Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Norah Paton

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

Norah Paton trained in production management with Kevin Waghorn at Arts Court in Ottawa

(June 7, 2017) After three months at Arts Court, my time came to an end in mid-May. The final push of my mentorship there was TACTICS, a theatre series which this year took the form of a three-week-long festival, featuring a wide variety of performances. Two main stage shows required a full hang and focus each; one of the shows found the audience sitting in the area usually used for the stage, using scaffolding as set and with audience on three sides. In addition to the two main performances, we worked with a full band for their album release, a DJ, two parties and a multi-course meal served in the kitchen-less Studio.

For TACTICS, I was tasked with running the workshop series, including four readings, one of which used live accompaniment, one work-in-progress contemporary dance and spoken word piece and one theatrical book club meeting. Each of these performances had very little rehearsal time in the space to set up any technical requirements. Working with this wide variety of groups and needs over the course of two weeks gave me a crash course of what I had learned and how capable I am. It also gave me a chance to try some simple design; performers typically did not come in with a plan. Groups instead explained what they would be doing and I made something up. From there, we worked to make any necessary adjustments.

Over the course of the last three weeks of my mentorship, I was given more and more responsibility. Working with clients to whom I was their point of contact gave me a sense of ownership over my work. It also confirmed for me that I can do this. I know that may sound a little simple—but I cannot stress enough the value of this confidence. 

At the beginning of this mentorship I had a couple metrics of success. The first was to acquire skills to find gainful employment afterwards, in a field which is more closely related to my work as an artist. The day after my mentorship was completed I was working in a theatre in the same building, doing the hang and focus for a dance show. Since then, I’ve worked in a couple of other theatres and at some concerts and live events. With the Canada 150 celebrations continuing throughout the summer, I am optimistic about my abilities to continue finding work. 

The other metric of success I had set was about acquiring new skills and knowledge to benefit my own art making. While this is a little more difficult to measure, I am pretty confident this has also been a success. This summer I’m working with an animator on a piece which may require some projection mapping. Prior to this mentorship, I wouldn’t have had any idea where to start with this kind of technology and probably would have avoided it altogether. 

When I first applied to the PTTP program, I was very unsure that my application would be approved. The location of my mentorship was not as prestigious as many of the other previous recipients I saw while perusing the Theatre Ontario blogs. I am very glad that I did persist, however, because the nature of what I learned would not have been able to be accommodated so well by a larger theatre. Working at a theatre like Arts Court also gave me more useful skills, in that I can use them immediately. Certainly there would have been advantages to learning in another theatre here like the NAC or GCTC, but I would not have been able to work as hands on as I did. Further, at the end of my mentorship I would have been left with skills relating to instruments and technology I no longer had access to. Even the connections I was able to make at Arts Court will continue to serve me. I’m not sure I can say the same about working at another space.

I am very grateful for the time spent at Arts Court and the patience of Kevin and over the last four months. I am thankful to Theatre Ontario for giving me this opportunity. I would strongly encourage anyone considering applying to the PTTP program to do so, as even the exercise of finding an appropriate mentor is a useful one in determining what you want to learn and do.

Related Reading:

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 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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