Tuesday, 9 December 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.

Pam Patel is training in Artistic Direction with Majdi Bou-Matar at MT Space (Kitchener)

Wow! Where has the time gone? Summer and fall zipped by so quickly and it feels like only yesterday that I started my apprenticeship at MT Space. Flying from one project to another while keeping an eye on the “big picture” has kept things very exciting and busy. It feels pretty special knowing that I was a part of so much that happened over the past few months.

In August and September, I had the pleasure of coordinating and being a part of the touring team of MT Space’s latest production, Body 13. We traveled to the Prismatic Festival in Halifax, performed at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre and at University of Guelph, and ended our tour in Manitowaning on Manitoulin Island with Debajehmujig. Connecting with all of these groups was so valuable in learning what amazing opportunities can come out of collaborating with colleagues and fellow theatre companies. I look forward to implementing some of these ideas in the second half of my apprenticeship.

The team from The Last 15 Seconds
Majdi Bou-Matar and Pam Patel are in the centre.
I also experienced the ups and downs of coordinating a tour of our piece, The Last 15 Seconds, based on the events of a suicide attack that occurred in Jordan in 2005. We had the amazing opportunity to take the piece to Algeria this month, and so I worked with the team at MT Space to bring together the cast, coordinate a rehearsal schedule, make travel arrangements and look into visas. In the end, we collectively made the difficult decision of cancelling the tour due to recent events increasing the risk of travel to Algeria. Although it was a challenging journey, the experience taught me how to negotiate the needs of a theatre company with those of individuals, and most importantly, the true meaning of being a collective and a team. We listened to each other’s concerns with respect and support, and offered our honest opinions and ideas openly. I can only hope that every collective I work with in the future is like this.

Of course, the list goes on with what I’ve been up to at MT Space, including finalizing the second half of our season, accepting and filing submissions for our theatre festival IMPACT 15, and coordinating auditions for our upcoming production, Paradise. I am so grateful for how much space my mentor, Majdi Bou-Matar, has given me in offering my input and even taking on several tasks. I have experienced so much of what I expected, but I have also experienced a lot that I took for granted when I would watch Majdi work from afar. To be an artistic director like Majdi, one has to learn to be a certain type of person; a person that can make decisions on a whim and know when they need to delegate their work to others, and a person that can constantly monitor the crucial details without being too much of a perfectionist. To be an artistic director like Majdi is to be a parent to one’s theatre company and nurture it like your child, and so I hope to continue this apprenticeship with this in mind.

Thank you again, Theatre Ontario, for making this apprenticeship happen. Words cannot express my gratitude for this opportunity!

Madeleine Donohue trained in Producing and General Management with Monica Esteves and Eric Goldstein at Crow’s Theatre (Toronto)

I recently completed my training at Crow's Theatre in Toronto, working with Managing Director Monica Esteves and General Manager Eric Goldstein. My overall goals for this process were to enhance my existing skill set as a producer, which would aid me with my own self-produced work in the future, and also to gain a better understanding of the producer's role within a bigger organization, and within the theatre community at large. I'm happy to report that both of these goals were met, and that the experience was overwhelmingly gratifying on several levels.

Monica and Eric were incredibly supportive, patient, and welcoming throughout my stay with them, inviting me to participate in many different aspects of the company's operations. I shadowed Eric at rehearsals, fundraising events, readings and company meetings, assisting him with day-to-day company management tasks, which - I now know - vary widely and require considerable interpersonal skills, as well as managerial competence. One of my primary tasks was the preparation of artist contracts for various readings, workshops and productions, and I served as the company liaison for both PACT and CAEA. My experience contracting artists had thus far been limited to indie theatre work, so this was quite a different process than what I was used to, and I was pleased to learn a few "tricks of the trade" that both simplified and accelerated the process. I also coordinated scheduling, travel and accommodation arrangements for out-of-town artists, and again was lucky to benefit from Eric's experience in this area, finding new ways to work efficiently within a tight timeframe (and budget!)

I was invited to participate in marketing and fundraising meetings, in particular for the company's upcoming production of The Seagull, and I oversaw several aspects of the marketing campaign, while also maintaining the marketing calendar and updating the ever-changing to-do list. This provided me with valuable insight into the logistical and creative marketing challenges inherent to a production of this scale, and into the amount of time, work and collaboration required in order to maximize the potential of any budget. I also participated in the negotiation process between Crow's and a Toronto ad agency with whom they were partnering for the first time, and it was fascinating to sit in on creative presentations with both companies, watching as divergent ideas, personalities and perspectives came together to create a campaign that ultimately met their collective needs. I am pleased to say that I am staying on with Crow's for the next eight weeks, continuing to work part time on the Seagull marketing campaign. I look forward to witnessing the fruits of our labours, on the marketing and creative fronts, and to remaining a member of such a dynamic, inspiring team.

This experience did shed some light on my own long-term interests in producing and general management, and ultimately it helped me to realize that working within a larger company such as Crow's may not be the ideal fit for me. While I am grateful for the tools that will help me to contribute within this environment, I am more eager to use those same tools in my continued self-producing work, which is a more natural fit for my personality and creative interests. That said, I am thrilled to now consider myself suited to occasional contract work with other companies; while I'm certain that I would not- at this point- want to commit to a permanent position, I do still enjoy the work, and look forward to continuing to enhance my skills through occasional supportive roles on a project by project basis.

Shane Carty trained in Directing with Douglas Beattie at Pie in the Sky Theatre (Stratford)

When Doug and I first discussed the possibility of working together in this way, I told him that my greatest interest was in learning how he shapes his style of direction depending on the actor he’s working with.  In fact, I pursued Doug as a mentor because he is uncanny in his ability to guide actors of different styles and levels of experience toward the same goal.  He also somehow manages it with grace, good humour and most importantly, an equal respect for all involved.  I think it’s easy to be a bully and I’ve seen many directors employ that tactic, rarely with any kind of good result.  In conversation after rehearsals, Doug gave me many insights into the various ways he tries to draw the work out of his artists.  Without going into too much detail, in the end, Doug’s philosophy seems to be centred around making the rehearsal process not only about delivering results; rehearsal should be rewarding and an experience as valuable as the final public performance. In fact, I think rehearsals are in some key ways more important to him than the actual end result, especially when working on a new play. 

As an actor, it has been my experience with ever-shrinking rehearsal periods that the work is often a race to opening night. Even though on this project there were only two and a half weeks of rehearsal, I learned that an effort can successfully be made to provide the actors with a sense that there is time to work, especially if, as a director, one is sensitive to that artist’s needs.  It’s a huge demand on the director, finding a different vocabulary for each actor, but in this case, it certainly yielded greater and happier results than a blanket “tyranny” approach might.

It seems obvious, but it seems the work of a director - a good one - seems mostly about patience.  Patience, preparation and a dedication to the needs of his or her collaborators.  It was tremendously valuable to have the time to spend observing and talking with a director as experienced as Doug Beattie.  Many thanks to Theatre Ontario for the support.  I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

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.

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