Thursday, 12 February 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.  This month we check in with three of the projects: two that are starting, and one that has finished.

Sarah Kitz is training in Directing with Amiel Gladstone at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto

The end of January is in sight. I’ve cast a spring production of Antony & Cleopatra in Winnipeg and next week I begin work as assistant director on Daniel MacIvor’s new play CAKE & DIRT at Tarragon Theatre. Amiel Gladstone is directing and mentoring me in all things new-play-direction with a focus on dramaturgy and design. This mentorship comes at a fortuitous time. As I advance my career and clarify my practice it becomes increasingly evident to me what matters: new plays. Working with Amiel and Daniel, two of this country’s best at new play making, cannot be overvalued.

Though my formal training is in acting, I have spent the last couple years focusing on directing. This has evolved from an ongoing conversation with myself and others that goes something like this:
What it is about theatre that’s indispensable? Why make it? Make it how? About what? Why this story? Why these voices? Why here? Why now? Why why why.

I am interested in urgency. I am interested in theatre that is electric and dangerously alive. Theatre that courts ambiguity, that revels in complexity and challenges assumptions. Current voices. Forward ideas. I believe it is our responsibility as artists to respond to the world. And since we can respond to the world at the pace of the world, we can and must be voices that move the conversation forward. Government and social movements are slow. Art is quick. We must lead.

With this in mind, I am focussed on smashing and revisioning classics that have something to say to us NOW, and I am interested in New Plays. This is us now. Who are we? What do we think? What do we want? What is this conglomerate of peoples we call Canada? Can we really see ourselves? And what do we see when we look at the world?

Amiel directs (and creates) predominantly new work. From Amiel I hope to gather directorial process as I watch him in action, leading the room with a seasoned cast and the emerging play from one of our most prolific playwrights. As part of this mentorship he and I will discuss not only what is happening in the room, but how to frame a sustainable directing career in Canada.

What I see in Amiel’s work is elegant and playful; spare, intelligent and evocative. He doesn’t weigh the production down, he opens a clear space for it. I believe we are well matched aesthetically and watching him move through in his intuitive way will be illuminating. I am looking forward to observing him organise and orchestrate the rehearsals, negotiate his way through, and solve the challenges particular to this production. Today we were discussing questions of style and design and the way they interact with the dramaturgy of the play.

I have never had a mentor as a director and I feel fortunate to have access to Amiel at this critical time in my career. I know this experience will feed my professional knowledge, artistic curiosity and working connections in ways I can’t yet apprehend.

Though so much happens leading up to day one, we are also about to begin at the beginning.

Any new play is a mystery to be solved by building a labyrinth to house it.

Here’s to the mystery, and putting the walls in the right place,

Emma Mackenzie Hillier is training in Dramaturgy with Bob White at the Stratford Festival

Emma Mackenzie Hillier and Bob White
I spent a week with Bob White in January up in snowy Stratford learning the basics of his role in the company. This marks the very beginning of my internship, the first week of twelve, and it was a thrilling start.

I’ve worked with many independent theatres over the first six years of my career but have rarely had the opportunity to peek behind the scenes of a larger repertory company. What a different world it is. A dramaturg’s role in a company varies depending on the needs of the company; sometimes it entails writing copy for marketing purposes, occasionally it requires writing blurbs for the education department, it really runs the gamut. The dream for many dramaturges, or at least for myself, would be to work in a company that would allow me the freedom to focus solely on play development, analysis, workshops, research and seeking out emerging voices. Bob does just that.

Throughout my first week Bob brought me up to speed on the many different aspects of his job: the amount of play reading he has to do, the analysis of said reading, discussions with playwrights, searching for emerging playwrights to invite to Stratford’s Playwright’s Retreat every fall, and his general day-to-day activities. I’ve had two dramaturgical internships now (a season with Iris Turcott at Factory Theatre and a year with Brian Quirt at Nightswimming Theatre thanks to the support of the George Cedric Metcalf Family Foundation). I’ve been blessed by the support I received and it this first week of my internship was instrumental in demonstrating to me how much this has paid off. Bob and I found an easy rhythm and vocabulary with which to discuss the five plays I read during that week, all works that had been commissioned by Stratford. This week also came with an important realization for me.

On Friday morning I looked at Bob and said, “Maybe this is silly of me to say, but I think I finally get this,” to which he nodded. No question. Dramaturgy is a difficult and tricky field to break into, nearly anyone can call themselves a dramaturg but few are technically trained. Much of dramaturgy is learnt in practice, but I feel that this also bypasses some of the necessary fundamentals of the practice: learning story structure, understanding what makes for good rhythm and pace in dialogue and plot, and finding the balance in conversation with a playwright of when to lead the conversation and when to keep your thoughts quiet… it’s so much more powerful for a playwright to find a realization on their own than to have you press it on them. I’ve spent the last three and a half years slowly but surely pursuing this kind of training. During Nightswimming Theatre’s 13/14 season I was aware of my development as a dramaturg but still wasn’t sure that I had a proper handle on how to offer assistance. This first week with Bob was a fantastic moment of realization and makes me even more excited to continue my development in the field as I spend the rest of the 2015 season with Bob in workshops, rehearsals, many more hours of analysis and research, and at the Playwright’s Retreat in the fall.

Peter Pasyk trained in Artistic Direction with Chris Abraham at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto

Having only just finished my Artistic Director Internship with Chris Abraham at Crow’s Theatre it is difficult to assess the full impact of the experience. I suspect I will continue to learn from the experience for months or years to come. I can however offer my impressions.

Over the months of working with Chris we developed a relationship of trust and a common vocabulary that made for a productive and creative partnership. We would discuss the direction of his production of The Seagull; together we would dramaturg draft of plays that Crow’s has in development; we would collaborate on the artistic direction of marketing and outreach materials; and we would assess the merits of prospective future projects for the company.

During my residency I also gained access to Crow’s operating grants so I could understand how to prepare my own. I learned how to approach co-production agreements by working with several co-presenting companies that are working with Crow’s. I was also a member of the selection committee to assess Crow’s Theatre Creators Reserve Grants. This was an invaluable exercise in familiarizing myself with the quality and diversity of new work being created in Ontario right now. It also challenged me to scrutinize many worthy projects for highest potential for future development.

I came into this residency with the primary purpose of understanding how a theatre company grows and expands, and what the role of the Artistic Director is in such a transition. Crow’s Theatre is in the middle of a major expansion and this means capital campaign fundraising, building a wider network of audience and community, and programming larger scale seasons of work. As the Artistic Director Intern I was able to maintain a “bird’s-eye view” of all of these simultaneous activities and gain a practical understanding of how the operation is managed by the Artistic Director. By witnessing the activities of Crow’s I now have a concrete vision of a company to model my own theatre company after. Though Crow’s has a 20-year lead on the growth of surface/underground theatre, having a clear vision for the future motivates company decision even today.

From this training opportunity I will now be moving onto a directing internship at the Shaw Festival. My aim is to integrate my multiple apprenticeship experiences by comparing how a mid-sized independent theatre focused on contemporary work differs in organization from a large-scale classical rep company.

Thank you Theatre Ontario for your invaluable support of my career development.

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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