Thursday, 15 December 2016

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Michael O’Brien

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

Michael O’Brien will train in theatrical/digital media creation and directing with Sarah Garton Stanley at SpiderWebShow Performance

(November 26, 2016) I am a well-established, hard-working, busy Canadian playwright/dramatist. A graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, for many years I’ve enjoyed constant employment, considerable acclaim and a great degree of fulfillment. I’ve specialized in big stories, often using classic plays or novels—Shakespeare, Dickens, Margaret Atwood, etc—reinvigorating them for today’s audiences.

These past few years, however, I began to feel myself at a turning point. From the beginning, my career plan has been “great leaps forward.” At this stage, so many of my goals have been achieved. What now? It was time for something to change. I knew I needed, and wanted to, soon diversify/transform my career. What perfect timing then, for me, in Summer 2016, to hear about Theatre Ontario’s PTTP program.

But diversify/transform how? I knew the answer to this too. This past decade, we’ve all seen our world changed by new media (the internet and social media). In many ways, these years have changed my consciousness. This was the career horizon that spoke to me—to the explorer, the discoverer, the adventurer I’ve always strived to be. And when I thought of people leading Canadian Theatre towards this horizon, I thought first of my friend and colleague Sarah Garton Stanley—previously merely a theatre director, now turned multi-talented, multi-disciplinary artist, doing some of the most innovative work in Canada, as co-creator and artistic director of Canada’s “virtual theatre”, SpiderWebShow Performance.

So, with the kind support of Sarah and the SpiderWebShow team, I applied to Theatre Ontario’s PTTP. In November, I was granted a 12-week mentorship! Now (thank you!) my great opportunity begins. During this time, I will closely observe/study with Sarah in her work as co-creator and artistic director of SpiderWebShow. This mentorship will take place, in part, at Queen’s University (Kingston) as SpiderWebShow conducts a residency. But much mentorship will also be experienced from my home in Toronto, as I continue to collaborate, and train, online during a crucial phase of this company’s progress.

First Post! “Pre-beginning” phase. Introduction/hello to the SpiderWebShow team happened last week in cyberspace as I sat in my Toronto home/office. On Skype, I met with Sarah and co-creator/associate Michael Wheeler and they tutored me in several online platforms. Quickly, I learned the virtual ropes at online platforms Slack, Trello and Google Hangouts—alien places to me. Later, I found myself part of a large weekly online SpiderWebShow company meeting—a team of innovators at locations from coast to coast, communicating face to face, smoothly and effectively. From all locations, the team welcomed me and offered me all the support I need. Plans are now in place to truly begin. Next: all focus is on my visit to Queen’s University later this week to assist with a “Beta Test” of CdnStudio, SpiderWebShow’s “virtual rehearsal hall.” On December 2nd, artists, technicians and students in separate locations will experiment with ways of creating/performing theatre online, “in real time” together.

This whole week, I expect to be in a flurry—working online, reviewing everything SpiderWebShow has done. This includes organization/administration: I’ll be looking over company files, grant applications etc. Creatively, I’ll also be looking deep into CdnTimes content and thinking of ways I might contribute in future weeks as guest artist and apprentice curator. But mostly, I’ll be getting ready for Thursday/Friday. Dec 2nd will be a marathon work day in Kingston. I’ll be thrown right into it. It seems, on the day, they want me to operate a web camera! (Them: “Can you operate a camera?” Me: “I can, if you show me how!”) That night, SpiderWebShow and Queens University will launch their experiment, and make it available to the world. Honestly, I don’t know what to expect. I feel like a novice sailor joining a band of adventurers—but I plan to pull my weight, learn a few things, and try not capsize the boat. I’m predicting this week will be grand sailing and new worlds shall be discovered! I shall tell you all. This post, I speak to you as a land-lubber and land-liner; next post, I’m certain I’ll report as an intrepid new-media sailor. Now, back to my preparations. Thanks to all. Let the SpiderWebbing begin! 

--Michael O’Brien

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2017.

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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