Donna Marie Baratta trained in artistic producing and curation with Laura Nanni at SummerWorks in Toronto
|Laura Nanni and Donna Marie Baratta|
(April 30, 2017) Before I began this adventure, my first blog post spoke to the giddy joy I felt while receiving the incredible news that I would work with Laura Nanni in Artistic Producing and Curation for six full weeks. That giddy joy remained throughout my time and now, almost one full calendar year later, I am immensely grateful to Laura because I have gained confidence in my role as an Artistic and Managing Director through my time with her.
This year has gone by quickly; in festival curation you are always working and trying to meet a new deadline, one that is set not only for your upcoming Festival but next year’s Festival too. Since my time with Laura, I successfully launched Superior Theatre Festival’s first summer Festival in August 2016 and continued to build the second season’s programming, partnerships and funding. Unfortunately we were not able to work together that whole time but instead in bursts of time around my teaching. This meant I was able to experience most aspects of building a festival, even if in a small way.
What is important to note is our Festivals’ circumstances, location, ecology and resources are very different but I was given permission to dream big while working with Laura because I got a glimpse of where Superior Theatre Festival could go. I also saw the reality of running a festival
—losing sponsorship and having to seek sponsorship from another institution to cover that lost funding. The reality is, the managing part of the Festival demands a lot time and the Artistic part that you crave usually comes in second place.
While in the office from January to April 2017 I did things such as: sort submissions into folders, draft letters to actors or other theatre companies, create a programming document for shows as they were added to the Festival, watch Sears Festival shows to program, read plays that were submitted, share my thoughts with the team and sit in on meetings and artist conversations. I went through periods of it being just Laura and I in the office to more and more staff being involved as we got closer to the Festival. What I realized is a lot of learning happens in the in-between times
—the time between a meeting, in a cab to an event, while grabbing a coffee, getting a drink or between Sears shows. I got a very real glimpse into what it is to run a festival and I was fortunate to be able to apply that knowledge to my own Festival during that process. That made this mentorship invaluable.
To wrap up, I thought I’d distill the “Top 3 Things” I’ve learned during these last few months in the office:
1. Openness: The ability and foresight to ask the right question at the right time is key to building a healthy collaboration. I was included in conversations with artists about their work prior to an offer to be in the Festival and I was privileged to hear the kinds of questions Laura asked and how she asked them. She had a way of having the artist’s back at the same time as asking difficult questions about how to cite the work and how SummerWorks could support their work.
2. Curation: You have to make the tough decisions. With over 250 submissions to SummerWorks Laura had a lot of reading to do. She was intimately aware of all of the submissions and would ask me to read some of the plays that she wanted my opinion on. One of the best questions she asked me was: “What questions would you ask of this play to move you to say either yes or no?” The questions I would ask of the play might then be used as a springboard for a conversation with an artist about their work. Curating a festival like SummerWorks means making hard decisions every day and also speaking to artists about when the timing is right for a project. Sometimes it’s a piece you want to program but the company’s idea is very ambitious and they simply need more time to fundraise so that they don’t lose money on their venture. I appreciated hearing Laura talk an artist out of this year`s Festival for a more glorious next year—one that is true to the artist’s vision. Even though she loved and wanted to program the project, the producing company needed more time and resources to realize their vision. To me, that was a wonderful realization—this year’s applicants might be next year's shows. In curation you are in it for the long game—not the short game. It is about creating relationships and trust with artists and knowing that you can support their work in a healthy way for everyone—especially the artist.
3. Transparency as a Leader: There was so much care and openness in SummerWorks’ process. Laura let artists know where she was at in the selection process through email and when to expect to hear from her. This seems like a simple idea but as an artist myself, it meant the world to know where SummerWorks was in their process. It meant the world to be in the loop.
I was inspired every day during this mentorship. Laura took such care with each submission and as an artist I was heartened to witness her love of projects and her love of the artists. I wish this mentorship wasn’t over and I wish that I could continue to work with SummerWorks through to their Festival this year but I also have a festival to run so I hope that this is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning about Curation and Artistic Producing. A huge thank you to Laura Nanni; she is so encouraging and I am lucky to have her as a friend. Thank you Theatre Ontario and the OAC for giving me this opportunity. I am eternally grateful and hope one day to be able to return the favour to another emerging festival curator.
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.