Thursday, 5 January 2017

Stories from the Youth Theatre Training Program: CultureLink

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. 

CultureLink was supported for their Youth Summer Theatre Project that took place in Toronto during July-August 2015. 

CultureLink Youth Summer Theatre Project
CultureLink is a not-for-profit organization that welcomes families to Canada and assists them in adapting to life in a new country. In the summer of 2015, CultureLink turned to art in order to harness its capabilities of developing empowerment and confidence in youths. CultureLink’s Youth Summer Theatre Project ran for eight weeks between July 6th and August 21st. It provided newcomer youths to Canada with the opportunity to create a theatre piece and further develop skills pertinent to live performance that would be transferable to everyday life. Eight youths from the GTA participated in this intensive theatre training program with the goal of creating and performing a new play by the end of the term. While Michael Miller supervised the creation of this play, the work was very much driven by the young artists themselves - a quality that was reflected in the final product’s content.

The program was highly structured and had a deep focus on developing the youths as creative thinkers. The mornings were comprised of actor training including movement, physical explorations, and voice. In the afternoon, the art of storytelling was explored. The group navigated the structure of narrative in both a self and group context. They also received training in various fields from guest artists including Paula Wing for improvisation, Sebastien Heins for vocal masque, and Mercedes D’Ameida for African dance and movement. The youths engaged with hot topics in the world today in order to fuel their art, critically examining the issues and obstacles facing newcomers to Canada through an artistic lens.

The youths’ hard work accumulated in the production of a play entitled “Live for Hope.” The story was derived from the participants’ experiences of war and its effect on their families. They exchanged stories of their own and of their parents, and developed a tale that shone a light on the wedges that war drives into familial relationships. A participant explained how they found comfort in the sincerity of rehearsal:
"I really liked how openly we could talk about our personal experiences, and actually use it for the play."
It resulted in a piece that was incredibly honest, personal, and inspirational. In their journey to the final product, the youths enhanced much more than their theatre skills. The act of creating a performance provided the participants an opportunity to expand their language skills and further their confidence in performing in English. To do so required a team effort, and at each step of creation, the youth became closer to one another and learned the importance of working together and celebrating each other’s successes to create something beautiful. Participants noted: 
“The best thing I learned is how important teamwork is. If we did not work as a team, we [would not] have done the play.”
“It was fun!”
“It was quite the experience!”
“I enjoyed all of it: my favourite part of the training is working with [the] team.”
The importance of making social and personal connections with other youths was built into CultureLink’s program: each Friday, the group would engage in a fun outing that placed importance on getting to know each other as people. The change in surroundings, often to a nature setting, provided a fresh canvas and energy for the youth that was reflected in their artistry.

CultureLink is a fantastic example of how theatre and storytelling can be used to unite people of different backgrounds and to empower youth. CultureLink states:
“They will be more confident to take on more leadership roles in areas of interest them be it in school, in their cultural community, in community-based organizations such as CultureLink or in arts organizations.”
Theatre Ontario is amazed by this incredible opportunity!

The next application deadline for the Youth Theatre Training Program is March 15, 2017.  


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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