Thursday, 30 April 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.

Alexis Scott trained in Artistic Producing with David Whiteley at Plosive Productions (Ottawa)

Working with my mentor David Whiteley at The Gladstone Theatre has given me insight and experiences I would have never had the chance to be a part of. Being behind the scenes of the operation at a theatre which supports many of the independent artists in Ottawa has also opened my eyes and changed my perspective on what it takes to produce art in this city, and has redefined for me what I want to bring into my practise as a young producer – and what I can do to engage my audience as my company continues to grow.

First off, I've had some hands-on experience as assistant production manager for Bankrupt! at The Gladstone. While my mentor was away on an acting contract, I had to step in and (through his guidance, and the guidance of others) take over as production manager by myself and really learn what it is like. There is no book or manual or set of instructions that can lead you to the “right way”, just experience and learning to ask the right questions. What are the right questions? How do you begin? These are the questions I began asking myself – but you just do. I also had the opportunity to act as production assistant for Venus in Fur as well. I sat in on rehearsals, production meetings and watched my mentor tackle multi-tasking between being an actor in the production as well as producer – a skill I one day would like to master myself.

David Whiteley and Alexis Scott in
Vacant House Theatre's Frankie and
Johnny in the Clair de Lune
We also worked together extensively on a varying levels of grant requests. From the City of Ottawa grants to Canada Council for the Arts. I have a little bit of grant experience, but it was really insightful to help someone who has been writing grant requests for years.

At the culmination of my mentorship, I want to put a lot of what I've learned into practise. I've thrown myself right into producing Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune for my company Vacant House Theatre. David is still helping me, but now the tables have turned and I've hired him as an actor this time. It is terrifying in the best kind of way because I've never produced a show all on my own. But I have a chance to create the kind of experience that I want Ottawa audiences to see, find my own niche and engage the community in new ways. Once you start working on one of these things, you quickly discover you can’t do everything yourself – who would've thought? So you have to discover ways to find like-minded people and then find a way to hire them. We’re about to start our rehearsals and everything is coming together – I’m really, really for this next big step.

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

Infinity opened three weeks ago, it’s got everybody buzzing, and it’s selling out. Now that the long push to opening is in the past, and my caffeine addiction is leveling, I've had a bit of time to reflect on the experience.
Members of the company of Infinity in rehearsal

In so many ways, Infinity was a challenging and rewarding process for me as a theatre creator. Firstly, I've learned that to make great work, you have to surround yourself with people who will push you creatively. It’s a cliché sentiment, I know, but one that’s important to be reminded of. The kind of people I’m talking about are the ones that are so passionate and dedicated to their art form they eat, sleep and breathe it.  This was the case with Infinity, and in so many ways, it was a pleasure to learn from the entire team of artists. Director Ross Manson certainly knows how to put incredible collaborators and talents together for a project and I think this is the reason for so much of Infinity’s success.

Working with Ross Manson, I also learned the importance of detail. Everything is thought of, every detail considered. But within that, finding room to allow the actors and creative team freedom to play and grow.  Also, learning to let go of elements that may seem precious, but don’t serve the overall arch of the piece. Knowing when to let go is a really difficult thing to do as a director, and I think I’m slowly learning how to see the bigger picture within the smaller moments of a play.

All in all, I feel this training has opened up my eyes to the kinds of collaborations I’d like to integrate into my own work. I loved having the chance to work in rehearsals with the playwright, movement choreographer and music composer. I’d like to continue to experiment with the merging of forms and cross-collaborations across disciplines.

I hope that Infinity will continue to have a life and reach more audiences. I especially look forward to the piece going on tour. Here’s to a fantastic project, and a great learning experience. Thanks to Theatre Ontario for making it happen and allowing me the time to train and develop my skills as a theatre maker.

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

In one of Toronto’s newest public housing building, 200 audience members pack into the Community Room that overlooks Canoe Park. Just past the park—past the wall of CityPlace condos and the QEW— you can see a sliver of the slowly melting lake. This ever-evolving area of the city was the inspiration for three new musical compositions, the performance of which is why this audience has gathered here.

This musical showcase is the result of a collaboration between Tapestry New Opera and Jumblies Theatre. Jumblies commissioned three composers to write new musical compositions inspired by and written with community members. The result was three eclectic, exciting, and original compositions—including one that sees two young condo dwellers turning into fish and returning to the lake!

The performance itself brought together professional opera singers, Jumblies’ community choirs, and children from our various programs. A group of young performers from the building that I have been working with were given the special task of dancing with paper fish puppets at the end of one of the pieces.  As a result, a lot of my focus during the performance went to trying to get these first-time performers to resist the urge to jump on stage early with their puppets. However the young performers held out and triumphantly wiggled their fish puppets just at the right moment. After the show, one of these children proudly told me, “I think our part was the best. How else would the audience know the opera lady was going to live under the lake? It would not have worked without us.” I could not agree with her more!

For me, the power of community arts is seeing the cross-section of people from different ages, backgrounds, and walks of life come together to create art and exchange ideas. Over the past twelve weeks, I have learned a tremendous amount from my mentor, and Canadian community arts pioneer, Ruth Howard.  For me, this training really solidified why I want to do this work and reminded me of how impactful it can be. It also provided me with a realistic look at the logistical administrative pressure of doing this work. I was reminded daily of how complicated, exciting and challenging it is to do this work and the importance of finding the fine balance between the importance of process and inclusivity and honouring one’s artistic vision.
Gestures and Stories workshops at Jumblies Theatre

Another fulfilling learning experience I have had has been leading my own workshop series entitled Gestures and Stories. For six weeks, under the guidance of Ruth Howard and dancer artist Lilia Leon, a group of participants from the CityPlace area have been coming together to map life stories—walking, dancing, and embodying the paths of ancestors. We have been playing with echoing back these stories by having the group shadow specific moments from one another’s stories and seeing how some of these stories can come together to intersect on stage.  As we moved through the process, we decided to work with our Grandmothers stories from around the world and weaved them together on stage. We presented our outcome last week for the launch of the Touching Ground Festival to a room full of peers and friends.  For me, as a facilitator, this group of all-women participants was such a joy to work with. Their openness and willingness to jump into the process and explore was so moving and inspiring.

The past three months have been such a rich experience comprised of a whirlwind of activities.  I feel very appreciative to have been given the opportunity to lead my own workshops and support other artists from a variety of disciplines in their work with the community. I have also learned a lot by taking part in the essential organizational and administrative side of the job; including community outreach, grant writing, and tea making! As I finish up my training period with Ruth Howard, I am pleased to have been asked to continue working with Jumblies—supporting the Ground Floor and other offshoot organizations. I have also been invited to take part in Train of Thought; Jumblies’ cross Canadian tour that will be bringing together 40 different community arts organizations across the country.  I will be one of the young artists funded by the InSpirit Foundation, traveling part of the Ontario leg of the tour. I am so excited to be given the opportunity to continuing working with Ruth and to meet and learn from other senior community artist across the country. This training period feels like it has just started and will be an on going process, which is both daunting and tremendously exciting.

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