Thursday, 17 December 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 participants' experiences.

Emily Oriold trained in general management with Deb Sholdice at Blyth Festival

(November 20, 2015)  First and foremost, I thank Theatre Ontario for this opportunity, and thank Deb Sholdice and Gil Garratt at the Blyth Festival Theatre for helping to give me a leg-up to reach for the stars! I feel absolutely fortunate to have been able to train with Deb for these six weeks. My training through the Theatre Ontario PTTP has been invaluable. I really feel that it has helped answer and clear up questions I had prior to my training about contract negotiation, bookkeeping practices, the audit process, and overall administrative management of a theatre company.

It quickly became clear that in order to run a mid-size theatre company, one must look beyond one’s own walls and have a strong impact on one’s community both on an outreach level and an economic level. I learned that building relationships with local businesses, patrons, and government bodies is essential when running a theatre organization.

I was able to observe Deb as she went to BIA meetings, strategic planning sessions for North Huron (where the Blyth Festival is located), and, specifically, a meeting for a larger project scheduled for Fall 2016 which will involve the partnership of other not-for-profit companies to realize the full scope. These are all activities outside of producing a regular season of plays. The full operations of a theatre organization go beyond a summer production season and it was very eye-opening for me to be a part of this larger conversation. As a professional artist with fifteen years of experience working as a performer and director, it became clear to me that is was more beneficial for me to do my training in the off-season so that I could get a better understanding of how a theatre organization operates throughout the entire year—not just when it is producing a theatrical season. I was able to observe the year-end audit process, fundraiser planning, membership and ticketing strategies for an upcoming season, and basic bookkeeping practices: all things I have never done before.

Emily Oriold's final day at Blyth Festival
with Deb Sholdice and Gil Garratt
I also was a part of the conversation as Gil and Deb put together their new five-year strategic plan. The Blyth Festival has had four Artistic Directors in three years. Now that they have been able to confidently contract a new AD, a strong vision could be agreed upon with plans made to support this vision, and activities outlined to execute these new goals. What amazing timing! We are currently putting together a five-year strategic plan for The Foster Festival with our Board of Directors and being a fly-on-the-wall as Gil and Deb went through their brainstorming session was—as I’ve already said many times—invaluable.

I am happy to report that with Deb’s guidance and assistance, The Foster Festival was able to set up a 2-Ticket Holiday Pass campaign which will, hopefully, be a boost to our November/December ticket sales. We have already seen some strong single ticket sales within the Niagara region and we would like to continue on this path by offering Holiday Passes as a Stocking Stuffer idea to our customers to encourage them to share the love of theatre with their friends and family. Deb was instrumental in helping me figure out how we can do this with our third party box office team. Because we do not run our own box office, we cannot just run any program we want at any time and we sometimes have to be creative in how we can implement these types of programs. Deb was such a big help to me when I put together my “pitch” to the Performing Arts Centre box office.

This past week, The Foster Festival held auditions for the World Premiere production of Halfway to the North Pole. I will be moving into contract negotiations with CAEA artists. Deb gave me a breakdown of what some of the questions might be coming from artists and/or agents. She also helped me crunch some preliminary numbers for designers and technicians. As a General Manager or Executive Director, our job is not to get in the way of the art and cut it off at the knees at every turn because “we cannot afford that.” It is our job to hear what the artistic vision is, understand the vision, and then figure out how we can fund this vision along with manage the finances surrounding expenses.

I will say it again, this training has only reinforced my confidence as the Executive Director of The Foster Festival and has given me further insight into what it means to run a professional theatre organization. If I can name one thing that is at the top of the list of what I have taken away from this training process, it is the importance of how closely the Artistic Director and General Manager or Executive Director have to work together in order to realize a company’s vision and, ultimately, make it a successful cultural endeavour. I believe that Foster Festival Artistic Director Patricia Vanstone, and I already have a strong and united working relationship. My training at the Blyth Festival definitely reinforced the importance of us continuing to work together on a united front to ensure the success of The Foster Festival.

In closing, thank you, thank you, thank you to Theatre Ontario and the PTTP. I would not have had the means to do this training otherwise and because of this training, I can now continue forward as the Executive Director of The Foster Festival with more confidence, tools, and tricks-of-the-trade than I had before starting this 6-week process.

Susan Cuthbert trained in directing with Robert McQueen at Harold Green Jewish Theatre

(November 19, 2015) As the run of The Immigrant winds down, I am both exhilarated and inspired to continue my journey directing, but also sad that this rewarding experience is almost over.  I absorbed specifics of how to create a supportive environment and the power of  choosing words that invite actors to take risks, stay curious and explore.  I marveled at Robert Mc Queen's diligent and tenacious intent to maintain focus on the actors' process, and his focus on each characters' specific tactics, intentions and actions. Some specific terms to guide performers he used : 'keep active, not complacent' , 'keep narrative alive' , 'dis-obligate yourself  from a specific destination ' , 'your character is rigorous' 'buoyant.'  I observed that this detailed work is especially necessary during the initial rehearsal process because once new elements are introduced, it is the heart and anchor of the piece.

