Tuesday, 20 January 2015

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 Fall 2014 application round.  We check-in here with three of the projects (with two more waiting in the queue!)

Amy Lee trained in Directing with Jennifer Brewin at Theatre Columbus (Toronto)

Preparation for The Dog and the Angel at Theatre Columbus
The Dog and the Angel is closed now and I have completed my role as assistant director. In many rehearsal processes, my job would have been finished once the show opened, but that is one of the unique things about Theatre Columbus.  I learned that in outdoor winter theatre, things are never really complete. The weather is ever evolving and therefore the production is also. If Mother Nature drops a huge dump of snow, then it has to be shoveled. But maybe it has to be shoveled into a location that was once part of a playing space, or the audience’s path, because it is the least inconvenient place for it to go. Well then, things have to move and adjust.

It was extraordinary to watch the team adapt. Jennifer Brewin has the ability to make everyone working on the project fall in love with it so that they will move that mound of snow to make the show better (figuratively and sometimes literally). Her ability to assemble such an amazing team and trust them to do their jobs well is really quite beautiful.

I think the thing that amazes me about Jennifer is her trust. She is interested in exploring the depths of human behavior. She investigates using big, brainy ideas that are beautifully poetic. She trusts that the actors she has hired will get where they need to go and allows them to play and explore on their way. I admire this trust. Being a novice outside eye, I have a hard time with that sense of trust; I suppose because I don’t have the years of experience that prove that it is a wonderful possibility and really special way of working. This is an enormous takeaway for me.

One of the jobs that was assigned to me was to work with Mike, the actor playing the squirrel. The squirrel was meant to guide the audience throughout the show because the action keeps moving. I had a wonderful time working with Mike. He was open and playful and we had way more psychologically deep conversations about squirrels than I ever thought possible. Jennifer gave us time together to explore and then would check back in so that we could all make sure we were telling the same story.

Another thing that Jennifer had talked to me about was playing more of a leadership role in the staging of Scene 2. This scene had every actor in the play coming and going and was full of mini scenes within it. The exploration of it was big and gloriously collaborative. Every actor had ideas about how they could move and where they could enter from and exit to that would make it delightfully surprising. Everyone shared in the desire to explore the space and use every nook and cranny as creatively as possible. This was another beautiful thing that I learned: When you have a team of brilliant people, they will all have brilliant ideas. Then, Jennifer would take their instincts and help to shape them.

Some days were fun, some days were frustrating, some inspiring, and some just really cold, but every day was filled with lessons. I am so grateful to Jennifer and Theatre Ontario for this.

Jasmine Chen is training in Outreach with Marjorie Chan at Cahoots Theatre (Toronto)

As someone who has trained solely in performance for the last 20 years of my life, it may come as a surprise to many people that I'm now training in the field of Outreach. How did I arrive here? It's a long story - but basically, through working in the arts I discovered a passion for sharing the incredible benefits of theatre. I have received knowledge, developed increased empathy, cultivated compassion and found empowerment all from working in the arts. It became clear to me that I wanted to find a way to create more accessible artistic learning opportunities.

I have been a fan of Cahoots Theatre for many years. I've always loved their work; from paperSERIES to Sia; Madness of the Square to Sister Mary's A Dyke?!, and many more. Their work is always challenging in some way, even if it's a comedy! Cahoots has always taken risks and provided a platform for marginalized voices. What also makes them stand out is how committed they are to outreach. I knew I wanted to work with them, because I saw how their outreach programs were just as highlighted as any of their productions. They had a real connection to communities in Toronto and were taking their artistic practice out of the rehearsal hall and into community centres.

You can't talk about outreach at Cahoots without talking about Marjorie Chan. She founded the Crossing Gibraltar program at Cahoots in 2006, which has provided artistic learning opportunities for refugees, newcomer women and newcomer youth. Her passion for arts access is undeniable. When Marjorie recalls past participants from Crossing Gibraltar, her eyes light up and she can tell you that person's journey from start to finish. Outreach is personal. It touches and changes lives.

Training under Marjorie is truly a privilege. She is an attentive mentor, she understands what my strengths are and where I have room to grow. Already in preparation for training, we have outlined weekly goals and mentoring sessions where Marjorie will share her knowlege on various topics: How to program for a specific community; Building Project Budgets; Working with the Social Services Sector; etc.

