We at the YAC were so excited to see so many new and eager faces out at our May event "Now What: An Emerging Artist's Guide to the Theatre Universe" that we couldn't wait to follow it up! "Now What" was all about helping young theatre artists navigate a professional community that was new to them. We had lots of recent and soon-to-be theatre school grads in attendance, many from our event venue, the Randolph Academy. We started thinking about what that first September out of school was like for each of us. The answer? Hard; but made so much easier by keeping busy. "Play Date" was born out of the desire to help emerging artists feel situated in their larger theatre community even as they no longer have a school program to anchor them.
Networking is a word that gets thrown around a lot across all fields, and for many people (myself included, I'll admit) it's a scary word that connotes strategic conversations, studying names ahead of time, and something of an agenda. In other words: cold and calculating. But networking is what happens when your friend introduces you to someone they went to school with and you realize you both saw the same show at Fringe; it doesn't have to be scary at all. With "Play Date," we wanted to demystify networking, make it seem less intimating, and encourage young theatre lovers and creators to think beyond meeting, say, the artistic director of their dream company; we feel that it is equally valuable to get to know one another: your peers are your future collaborators, cast-mates, and—not the least—friends, even if they look just as uncomfortable in an unfamiliar room as you do. We didn't want to create a "networking for the sake of networking" atmosphere, rather we hoped to demonstrate that meeting new people and forging connections is something that can happen (perhaps inadvertently) while you're having fun! "Play Date" was structured around that thing that we all love so dearly in the theatre: the play. After all, what's easier to talk about than your favourite play?
On Monday, September 12th, our guests started arriving at our venue, the Central in Toronto's annex, at 8 PM. They wrote the name of their favourite play (a challenge for many, we were told - who has just one?) on name tags and received their copy of Human Bingo, an activity we loved as an icebreaker at Paprika's Intersection in March and adapted to go with our play theme. Everyone had to find someone to match a description in each box, with examples including "Has read Judith Thompson's The Crackwalker," "Saw a show at Summerworks," and "Has seen Kinky Boots more than once."
Toronto photographer Philip Zave was on hand to snap photos for us and mingled right along with everyone else. Philip excepted, our 20+ guests were exclusively female! This was unexpected but ultimately, we felt, helped create an instant sense of community. Everyone was kind and open and spent lots of time talking to new people. Many guests were one year out of theatre school or identified this as their very first September without a school to go back to. We also met several people who had just moved to Toronto—some from as far away as Wales and as recently as three weeks ago!
Our play exchange proved a great success—a large number of people brought plays to contribute to the exchange, and the plays that we had ready upon arrival, supplied by Theatre Ontario and our own libraries, were great conversation starters as people milled about and found them set out on patio tables. We were pretty excited about the main game of the night: it was a mix of Balderdash and Apples to Apples but it was all about PLAYS, so how could we not be? The way it worked was we split into two groups and everyone took turns reading the title and author of a play from a piece of paper and each person had to invent a two-sentence synopsis for the play, even if they recognized it. The best (or wildest) synopsis won each round, and then everyone got to hear the actual summary of the play! Many of these plays were there to be exchanged, and hearing what they were about helped spark interest in them and ensured they were scooped up by the end of the night. Mission: expose people to new plays, accomplished. This game brought out the best in our incredibly innovative (and hilarious) guests. As our photographer Philip put it, "there is so much creativity in this room!" I, for one, would definitely read a version of Ibsen's The Wild Duck featuring "Paul," who "has an identity crisis and is convinced that he is a duck; attempts to exist solely on crackers." We loved the way everyone dove into this game, and we had so much fun! (Play lovers, feel free to snag this idea—you won't regret it.)
In what felt like no time at all, our fruit and veggie platters (generously provided by Sobeys on DuPont and Shaw) dwindled and the cheesy aromas of Panago Pizza wafted in from the other room. We were so lucky to have "Play Date" fuelled by Panago's #RandomActsOfPizza, and we can assure you that none of it went to waste! Guests mingled over slices and we announced the raffle winners of a brand new copy of Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9 and a free Theatre Ontario workshop: Building Your Brand As An Artist with Edward Power, coming up in November. We had thought the night would end there, but no! Our lovely and effusive Play Daters stayed chatting for another hour and a half! On their way out the door there were many calls of "Don't forget to email me" and "Thanks for the Life Chats!" Needless to say, our hearts were warmed. We love connecting people and helping them feel welcome in the theatre community—and based on the feedback we got from our guests, we accomplished just that!
Stay up to date with the YAC by liking our Facebook page! As always, we welcome questions and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also invite you to learn more about "Now What: The Care Package" on the Theatre Ontario website.
The 2016 Youth Advisory Committee is Annie MacKay and Jocelyn MacNeil. For this event we had tremendous help from volunteer (and recent Randolph grad) Sarah Bransfield. We would also like to acknowledge the support of Claudia, Brandon, and Bruce at Theatre Ontario, our photographer Philip Zave, Brittany Townsend at Snapd Toronto, Sobeys at DuPont and Shaw, Panago Pizza for fueling this event, and the Central for generously offering a free space! We truly appreciate everyone who came out to "Play Date" and we are so grateful for their pay-what-you-can donations, which help us continue to create these opportunities for Ontario youth involved in theatre.