I also observed how to deal with the pressure of time—especially once in the theatre; how imperative it is to be patient and maintain a cool, clear head so that solutions can be found as situations arise.
I noted how Robert led with a strong, clear vision while involving everyone both on stage and backstage. Everyone in the production is equally valuable and all views important for a cohesive vision. Seeing how  important the fine balancing act is of listening and communicating with clarity and fortitude throughout the process.  It takes a very secure person to delegate and discuss.  I hope to become that secure with my work as a director.

I was asked to talk to groups of audience members (approximately 30) about the production. At first I wasn't sure if I could be articulate what the heart of the show is, answer their questions or relay the Director’s vision. By the third talk, I had built some confidence and some valuable new skills, and was able to impart some of the feedback from the audience with Robert and the cast, which seemed helpful.

I am so fortunate to have learned from the best—especially for my chosen genre of music theatre! It's obvious that Robert has an innate and huge talent for directing but he  has also learned skills from many other directors including one of music theatre legends, Hal Prince. Robert is an actors' director, who is a powerful, generous and accomplished communicator and artist. Having been on the 'other side' as an actor he knows how imperative these qualities are in a director for a distinctive and exemplary production. Because Robert strives for world class excellence, he has inspired me to continue my journey as a director. And like him, I hope to be fearless, curious, and rigorous.  This experience has been a ‘spring board’ into a whole new world and has opened my life in ways so profound it is difficult to express.

I look forward to staying open and curious as I find my own voice and learn, express, guide and lead throughout my quest for this new exciting world. Who knew I could transition into a new career,  at my age?! Thank you so much for this unique and rewarding opportunity!

Miranda Bouchard will train in design with Ruth Howard at Jumblies Theatre

(November 24, 2015) I am thrilled to have been selected as a recipient for Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) support from Theatre Ontario, and am eager to begin my training with the incomparable Ruth Howard and the amazing people at Jumblies Theatre and offshoots.

During my mentorship with Ruth, I hope to learn more about the theory and history of community-engaged artistic practice (specifically theatre.)  I feel I’ve got much to soak in, to broaden my appreciation for the possibilities and power of the discipline. Simultaneously I intend to familiarize myself with theatre design, its multiple, integrated facets, and the ways in which those pieces function when applied to community-engaged theatre.

I will refresh the creative skills that will serve me during the mentorship and beyond as designer for my home organization, Thinking Rock Community Arts’, current project The Rivers Speak. These skills include design and creation of props, puppets, masks and costumes, scenic painting and production, various fabrication applications, lighting, spatial design and more. I’m excited for this phase of applied learning and experimentation, collecting samples, creating sketches, building mock-ups, combining ideas and disciplines, and ultimately hosting art-making sessions to produce the emergent ideas.

To this end—the ultimate task of building the visual components in group, back in Algoma—I will improve my facilitation skills through working alongside Ruth, and find my “style”, to most effectively engage both artist and non-artist community members, of all ages, in the processes of making and animating. As I move through my mentorship, I aim to be an asset, assistant and ambassador for Jumblies Theatre, to learn deeply by being deeply involved, and to maximize every moment of this opportunity.

I also hope to learn more from Ruth Howard about theatre design (advantageously, a specialty and area of interest for Ruth. I look forward to getting into hands-on making, experimenting and collecting as I work towards developing an overall design for the Rivers Speak, facilitation (getting comfortable as a facilitator, and finding my style, to work with groups and propel my project forward, effectively and equitably) and BIG questions (as the holder of a vision for the overall design, how do you balance holding tight to that vision, while letting go, adapting, and making room for others? How, as a settler woman, can I responsibly and equitably design a community-engaged production that represents and responds to diverse perspectives, stories, and views brought together in the spirit of cross-cultural collaboration?)

Courtenay Stevens trained in artistic producing with Jennifer Brewin at Common Boots Theatre

(November 24, 2015)  Well, my time studying artistic producing with Common Boots has flown by. It’s been a flurry of emails, copywriting, meetings, proof reading, more emails and group decisions about font, colour, ticket prices and content across the board.  Oh and meetings with the board.  And with publicists and pastors.

I’m not quite sure if Jennifer sleeps, as she’s always coming up with new ideas and creating ways to maximize the modest company budget while generating the most return and engagement. Through watching, I have certainly learned a few lessons about leadership. One of the key takeaways is empowerment.  Jennifer will present a challenge and allow a person to take it up, or will encourage them to stretch to reach it. This happened to me on several occasions. Empowerment and trust also allows the time to get work done. I suppose it’s the old adage of surrounding oneself with good people.

Jennifer knows and respects the value of people and community. She remembers people’s names and is generous in her interactions. She understands the collaborative nature of theatre.

Tails From the City at Common Boots Theatre
Having never worked at a desk, I too have been more exposed to the nature of collaboration outside of the rehearsal hall. My colleagues in the Common Boots office (which is often a cafĂ© or my kitchen table) have really carried me well during this training period. They have always been willing to share their experience and knowledge with me.  And in keeping with the way things go around here, when they don’t know, they just take a stab at it and are supported in their endeavor.

During our run up to the production of the Common Boots winter show, Tails From the City, I have made valuable contacts in disparate communities ranging from church groups to marketing.  I’m sure I can reach out to this network in the future should I need them and I know the Common Boots team also has my back.

Thank you Theatre Ontario for allowing me this eye opening opportunity to explore artistic producing with this local theatre company.

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2016.

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