Tuesday, 11 November 2014

PTTP Profiles: Exploring Projects Funded by the Professional Theatre Training Program

Eight individuals were chosen as recipients of Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program grants during our Spring 2014 application round.  This month we check-in with three of the projects.

Shane Carty is training in Directing with Douglas Beattie at Pie in the Sky Theatre (Stratford).  He began his training in late September.

I have begun working with my mentor, Douglas Beattie.  We already have a good rapport and as we start to really focus on the script, the conversations have moved into the specifics of how the action of the play works and how that will come off the page. I’ve been reading the script—a new play—and taking notes, writing questions in the margins and finishing the research I’ll be bringing to the rehearsal room.  Rehearsals begin at the start of next week, which promises to be an exciting new phase in the training. 

My experience is primarily as an actor, so one area I’m excited to start working in will be assisting Doug as he directs actors who are relatively new to the business.  Doug has told me that he hopes I will be able to provide an actor’s perspective as we delve deeper into the script.  This seems to be a good entry into understanding the challenges of directing—interpreting it from both the actor’s perspective and the director’s.  I think it’s important to Doug that the actors have someone they can talk to other than him.  This is an exciting challenge, because it will require me to articulate what I know.

I’ve been directed by Doug in the past and his style is highly intellectual.  He is also extremely sensitive to the needs of the actors and that they are varied and unique.  It will be interesting to discuss with him the ways he is able to coax performances out of people with out a heavy hand or too much prescriptive criticism.  From personal experience as an actor, the kind of approach Doug uses is one that I prefer and respect.  I think his style is one that takes years to develop and I’m excited to start taking on that kind of development.  Hopefully this mentorship will continue on long after this project concludes. 

And now, on to rehearsal!

Tim Welham is training in Actor Training and Coaching with Ian Watson at Ryerson University and the National Theatre School (Toronto and Montreal).  We caught up with him mid-way through his training in early October.

As the half-way point in my mentorship approaches, we’re just finishing off the first pass of Hamlet with the Ryerson acting students. Casting was announced a few weeks ago, and work on the play has already begun. We have also moved into full rehearsal mode, and out of the formal studio teaching sessions. In rehearsal, we are concentrating on telling the Action Story for each thought, in order to discover what the character is doing within the story they are telling. This is a fundamental exercise for the students; catapulting them into action, and enabling them to apply all the tools learned in the previous weeks of fundamentals.

Already, I’m noticing a massive transformation in the students’ work: the ones that fully engage in practical, playable action, while telling a simple story, are making the most progress. They are discovering that when dealing with Shakespeare, the only clear way into the text is through action—not by pushing an emotional state-of-being. Since the language is heightened, the story must be incredibly specific, and the action incredibly clear, in order for the audience to follow what’s happening in the scene. The prevailing habit is to predetermine a character’s emotional level, and then apply that emotion to the scene in large brush-strokes. Usually, the result is a very emotional character, but an incomprehensible story. It’s a difficult lesson to learn, and teach, but the students embracing the technique are benefiting the most.

The mentorship has evolved on multiple fronts as well. I’m more involved in rehearsals than anticipated, since Ian and I are working as a directing unit, and I’m having much more contact with the production students who are also learning their roles in a professional rehearsal setting. I did not anticipate having to teach the production students as well, but it’s a natural progression when working in a theatre school. Through the production students, I’m discovering how best to act as an intermediary between the on- and off-stage workings: advocating for the most acting support, while ensuring the technical elements run smoothly without compromising on design and vision. This extends to coaching the actors in how to interact with the technical elements in a way that augments their acting.

As we move into the second half of the Ryerson project, I anticipate adopting more of a coaching role in the production. Once the students become more comfortable with their actions and the story of the text, the focus will switch to the acting, and questions of HOW: How do I tell my story effectively? How do I talk to the audience? How do I communicate with my scene partner? How do I express this image? How do I coin that metaphor? … Really, all versions of “How do I act better?” My hope is to have some answers!

Rachel Penny is training in Producing with Aislinn Rose (Toronto).  She reached the 2/3 point of her training in late October.

My mentorship with Aislinn was structured into thirds, and we’re now officially at the 2/3 point. Our first two projects, With Individual Desire (Lady Parts Theatre/New Groundswell Festival) and The Art of Building a Bunker (Quiptake/Factory Theatre) are either finished or approaching a their conclusion, and we are actively on the hunt for a third project. It’s difficult to reflect specifically on what I’ve learned so far, since I began the mentorship feeling like I knew nothing about producing, and now I know at least something. Essentially the sum total of my producing knowledge has developed since July. That’s an exaggeration of course, but it’s tough to break down what I’ve learned, because in fact it’s a whole new skill set and a whole new perspective that has grown in my brain.

Because of Aislinn’s new job as General Manager of the Theatre Centre, our mentorship has had to evolve and be a bit more flexible. I have had to take on more responsibility earlier on, rather than observing Aislinn’s work on some tasks. For example, I took on the organization of the fundraiser cocktail party for With Individual Desire, wrote drafts of letters and program notes, coordinated invite lists for Bunker opening, among other tasks. This has involved a bit more diving into the deep-end than I had initially imagined, but it has provided some exciting challenges and I think enriched my learning.

Sitting in on meetings, working on projects, and getting feedback on my work have all been important parts of my mentorship, but more helpful still have been the moments where Aislinn and I sit down and I get her honest impressions of what really happened in a particular meeting, what she perceives as the core issue when we have a problem. Having a mentor who is comfortable being honest with me has been one of the most valuable aspects of this partnership, and has been a benefit I wouldn’t have gotten just setting out on my own and guiding my own learning.

Some of the most crucial learning I’ve done so far has been centred around issues and challenges that were not part of the plan for our mentorship. The biggest example is the response to the decision by Factory and their season partners not to invite the media to opening nights. Since Bunker was the first show of the season, a lot of the conversation swirled around our show specifically. Being a part of the discussions about the response to the controversy forced me to do a lot of thinking about how I engage critically with shows that I see as an audience member, and also about the role that audience engagement and criticism can take beyond traditional forms. How do I want people to respond to a show I am working on? How can I solicit those responses? What constitutes a substantive conversation about a work? How do we move these discussions beyond “I loved it/I hated it”? These are all questions I look forward to exploring more on future projects.

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 2, 2015.

Read 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.


  1. Thanks for sharing this update.It's great to follow these exciting opportunities as they unfold.

    1. You're welcome! It's been great to share these stories and hopefully inspire others in their professional development.