Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)
Aaron Jan trained in dramaturgy with Marjorie Chan at Cahoots Theatre in Toronto
(October 6, 2018)
This is my final blog post.
I don't know how much I learned about dramaturgy with Marjorie Chan.
Okay, that's a lie. I take that back. I learned a lot. I learned how to be a better mentor, a better facilitator, someone who aids the playwright rather than forcing their own agenda or writing the play for them.
What I'm trying to say is that during my 12-month period at Cahoots Theatre Company, I went through a mentorship on empathy first.
I'm not saying I'm a better person now. Far from it. I still swear, I still hold grudges, I still pollute and eat red meat. But I think, just a little bit, I understand that this theatre thing we do isn't about me. It's about the stories we tell, about the other people in the room and how to get those stories on a stage or help the playwright realize what they're writing.
I remember back in June, I was leading a workshop for a playwright. After a first meeting with her, I excitedly told Marjorie about my plans to aid the playwright. Marjorie took this all in and kept asking me “What does she want?”
I look back to my first blog where I talked about negotiation in dramaturgy. I realize now that maybe it's not about that. Our job as dramaturgs is to get the play to the stage. Cahoots deals with marginalized voices, many of whom will not find productions elsewhere in the city for their work. It's not just about getting people of colour on stage and behind stories, but to tell stories that may not be told anywhere else, or perspectives that are at risk of erasure. To me, this is kind of an antidote for what is a lot of tokenistic programming. Rather than just putting people of colour onstage, what is it about the perspective of the artists that deserves programming? What is it that they are saying that is—for the most part—not spoken about enough?
To do so, we need to tackle the work with as much empathy as possible—with respect for the playwright's way of working, but also for the play itself. We need to be cautious as to when we're pushing the playwright too hard, but also aware of when we need to push the playwright if the work has become stagnant. It's not a negotiation per say, but a question as to how we serve the play that's written. And how do we support the telling of that story in the best way? Which battles are worth fighting and which battles do we let go of? Which serve the play more and which are questions of personal taste?
Marjorie speaks a lot about Rigor when she's choosing a work to be invested in. It's not enough to be an “important artist”, but does that artist have rigor? Does that artist work on their craft along with their ideologies? Is this artist embedded in their community? Does this artist have enough craft to fully execute the production and roll with the punches? Can they pull this off?
In our first meeting, Marjorie mentioned that a dramaturg is an advocate of the play that could be. I think that's something I'll hold close to my practice for the rest of my career as a curator and dramaturg. What is the potential of the play that's written and what is it trying to be? What genre is it and what does the play need in this moment? How can I best aid a play and am I the best person for it?
In terms of curation, something I'm currently pondering is what makes a play “ready” for production. For some playwrights, it's that the production period is actually the jump-start for the writing. It's knowing that they have an immediacy to create more work. For others, it's a final draft before the offer for production is given. I think if anything, it's dependent on playwright and a bit of faith.
I think I'm leaving this mentorship with more questions than answers, but more importantly I think I have a renewed outlook on what a dramaturg is. I'm super thankful for Cahoots, Marjorie and Theatre Ontario for this opportunity to learn about new play development and curation and excited about how to apply it to my own work as I continue to assist playwrights and curators.
Lastly, if there's anyone actually reading this blog, I think I'm going to be more chill. I think that's my grand cosmic takeaway. Architecture, whether real or imagined is based on the spaces that leaders make. Rigor, passion, generosity and open-ness in performance and all of these things are bound by a container created by the person running the room. Being stressed makes people more stressed. Being closed makes people closed. Locking doors makes people locked. Being late makes people late. Being vague makes people vague. I need to be conscious of what container I want to make as a theatre artist.
I want to lead now with empathy first as well as rigor, so no one feels limited by me in a room. The worst thing I can do in workshop or rehearsal is create an environment where people feel tense and not safe. I want to be a theatremaker that people can trust not only for his work, but how he treats other people. How he cares for the communities he works with, so he's not just a theatre mercenary looking for a quick buck.
I think if anything, that's more important than, or perhaps a part of what it means to have success.
The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2019.
Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.