Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The YAC's First Event of 2016: Now What?

by Annie MacKay, Theatre Ontario Youth Advisory Committee

On Monday, May 9th, the 2016 Youth Advisory Committee proudly hosted our first event of 2016: Now What? An Emerging Artist's Guide to the Theatre Universe. This year's YAC consists of Joss MacNeil, Alyssa Spear, and myself, Annie MacKay. We are all new to pursuing our careers in theatre in the GTA and it was of this new-to-the-city, fresh-out-of-school spirit that Now What? was born earlier this spring. We wanted to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly, and to have a frank conversation about what it means to pursue a theatre career in 2016.

The stage is set at Randolph Academy for
the Theatre Ontario AGM and YAC Now What!
We sought out panelists who we knew could speak insightfully about some of the ups and downs in their careers so far. We were so lucky to assemble the group that we had - they shared their experiences generously and had a ton of fantastic advice to offer up! Wayne Burns is a YAC alum and co-director of Dark Nights, a biweekly conversation series with leading artists under 30. He is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, debuted his solo show LIONESS to a sold-out crowd in Halifax in 2013, and has numerous credits in film and TV including SyFy's series Olympus. Sophia Fabiilli wrote, produced, and starred in the much-lauded 2015 Toronto Fringe hit The Philanderess. She is currently assistant directing for Gregory Prest's production of The Heidi Chronicles for Soulpepper and has co-created a new comedy web series called Overachieving Underdogs. Joe Recinos is a Dora-nominated performer whose commitment to equitable and diverse practices within the arts extends far beyond the scenes. He is a 2011 Humber performance graduate and has worked on such TV projects as Mayday, Dual Suspects, and The Strain. Jeff Ho is another National Theatre School grad whose career has spanned work as an actor, creator, and playwright. He has been developing his first play, trace, with the support of b current and Factory Theatre. Jeff's 2016 will include the Banff Playwright's Colony Acting Company, the Cahoots Hot House Writer's Unit, and the Stratford Playwright's Retreat.

Now What? took place immediately following Theatre Ontario's Annual General Meeting at the beautiful Randolph Academy Theatre. YAC Member Joss MacNeil did a fabulous job moderating the panel and we had an engaged and attentive audience of 40 people, many of them very recently graduated from theatre school. The topics covered were wide-ranging, to say the least! Joss started out by asking Wayne what actors can do to stay at the top of their game even when they don't know when the next opportunity is coming their way. He emphasized the importance of self care and "keeping yourself healthy, offering yourself down time, and recognizing that as important, so that when the work comes you're ready for it". Jeff spoke similarly about this later on: "Acting is something that can get us really in our heads and really neurotic," he said, and finding other things in your life is incredibly important. "Go live," Jeff encouraged the audience. The industry may evolve, sure, but it "will not leave."

Self-producing was something we were particularly excited to talk to Sophia about given her recent success with The Philanderess. She discussed her many experiences volunteering her time, assisting and working for other producers before venturing out on her own, all very valuable learning opportunities. When it came to The Philanderess, she found that many people talked about it as if it had been an overnight success when the reality was, as she explained on the panel, that she'd spent years learning from others, paying her dues, and being definitively out of the spotlight. 

Panelist Jeff Ho fields a question from the audience
 (joined by, from left to right: Joe Recinos, Sophia Fabiilli,
Wayne Burns, and moderator Joss MacNeil)
Jeff has worn many hats in his theatre career and when we asked what some of the highlights and challenges of that were, he gamely said that it meant he got to spend a lot of time in the theatre! "If you want to work in this industry," Jeff advised our audience, "work in it, anyway you can." Joe was crystal clear about the importance of volunteering: "That is where I got to where I am." He suggested the Toronto Fringe and SummerWorks festivals as great places to start. Send an email to a place you're interested and ask what you can do to help!

A major piece of advice to recent grads? Our panelists had some incredible insight here. As soon as you leave theatre school, Wayne cautioned, "It'll feel like everyone is doing way more than you," but it's just a matter of perspective: you're not in their lives, you don't see their downtime and their moments of self-doubt. Everyone's path will be so different - "own your path." Jeff shared that though much is made of saying yes to every opportunity that comes your way, it is crucial to learn to say no - "especially if you're someone who's going to play roles that may feel stereotypical" - and trust that there will be more opportunities. 

Panelist Wayne Burns and YAC member and moderator
Joss MacNeil are joined by Patrick Kelly and
Catarina Ciccone for a post-panel mingle!
A huge part of our conversation was devoted to the question of what we can do as individuals to create a more diverse theatre. "When you travel," Jeff suggested, and are asked to suggest some Canadian playwrights, "make sure you know 5 or 10 of colour." Joe and Sophia talked about the importance of putting your money where your mouth is. "Remember that when you buy a ticket, that's your vote," Sophia said. It's all well and good to say you support women playwrights, for example, but are you actually going to see their work? Joe advocates seeking out companies, learning about them, and deciding who you really want to support. Where to look? Joe named b current, Cahoots, Fu-Gen, and Aluna for starters. He also emphasized that diversity means seeing different mediums of art. You don't like ballet? Great, go see a ballet. "It will make your art better."

There was some inevitable talk of that pesky "Emerging Artist" label as we fielded questions from the audience. "Don't worry about it," Joe said - except when it comes to grants! There are a lot of resources devoted specifically to emerging artists, so "get as much money as you can, while you can." Ultimately, he said, although the theatre community in Toronto can feel very intimidating fresh out of the gate, it is "very accepting and welcoming and we will help out - but people are very busy." What does that mean for you? Make sure you're not wasting anyone's time: know what you want from someone before you reach out.  "Networking is never good when it's impersonal," Wayne said. He endorses the Google Black Hole by way of learning as much about this community as possible: know how people are connected to each other, know your stuff. 

Audience members make pledges after the
panel discussion to hold themselves accountable
The panel discussion wrapped up at 9pm and panelists and audience members gathered for some food and mingling! Some Now What participants used sticky notes posted to the wall to share what they pledged to hold themselves accountable to. Everyone went home with the YAC's Care Package! What is the Care Package, you ask? People left with a one-sheeter that previewed some of the fantastic resources available in categories such as getting cast, emerging artist programs, ticket discounts, and more! The YAC is proud to have compiled a Google document that is being updated all the time with live links and descriptions for all resources. Interested in receiving your copy? Email us at youth@theatreontario.org. We also post lots of opportunities on our Facebook Page so give us a like to keep on top of things and hear what we're up to next! The YAC is always growing and looking for people who want to get involved. We loved meeting everyone who came out to Now What and we'd love to work further with you, so shoot us an email. 

Thank you again to our fantastic panel, to Theatre Ontario, and to an amazing audience for making our first event of 2016 a success!
A sneak peek at the Care Package that
everyone went home with after the event!

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