Tuesday, 31 March 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.

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

The world premiere of Daniel MacIvor’s CAKE and DIRT is open at Tarragon and I am beginning to reflect on my time. The lessons will distill with distance, but what I know now is this:

I am grateful Andrea Donaldson asked me into this process and paired me with Amiel Gladstone as a director. He is a thoughtful artist with a deep care for his cast and crew. I have great respect for the open tone he set in the room. He made himself available to me, shared his thinking and gave many of my notes to the actors. He was gracious and easy in rehearsal and set an ego-less space in which to accomplish the hard work of playmaking. He allowed me to be a vital part of the process and that was invaluable.

Daniel said early on, before we entered rehearsal, the play will tell us.

The specific labour of bringing a new play to life is a particular act of acute listening and focused construction. There were the drafts of the play Daniel fashioned as the playwright and there were the drafts Amiel and the actors built on top. All of these shifted, altered and rearranged as we tested their sturdiness to find the best construction for CAKE and DIRT.
The cast of CAKE and DIRT
David Storch, Maggie Huculak, Laara Sadiq,
Patrick Kwok-Choon, Maria Vacratsis, Bethany Jillard.
Photo by Jeremie Warshafsky.

We listened to the play. We moved inside the play. We talked and fought and insisted and laughed about the play. We drew the delineations of the play out like a blueprint and moved carefully along the lines. We worked at solving the non-chronological equation. We circled the play like a wild animal we weren’t sure we’d caught and secured. We went back and back and back to the playwright. We talked with Daniel. We listened to Daniel. We disagreed and hashed it out with Daniel. We collectively solved problems with Daniel.

I gained a practical understanding of the importance of the director’s vision and process, the timing of giving notes to actors, the relationship of the director and the playwright, the director and the theatre, the playwright and the theatre. This knowledge will clarify my future work. I was fortunate enough near the end of my training to converse with Richard Rose, the artistic director at Tarragon, and hear his perspectives on directing, this play, and the micro and macro responsibilities and considerations of the director. The privilege of having conversations on these subjects with Amiel, Daniel and Richard makes me feel I was in the right place at the right time. This project has had a profound and positive impact on my understanding of how to shepherd a new play, how to work with a playwright, how to lead a cast through a new work, and how to collaborate with the producing theatre.

My time on CAKE and DIRT has clarified my directorial process, the way I think about the art, the reasons to make the art, and the relationships that surround and support the art. I am off to Winnipeg soon to direct a production of Antony and Cleopatra. Though not a new work we are re-visioning it and I take these lessons with me into that project, and the ones to come.

Thank you Theatre Ontario for supporting my career and continued development as a director. This opportunity has been a deep education and a great joy.

Julia Hune-Brown is training in Artistic Directing with Ruth Howard at Jumblies Theatre (Toronto)

I am sitting at the Jumblies Theatre Ground floor studio on a busy Wednesday afternoon. Behind me are a group of students from Alpha alternative school unbundling. Soon I’ll be leading them in a drama game before they start an art activity with a few of the other Jumblies artists. On the other side of the room is a group of women from the community chatting while embroidering cloth fish to be used in the Touching Ground Festival. In the far corner, statistics are being collected for impending grant deadlines while flyers for our new workshops are being printed.  In the middle of all of this, despite those impending grant deadlines, Ruth Howard, my mentor, manages to greet a collaborating composer from Tapestry Opera, while holding a participant’s baby, and making tea for everyone. This is the scene of the flourishing vibrant community arts company that is Jumblies Theatre. 

So far, my learning experience at Jumblies has been an amazing combination of supporting experienced artist as they facilitate, and leading my own workshops. I have been able to work across the city with some of Jumblies off-shoot companies, which has given me the opportunity to see how different artists facilitate and how projects can be adapted to different communities; an invaluable learning experience in itself. 

Gestures and Stories workshop at Jumblies Theatre
Part of my role at Jumblies Ground Floor studio is shadowing Ruth as we participate in weekly meetings and workshops. Through this, I have learned about a variety of community outreach tactics that introduce and invite community the to the workshops and projects at the Ground Floor.  I have been able to apply many of these outreach tactics while promoting my own workshop, Gestures and Stories.  Gestures and Stories looks to explore personal stories told through movement. I have been coming together with community members to develop movement pieces based on their family member’s life stories. The pieces will then be performed at Jumblies Touching Ground festival at the end of March. Before starting this 6-week project, I was able to pilot this workshop model with the Arts4all players in the fall and with Jumblies oral history and arts making group in January. Having had the opportunity to work with these two very different groups provided me with valuable feedback and insight into how to adapt the workshop for different demographics.

Recently, I have also been spending time with the Community Arts Guild  (CAG) in Scarborough. The CAG are in rehearsals for the remount of their production Train Payanam, an intergeneration production based on a Tamil senior’s story of a train ride in Sri Lanka. The intergenerational cast is made up of individuals from the Scarborough community. Being part of the casting process of a community arts production for the first time was particularly interesting. Having come from a traditional theatre background, it was refreshing to be part of a casting process that aimed to be inclusive and was organized as a workshop of the different acting and production roles, rather than an audition.  The most exciting part has been seeing people who have never been part of a theatrical production be given the opportunity to try out different theatre roles and experiment together. From an 80-year-old musical performer to a 10-year-old puppeteer, the different generations coming together for this production is particularly joyful.

During our meeting this week, Ruth and I talked excitedly about plans for the Touching Ground workshops, Jumblies nationwide tour Train of Thought, and future collaborations with Jumblies. I feel very grateful to be learning from Ruth Howard whose ongoing support and guidance has allowed me to explore and grow. I am very much looking forward to the next 6 weeks of working together and to future collaborations.

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

We are midway through rehearsals for the world premiere of Hannah Moscovitch’s new play, Infinity, and it’s been a unique and challenging experience.  I've taken on the role of assistant director, under the mentorship of director Ross Manson (Artistic Director of Volcano Theatre).
What’s been most significant for me in the process has been learning alternative methods of doing character exploration with actors. Ross uses a lot techniques developed by Michael Chekov for character work. This is often used in place of, or in addition to, script work, which has proven to be very successful in developing characters. Central to the Chekov method is treating the actor’s instrument as both physical and psychological. In rehearsals, the actors have been working with a Chekov archetype exercise, which involves the group coming up with archetypes for each character. The actors then develop a gesture and word for each archetype. This sequence is then simplified and distilled into a smaller gesture and incorporated into scene and movement work within the play. 

Another interesting aspect of this process has been the influence of expert consultants. I’ve been speaking with neurosurgeon Dr. Mark Bernstein, who has been assisting us with elements of the medical world in the play. He’s been incredibly useful in helping us to get the facts of a character’s brain cancer diagnosis accurate, as well as the look of post-surgery treatment options. I’m learning how important it is to ask experts about specifics, as the saying goes “the devils in the details.” 

Next week we enter tech week, and I’m excited to transition the work from the rehearsal hall to the Tarragon Extra Space.  Using tape on a rehearsal room floor to demarcate set pieces and doors is a necessary, albeit infuriating aspect of the rehearsal process. My goal over the next week will be to witness and become familiar with the new space, and to assist the actors in adapting staging to the Extra Space stage. I’ll also be involved in the technical elements of the process (the lighting hang and focus, cueing etc), and I look forward to learning the ropes of the Extra Space.

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 1, 2015.

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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