Thursday, 27 November 2014

Bridging the Gap at Theatre Ontario

by Sarah Siddiqui (with additional content provided by Rebecca Ballarin and Madeline Smith), Theatre Ontario Youth Advisory Committee

On Saturday November 15, the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) hosted Bridging the Gap—a multi-format Think Tank event that was a culmination of a year of work.

The idea for this event came after our Provincial Youth Forum, back in May. At our “Face to Face” component of the day (which took place during Theatre Ontario’s AGM), we hosted a multi-generational discussion in which the older, established members of Theatre Ontario got a chance to connect with the youth attendees of our workshops during the day. Many different generations got a chance to share what they wanted the future of theatre in Ontario to look like.  Both the older and younger generations felt that sharing each others experiences was a refreshing experience, and also expressed interest in more conversations like that. This past September, one of our satellite committee members, Jillian Bjelan, who is based in Huron County, hosted her own Satellite Face to Face event.

In hosting Bridging the Gap, we wanted to help youth feel supported, members of the older generation feel appreciated, and to try and flesh out the topic of the day as fully as we could.  We were lucky to have had the Annex Theatre generously donated to us by George Randolph, as well as a wonderful set of facilitators, who will be named throughout this piece.  The event was emceed by YAC member, Madeline Smith.

Bridging the Gap: Icebreaker
The day started out with an energizing, and ice-breaking activity, facilitated by Elizabeth Stuart-Morris. Elizabeth is a young, Toronto-based artist, and affiliate of the YAC. The activity involved us taking a random card from a standard playing deck. Our card determined our “status” (ace being the lowest and King being the highest.) We weren’t allowed to look at our own card; rather, we had to place it on our foreheads for everyone else to see. We interacted with each other for a few minutes, and had to determine what our status was based on how others interacted with us. Not only did the activity get us moving and talking to each other, but it also got us to reflect on some of the larger themes that would later get covered in detail—namely, systemic barriers that prevent different generations and other differing groups from working together.

Bridging the Gap: Forum Theatre
The first major component of the day was a Forum Theatre piece, facilitated by Simon Malgobat, Artistic Director of Mixed Company Theatre, with scenes performed by actors Steve Bruines, Thea Fitz-James, Omar Hady, Sharon Ramirez, Luke Reece, and Janice Yang. This part of the day consisted of four short scenes that demonstrated conflict based on aspects of the larger theme of the day. After these scenes were shown once, they were repeated one at a time, and the audience had the opportunity to take the place of one of the performers in order to resolve the conflict shown. In addition to this, each scene and conflict was open for discussion by the whole group. The Forum Theatre component sparked a lot of discussion – so much so that we began to lose track of time in discussing the third scene, so we had just enough time to cram in the fourth! From what I could tell, everyone in the room seemed to really appreciate the intersectionality of performance, discussion, and taking ownership over the scenes. From the feedback that we received following the event, it seemed to be a favourite among the participants.

Bridging the Gap: Keynote Address
by Philip Akin
Next, we had our keynote address delivered by Philip Akin, founding member and current Artistic Director of Obsidian Theatre. Philip spoke to what he thought about the overarching theme of the day (namely, “bridging the intergenerational gap.”) Rather than offering us any easy solutions, he addressed many of the facets involved, and broke down the issue. He asked us what kind of bridge we wanted to build, and how much construction had to take place between different generations – does each generation have to build an equal amount and meet each other in the middle, or does one have to build more than the other? Many participants also cited Philip’s talk as a highlight of the day.

After breaking for lunch, the group was split into two groups to participate in our two workshops of the day. Our workshop on “Education, Training, and Experience” was facilitated by Kerry Boileau (program coordinator, SKETCH) and William Webster (resident artist, Soulpepper), and “Access (and Lack of Access) to Resources” was facilitated by Natasha Mytnowych (General Manager, Artscape Youngplace) and Brian Postalian (Communications Manager, Paprika Festival). While I found myself floating between both workshops as an observer, two of my colleagues sat in on both and can attest to them in greater detail. Rebecca Ballarin, who participated in “Access (and Lack of Access) to Resources noted that: “Brian and Natasha talked about…how they got where they are today. In their stories they talked a lot about the importance of making and maintaining connections with people, and also talked a lot about just diving into positions and roles in order to learn as much as you can.”

Bridging the Gap: Workshops
In regards to the “Education, training, and experience” workshop, Madeline Smith notes: “Kerry and Bill delivered and excellent workshop. Our first activity with them ‘broke the ice’ amongst our group of theatre practitioners, facilitators, studiers, and lovers, while the second offered a chance to simply introduce ourselves and be present with the group. My primary take-away was the simultaneous ease and difficulty of making a connection with anyone. On one hand, I felt well-acquainted with everyone in the group by the end of session, as though I could easily approach them and seek collaboration, assistance or conversation, even though we had merely shared our names with each other. Kerry seamlessly created a safe space for everyone, and assisted us in taking joy (rather than cringing) at the opportunity to be silly. That said, it most certainly was not as simple as saying "hi, my name is -" to establish this connection of future possibilities.  It took a great deal of bravery and integrity to be as present as Bill encouraged and assisted us to be, both with one another when introducing ourselves and when supporting one another during others introductions.”

Bridging the Gap: Panel Discussion
Our final component of the day was a panel discussion, chaired by YAC member Ray Jacildo. Our panellists were: Nina Lee Aquino (co-Artistic Director, Factory Theatre), Kathleen Gallagher (Professor at OISE), Luke Reece (Artistic Director, Little Black Afro), Chy Ryan Spain (Youth Program Coordinator, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre), Rosamund Small (playwright-in-residence, Outside the March), and Wendell Williams (performer and researcher, Mammalian Diving Reflex). In facilitating the panel, we wanted to get a sense of how each panellist got to where they are now, what kinds of barriers they faced (systemic or specific), and what they can pledge to do to bridge the gap (whatever they interpret that to mean). A recurring sentiment throughout the panel discussion was that some of the panellists experienced a lack of supportive space or community, and later sought out to create their own spaces and communities for like-minded artists. On the other hand, some of the other panellists recalled being reached out to from other artists. In hearing both of these perspectives, I couldn’t help but think back to Philip Akin’s keynote address earlier in the day – namely, when he asked which generation had to build more of the “bridge” we kept referring to. In hearing the personal stories of the panellists, it became very clear to me that there was no straight answer.
Closing remarks for the day were given by George Randolph, who relayed his own personal story. Like many of the panellists, he had to actively seek out his own performance training, and carve his own unique path that ultimately led to his career as a professional dancer, and much later on, the creation of the Randolph Academy and its triple threat program.

Bridging the Gap: Theatre Ontario's Youth Advisory Committee
Throughout the day, many personal stories were shared, and a lot of dynamic conversations were developed around our theme of bridging the intergenerational gap.  Our biggest critique thus far is that the day was fairly unfocused on the central theme. Indeed, we were a little ambitious in the kind of coverage we wanted to achieve, and we welcome that critique. But, we’re happy that we were able to achieve our goal of trying to start dialogue on a very big topic. It’s a topic that we hope the next YAC can continue to foster productive dialogue on.

Catch up on tweets from Theatre Ontario's Bridging the Gap on Storify

Apply to join Theatre Ontario's Youth Advisory Committee

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