Thursday, 16 June 2016

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Dan Watson

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

Dan Watson of Huntsville trained in artistic direction with Franco Boni at The Theatre Centre.

(May 12, 2016) Since January, I have been working under the mentorship of Franco Boni at The Theatre Centre to develop skills and knowledge to support my work as Artistic Producer of Edge of the Woods Theatre in my home town of Huntsville. Although I’m at the end of this professional development period, I’m at the beginning of a lot of things, and really in the thick of so many other things. It’s exciting, stimulating, overwhelming, and there’s no place I’d rather be. But before we get to where I am, let’s talk about where I’ve been.

What Did I Do?

Sign at Debajehmujig Story Tellers Space
I traveled through Northern Ontario meeting and learning from a number of different organizations and artists including Debajehmujig Story Tellers (Wikwemikong First Nation), Aanmitaagzi (Nipissing First Nations), Thinking Rock Arts (North Shore of Lake Huron), Myths and Mirrors (Sudbury) and the Whitewater Gallery (North Bay). During these visits I listened, learned, participated in events, shared communal meals, and started conversations that I’m certain will lead to future opportunities and collaborations.

I travelled to the Push Festival in Vancouver for a week where I had the opportunity to give a 10-minute pitch to a packed room of national and international presenters and theatre makers. I also got to see a number of incredible shows, projects and pitches. I also participated in panel discussions and round tables on different topics related to my professional development. I came away from the festival having made a number of really important introductions and connections. In particular, I was happy to meet Ron Barry from the Fusebox Festival in Austin Texas. The lessons I’ve learned from him will be so important for the future the Nuit Blanche North Festival I run in Huntsville.

Festival and Events Masterclass with Paul Gudgin
I participated in a 2-day intensive Festival and Event Masterclass where I learned practical tips and knowledge for festivals and events related to marketing, press, programming, evaluation, sponsorship and fundraising. This was led by Paul Gudgin who has over twenty years of experience in the management of festivals and events including the Aldeburgh Festival, City of London Festival and eight years as the Director of the world’s largest arts festival, The Edinburgh Festival Fringe during an exciting period that saw the event double in scale selling over 1.5 million tickets.

I held ongoing consultations with Franco Boni, and with Ruth Howard of Jumblies Theatre, I’ve been looking at Edge of the Woods Theatre: where we’ve been, where we are and where we want to go. In particular, we’ve been looking at who surrounds the organization, and trying to define what those relationships mean, what we want from them and how to go about it. We also have been looking at who isn’t there, and how we can invite them in. Through this process I’ve realized how important it is to tell your story, the work needed to craft that story and the importance of telling it to lots of people. I’ve started doing it already. Franco helped me prepare a presentation for a meeting with our local MPP Norm Miller, local MP Tony Clement and local associations and businesses to ask for recommendations of possible board members, contacts with different organizations in the region and to explore possible avenues of support for my activities.

What I Learned

It starts with the programming. Of course I already knew this, but it’s important to be reminded of it. The trick is what to program. How do you decide which ideas to pursue, which to leave, how to reconcile your dreams with the realities of your resources, and how to match your personal interests with what you think is best for the community you are engaging with? This professional development period will have an immediate impact on my activities during the Edge of the Woods Theatre Festival this summer. Particularly inspiring to me were my travels in Northern Ontario and how the artists I met worked to include food, land and young people in their process and approach. This summer we are working to develop activities around our performance programming that will explore relationships to food and the land around us, as well, we are engaging young people in our community through different workshops, programs and direct employment.

It takes time. Like many artists and organizations, I work project to project. I like it. It gives me flexibility to follow my impulses and interests. I also recognize that it has encouraged me to think in the short term. Developing partnerships has always been about immediate needs of a particular project. Once the project is done, do I keep up the connection? Sometimes yes, but often no. I always knew it was about developing relationships, but I don’t think I ever understood it. I maybe still don’t. Relationships take time to cultivate. Some won’t work out. Some will. So which ones to work on? Which to let go? That takes constant work and reflection. But I feel relieved of the pressure too. It’s okay Dan, it’s going to take time, you don’t have to make it all happen right now. In particular, I’m excited about the connections that I’ve made with presenters, and the process of getting supporters and potential donors/sponsors excited in what I’m doing. By thinking long term, I feel the pressure is off. Just keep finding reasons to engage, and when you get to the table with them, listen.

Look to the Young. In developing a plan for the future, we need to engage with young people. I’ve learned different ways that artists are engaging with young people including education, creation opportunities, platforms for sharing their perspectives and direct employment. The idea of employment is particularly interesting in the context of the Huntsville community. I learned from Debajehmujig Story Tellers that to encourage young artists to stay in their community, to develop their skills and share it with their community, they found a way to pay them a living salary. Young people also move from our community because there is little to no opportunity for a career in the arts. How can we give them reasons to stay in their own community? It is a challenge to achieve that, but a worthy goal for our organization.

My Future

So now we get to my present and future. This development period has given me time to develop, 
  1. I’m at home as a producer, and I like to be involved in the nitty gritty aspects of the programming I’m presenting. I like to get my hands dirty and I like to collaborate with those who are participating in the events.
  2. My gut intuition is my best friend. Of course I can’t do everything, hard choices have to be made, but following my gut, following what interests me, and not letting doubts suffocate me is essential as I move forward.
  3. I have a lot to offer my community. I’ve begun to define my role as a Cultural importer. This entails of course bringing in performances and events to my community, but also bringing ideas. I have connections with interesting artists both in Huntsville and across Canada. My role is to find ways these artists can meet and learn from each other, and ways that my community can benefit from those interactions.
Working with Franco Boni has been wonderful. His generosity, knowledge and perspective are super human. I have found in him a sort of tough love advisor. He has a skill of challenging me in a friendly way, to define and refine my actions and words. I know as I move forward, he will always have time for me in the future as both a friend and a mentor.

I want to thank Theatre Ontario for this opportunity. Its effects will have ripples professionally and personally for years to come. We are blessed to have organizations like Theatre Ontario, who support theatre artists, who strive to strengthen what is a vital and dynamic theatre community across Ontario. I know as I move forward in my activities and career, I will owe much to Theatre Ontario, and that is something I will never forget.

Related Reading:

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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