Thursday, 29 September 2016

Stories from the Youth Theatre Training Program: Thinking Rock Community Arts

By Christine Rankin, Education Assistant 

Our Youth Theatre Training Program (YTTP) offers financial support to programs that deliver accessible training to young people (age 14 to 21), led by professional artists in skills such as technical production and design; theatre administration and producing; and performance skills and play creation. 

Thinking Rock Community Arts was supported for their program The Rivers Speak that took place in the rural communities of Algoma during the summer of 2015. 

Thinking Rock Community Arts fosters spaces where people of all backgrounds and abilities feel free to create art. They submitted The Rivers Speak for YTTP as their first major project to begin a series of projects embracing multi-disciplinary art over three years. The Rivers Speak began in the summer of 2015 in the rural communities of Algoma - Blind River, Mississauga First Nation, Serpent River First Nation, and Elliot Lake – and focused on cross cultural collaboration between Settler and First Nation communities. The program drew on the nature of the area as inspiration for art: stories about the rivers and water-ways were shared both orally and visually by the community members through a variety of art media. The participants were guided by a team of professional artists with mentorship from Jumblies Theatre and other professional arts organizations from Ontario and across the nation. The final product of these workshops was a performance that incorporated how each person reflected on their home, its geography and its history, and the cultural community they belong to. Thinking Rock stated:
“This project represents an opportunity to bring these youth participants, communities and artists along with us on this learning journey, which we believe will be a step toward creating more inclusive, liveable, accepting communities” 

The Rivers Speak included four training workshops of 10 to 40 youths per session. The youths explored the exciting fields of stilt walking, mask making, puppet making and puppetry, as well as movement and theatre design. As one might expect, the participants were ecstatic throughout all the sessions, describing how wonderful it was to engage with such amazing artists and to learn skills that one would not have the opportunity to learn otherwise. Participants praised the value of learning from experienced community arts professionals, with one participant even expressing the desire to make their own stilts by hand!

The youths were the heart of the program. They brought their voices into the conversation as well as incredible energy and joy to each new skill. Coming from Francophone, Anglophone and Indigenous backgrounds, the participants were extremely pleased to be exposed to each other’s’ cultures. In response to being asked what their favourite part of the training program was, participants responded with comments such as:
“seeing the convergence of different people, cultures, and communities”
“amazing people, good energy: they are very welcoming” 
“it kept me engaged and inspired”
“I had such an amazing time putting lots of different art forms together with so many amazing artists”
Participants were blown away by the openness and collaborative nature of the people involved.  The young artists were unbelievably grateful to receive the chance to learn aspects of artistry that could be applied to their future projects. Script development, performance and musical collaboration were all headliners of the program schedule that not only influenced these young artists but also inspired those who were new to the art-world. 

Thinking Rock Community Arts is the first community arts organization in Algoma. The fun activities planned by Thinking Rock were embraced by the youth in the program, their contagious enthusiasm clearly apparent. Throughout the discussions regarding the link of geography to story, how each person connects to one another, and what art can be, the youth led and provided fresh perspectives that were seen in their final performance. Through The Rivers Speak, Thinking Rock has created a positive space for people of different backgrounds and generations to work together and make art that is representative of their members. 

Thank you Thinking Rock Community Arts for your astounding work for The Rivers Speak!

The next application deadline for the Youth Theatre Training Program is October 17, 2016. 

Theatre Ontario’s Youth Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario. 

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