Thursday, 22 September 2016

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Miranda Bouchard

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

Miranda Bouchard trained in design with Ruth Howard at Jumblies Theatre.

What have you achieved and learned over the course of your mentorship?

I’ve been mentoring with Ruth Howard, Founding Artistic Director of Jumblies Theatre (Toronto), learning about design for community-engaged theatre. We’ve had in-person visits to Jumblies Theatre and its offshoot companies (Arts4All, Community Arts Guild, MABELLEarts and Making Room Community Arts) and to my home company in Algoma, Thinking Rock Community Arts (TRCA). I feel my twin desires to gain the skills necessary to be the lead designer for the Rivers Speak (the multi-year community play project that TRCA is engaged in) and to further develop my skills and style as a community-engaged artist and facilitator have been fulfilled. Over these months I’ve been granted opportunities for hands-on learning in a supportive and collegial environment, which has made my PTTP experience enriching and fulfilling.

Earth Day tree planting at the Apple Shaver House,
Broadacres Park, with MABELLEarts, April 2016.
(Photo: MABELLEarts)
I’ve learned that there are many ways to design a community-engaged performance – and gained insight into the kind of processes I’m most attracted to, ideas to incorporate and adapt, as well as the types of considerations that need to be made when involving community members as integral collaborators, co-creators and contributors. Training opportunities (Jumblies Theatre’s Artfare Essentials, Humber College’s Puppetry Intensive, and a Clay & Paper giant puppet workshop), participation in and guest facilitation of workshops and other kinds of activities, attendance at performances and events (Clay and Paper’s Day of Delight, Mind of a Snail Puppet Co. at the Toronto Fringe Festival, and a MABELLEarts’ Iftar Night) and experimenting with design ideas and prototypes in my own studio have opened my eyes to a myriad of possibilities and tools. Ruth and I have developed a living production plan for the Rivers Speak and she’s been supporting me in compiling ideas and inspirations for its design. We’ve also discussed how the context, needs, stories, protocols, and other facets of a community and time can, and should, inform and become part of the design of a production. This has all been especially helpful, approaching community-engaged theatre from my perspective as a visual artist. Another special activity during this time, playing on my interests in community-engaged practice and exhibition design, was learning more from the Community Arts Guild about the design and mounting of their annual evolving gallery, Interlacing: Weaving Stories of East Scarborough.

How do you feel you have grown in your chosen discipline?

Humber College Puppetry Intensive, June 2016.
(Photo: A. Marcus Raja)
In all the ways outlined above. I wrapped up my mentorship with Ruth by designing and facilitating a five-day, process-based puppetry workshop. I was able to call up what I’d learned during this immersive time with Ruth and the Jumblies, marrying the design of the objects with activity designs the group was able to carry through and enjoy in the process. I can tell, having done this, that I’ve grown as a facilitator and community artist. I’m more familiar and comfortable now with the inherent tension of being a creative leader in a collaborative, co-creative situation. I’ve found a way to manage my shyness when I’m facilitating, to stay organized so the activity flows along, and to plan the activity’s objectives while embracing emergence in the process. I’ve learned that one key to designing manageable and exciting process-based collaborative making activities is to pre-test and prototype. Importantly, I’ve learned to keep asking questions (and not to be afraid to ask for support!). Time with Ruth, the Jumblies and the Offshoot companies has taught me a lot about previous projects and productions, how they came to be – how the overall design and aesthetic developed and changed over time based on ideas and necessity - and this has provided great perspective for me, going in to my first community-engaged production.

How has your relationship with your mentor developed?

Ruth Howard, Miranda Bouchard and past PTTP trainee Robin
Sutherland at AlgomaTrad, August 2016. (Photo: S. Hodge)
I’d spent time with Ruth through TRCA in advance of this mentorship, though I know this PTTP study has strengthened and deepened that relationship. I’ve enjoyed time getting to know Ruth one-on-one as well as in the organizational context, now. She has encouraged and challenged me, as an artist, to gather and test ideas, concepts and curiosities. She’s provided lots of support while giving me the space to try things out, to get things right and to make mistakes. I’ve learned a lot from Ruth through conversations we’ve had, by watching her in action, by actively participating at Jumblies. I’ve developed a much deeper appreciation for the work she and the Jumblies have done (and continue to do) and the impact that work has had (and continues to have). Ruth’s stamina and sustained dedication, her passion for people and community-engaged theatre is admirable and inspiring. I’m glad we’ll continue to connect as the Rivers Speak – a project Ruth and the Jumblies have been involved in since early days – moves toward production, in September 2017.

Where you think this training will take you as you continue your career?

A fact that’s continued to surface through my time with Ruth and the Jumblies is that there’s always more to learn in and about community-engaged theatre and visual practice. The PTTP mentorship has given me a taste of what’s still to know, and ideas for directions to move in from here – and I’m anxious to pursue this. Training I’ve received, supported by this grant through Theatre Ontario, will continue to inform my career and direct my learning for years to come. The connections, self-awareness and understanding I’ve developed are invaluable to me.

Related Reading:

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

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