hero’ companies operate: their artistic leadership, branding, their productions. But I’ve realized that standing on the outside looking in won’t ever teach me about the culture of an organization that I’m inspired by. If I go and see a top-notch production put on by a company that I admire, it isn’t going to expose me to that company’s strategic planning, or how they were able to build a board that was excited about helping them fundraise.

Board recruitment and strategic planning might not sound like the most exciting part of running a theatre company, but I’ve come to realize that they are necessary. Theatre is a business, whether I like it or not, and running it requires business savvy. Just because my MFA in Theatre Directing didn’t teach me how to negotiate an Equity contract or build a sponsorship package doesn’t matter—it’s still going to take up a huge chunk of my day-to-day at Outside the March.

I realized that if I wanted to truly learn how one of these companies operated, I needed to spend time embedded within that organization, helping to contribute to their success, working with them through adversity, learning by professional development, and osmosis. This is why I sought to pursue a PTTP in artistic producing. And what better company to pursue it with than the one that sits at the top of my list of ‘indie heroes’—Company Theatre.

When we founded Outside the March, we looked to Company Theatre as a leader in Toronto’s independent scene. They produce high calibre productions with marquee actors, forge vital relationships with companies such as Crow’s Theatre and the Canadian Stage, and have established a significant foothold in the hearts and minds of our city’s theatre-going audiences. Most importantly to me, they had done so without ever mortgaging their vision for what they wanted their work to be: theatre that boldly and unflinchingly examines the human condition.

I’ve known Company Theatre Co-Artistic Director Phil Riccio since he played the coke snorting imaginary friend of a 6-year old named Lucy in our company’s production of Mr. Marmalade. Since then we’ve had many conversations about what it means to run an independent theatre company, and to be an artistic leader. Spending a period of time training with him in artistic producing means that I will be able to learn tangible skills that will translate into the future success for Outside the March.

What will we be doing? Well first, I’ll be assisting Phil on Company Theatre’s upcoming production of Bruce Norris’ Domesticated starring Paul Gross and Martha Burns. This won’t just mean sitting in on rehearsals, but playing an integral role running a secondary room to help prep some of the younger actors. Phil will take me through what it means to direct a play when you are artistic director, director, and producer on the project—how you juggle these distinct positions, how to prevent them from bleeding into one another, manage your time, plan effectively, and cultivate relationships with your team.

Phil and I will participate in one-one sessions focused on building a sponsorship strategy, culminating in me making a targeted ask to try and onboard a new sponsor for Company Theatre’s upcoming season. I will also be working with Phil to prep for board meetings, and learn more about how they play a role in helping Company Theatre’s success.

Finally, I’ll be working with Phil to build an international map of new playwrights. Outside the March and Company Theatre are constantly looking to broaden our consciousness of exciting and innovative work being made across the country, and the creation of this map will make sure that we can keep our finger on the pulse.

I have absolutely no doubt that the time spent with Phil is going to drastically improve my ability to function as an artistic leader. A period of mentorship with Company Theatre isn’t going to stop me from failing again (and frequently), but hopefully it will give me the wisdom to avoid a few theatrical land mines along the way.

I look forward to digging in.

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

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


  1. Mentorship and training are important elements in the growth and development of artists. Thanks for sharing these stories.

    1. We're glad you enjoyed them.
      Thank you again for your support of this program!