Thursday, 9 June 2016

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Donna Marie Baratta – “I Wanna Be A Producer”

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Donna Marie Baratta is training in artistic producing and curation with Laura Nanni at SummerWorks in Toronto.

(April 27, 2016) I feel like the luckiest girl alive to have the opportunity to spend 6 weeks mentoring in Artistic Producing and Curation with Laura Nanni. For me, timing is everything—and this couldn’t have happened at a better time.

Two summers ago I began to dream about producing a theatre festival in Thunder Bay, Ontario in a beautiful outdoor venue, in the heart of our marina and on Lake Superior. The possibilities seemed endless...

Now, almost two years later...the dream is becoming a reality. I am developing a theatre festival called Superior Theatre Festival (STF) with our inaugural launch in summer 2016, where I am in the role of Artistic Director and Executive Producer. Since I began envisioning this festival, I have confronted the fact that in order for this project to be a success I would need to seek out mentorship to address the gaps in my training. I knew, based on the way I learn best, that I needed structure, rigor and hands on training to elicit the kind of long term and lasting change I was looking for.  

During this search for mentorship I became acquainted with Franco Boni from The Theatre Centre who intuitively felt that Laura Nanni and I would be the right fit. For me, I instantly knew that Laura was the right match. In our first Skype conversation, I felt as though she was inside my head, asking me the most well-timed questions about the work I was doing and absolutely everything she said to me made complete sense. In one conversation, all my fears were laid to rest—she reminded me that I was taking risks, that there will always be a great amount of risk in festival curation and that there were going to be challenges but I was in a good place. Prior to our conversation, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that was to come, knowing how much work I had already done, not finding the words to articulate this and realizing that I had to rely on myself. I wasn’t even sure what tasks I could delegate and I didn’t have any money yet to hire someone to delegate to. I’m sure many of you can relate to this feeling.

As fate would have it, just after getting acquainted with Laura and applying to Theatre Ontario, Laura learned that she was going to be the new Artistic and Managing Director of SummerWorks. What was once going to be a mentorship in both Toronto and Calgary became a mentorship in Toronto with a festival that I greatly respect.

It seems heavenly orchestrated that I have the opportunity to work with Laura while she transitions into her new role at SummerWorks. The experience of seeing her step into this new position will be very valuable for me. Somehow this newness will mirror my own and there is comfort in knowing that all beginnings have the potential to be both sacred and chaotic at the same time.

As I approach the festival opening, Laura and I will articulate the necessary steps to create an event that has audience engagement at its core. Together with Laura, we have identified three specific areas for mentorship: community engagement, artistic curation and visioning and critical path building. In my first week, I will have the opportunity to watch Laura develop the critical path for SummerWorks and Progress, and then she will work with me on my critical path for Superior Theatre Festival. All of the work that I do with Laura will have a direct impact on my own learning. My mentorship is six weeks long, but it is going to be spread out with some of it taking place this spring/summer and the rest of it happening in February 2017 connected to Progress.

From May to February, I will get to see Laura work at developing partnerships, selecting work, engaging in contract negotiations, developing marketing plans to reflect the curation, siting work for site-specific projects and producing large-scale projects.  I look forward to engaging in as much of the work as I can with SummerWorks and contributing to their team.

This new direction is a big shift for me and I know that this practical one-on-one mentoring with Laura will be life-altering. I’m getting ready for big changes. Change and reinvention. I can hardly wait!

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 3, 2016.

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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