The best part about the Professional Theatre Training Program, is I will have the opportunity to assist with developing and executing an outreach program from start to finish. I hope to acquire not only concrete skills like budget building and applying for grants, but also the finer social skills of community development and supporting program participants. Like I said earlier, outreach is personal – for this I'm gonna need my brain and my heart. I'll let you know what happens!

Mariel Marshall is training in Directing with Ross Manson at Volcano Theatre (Toronto)

These days, I’m thinking a lot about time. It seems to be going by faster and faster. I can barely keep up with my emails. I do my laundry late at night, in between bursts of groceries and an endless river of errands. I never seem to have clean socks. I can’t seem to see my friends or family enough, and I’m obsessed with working. Glorious, wonderful, stress inducing work. Can I really even call it work? Tonight, my list of work “to do’s” include: finishing this blog post, re-reading Hannah Moscovitch’s incredible new piece Infinity, going through physicist Lee Smolin’s work Time Reborn, watching a documentary film (for research!) and working on character research for an upcoming acting role. Being an artist, I think, is like winning a golden ticket into the world of wonderful. The problem is that there just isn’t enough time to do everything. Which, I might add, seems to be the crazy  life plan I’ve subscribed to: just say yes to everything that makes the heart go buzz. The buzz I’m referring to is that particular feeling you get when you know you are meant to do something - the project, the trip, the relationship, the idea…anything. A warm tingly feeling that courses through you. A kind of drug induced life-high. So I say yes, and hope there will be enough time to make it happen. I realize it’s a plan that might crash and burn. There will be failures along the way, but I’m also positive that it’s a plan that will have amazing successes, more than a little excitement and a lot of joy. I think Lee Smolin is right. If the future is open, we have the power to influence it – and imagination is essential in choosing how.

So, as I begin the first phase of a directing internship with Ross Manson of Volcano Theatre, I find myself reminiscing on the matter of time. On the first day of my training, I met up with Ross and the design team to start looking at set models and lighting options. Between bites of delicious scone and French press coffee (the essential ingredients to any productive theatre meeting) however, I realized that I didn’t understand the world of the play. Physics? Time? Love? Music? These aren’t exactly simple topics of discussion. And sure, I might be a classical musician, but my limited knowledge of composers and scores hardly makes me an expert. In order to assist in directing the piece, I have to first understand it. So here I am, at the start of an exciting training program, faced with the most exciting immersion into the world of science I can imagine. Quantum theory…here I come!

The production of Infinity is an elegy to time, and what is transmitted through time. It is a piece written by Hannah Moscovitch, whose work continues to delight and inspire me as a theatre maker. The piece is infused with theoretical physics, classical music, movement choreography, the seeming impossibility of love, and the idea that what time offers us is more than we realize. It has been crafted with close input from world-renowned physicist Lee Smolin, and internationally-acclaimed composer Njo Kong Kie. The result is a surprising, shocking, and funny new play about love, sex, and math. As a project that has been years in development, I am thrilled to be a part of the creative team that will help bring this imaginative new piece to life. The intricacies of directing a piece that merges these diverse creative elements is an exciting challenge for me as a theatre maker, and I look forward to employing similar techniques in my own projects and collaborations.

I’m not going to lie, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the physics. It’s juicy stuff, all this talk about time. And I like a good challenge. It makes me wonder: is it possible that a theatre production could alter or affect how we understand time? Or love? Or the future? I’m not sure what the answer is, but I definitely think it’ll be fun to try. Smolin’s views have important implications outside of the world of science. His view of time allows for human agency, and shows us that our social, political, economic and environmental decisions really do affect our future.  Conventional physics tend towards the more deterministic, but Smolin believes that the real nature of time allows for humans to exert control over climate change, our economic system and our technology. 

For me, one of the most exciting parts of directing is getting to immerse myself in worlds outside my field of knowledge. Science, for instance, opens up all of these exciting possibilities I have not explored as an artist. How can art and science complement each other? How can music, math and movement interplay? What do theoretical physics and love have in common? How can imagination be used to change perspectives?  I’m looking forward to working with Ross over the next months, to figure out how to blend these multidisciplinary elements into a cohesive and imaginative whole. Not only has Ross assembled a master team of artists, but his directing approach is incredibly detailed and collaborative. It’s going to be a fun and whirlwind ride.

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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