Thursday, 23 February 2017

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Heather Davies

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Heather Davies will train in artistic direction with Gil Garratt at Blyth Festival

Life is a Wiggly Path

(January 12, 2017)  I’m writing this blog while sitting in the rehearsal room, looking out at Highway 4 in Blyth, Ontario, which is also known as Queen Street. It’s part of the six-block stretch that forms the main street here. Over the coming months I’m going to be spending a lot of time at the Blyth Festival and I’m absolutely delighted.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Theatre Ontario and the Ontario Arts Council for this grant. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to enrich two of my artist passions through being mentored by Gil Garratt at the Blyth Festival. And thank you Gil for guiding my artistic and leadership growth during this time, while continuing to lead the company during an extraordinary period of growth and development for the festival.

The focus for my Professional Theatre Training Program is to concentrate on the specific skills of running a company like Blyth, while also experiencing the dramaturgical process practised here by writing a draft of one of my stage adaptations, Judith (original novel by Aritha Van Herk). 

Because the Blyth Festival is a cradle for Canadian theatre writing of the highest caliber, the quality of training I am being afforded through this PTTP mentorship is providing an extraordinary opportunity for profound enrichment of both my creative and arts leadership skills as I grow and progress toward my desired aim of becoming an arts leader in Canadian Theatre. 

I’m going to be spending an average of three days a week at Blyth between now and June. We’ll pause here when I go into rehearsals for the production of Colours in the Storm that I’m directing at The Grand in London, ON in late March/April. I’ll then return to Blyth for a residency leading up to the season opening. With this expanse of time here I’ll experience the season preparation as well as the intensity of moving into simultaneous rehearsals for the season’s new plays. I’ll also be here for the beginning of the season and complete a new draft of Judith.

Yesterday was the first full day of this mentorship and Gil and I dove into a fantastic conversation. We caught up about my recent creative work and Gil illuminated the research, community engagement and dramaturgical nuances of each of the plays (three world premieres) in preproduction for Blyth’s 2017 season. We also talked about the on-going themes of running the festival and the particulars of the building renovation that the Blyth Festival is currently undergoing. Overall, the next few months will be dynamic and I am eager to follow all the projects, campaigns and renovations as they move forward.

And now, a little about the wiggly path that lead me here.

I began attending the Blyth Festival when I moved to London, ON in Sept 2009. Prior to that I was based in the London, UK for nearly twenty years working there as an actor and then as a director. I had wonderful experiences working in the West End, for nearly three years at the Royal Shakespeare Company (as a resident director) and directing in regional theatres in the UK and Germany. After many rich adventures I returned to Canada to be closer to my family.

The approach to theatre creation and quality of work I have experienced at Blyth, and particularly the celebration of local stories, resonates with me as it reflects one of my core values: the absolute belief that culture and great stories can be found everywhere. Since 2009 I have had an on-going passion for Blyth’s work. I also have a desire to understand the new play development process and the artistic leadership practices that support and foster the company. I am curious to know more about the theatre’s relationship with the local and regional communities. These resonating, compelling interests are the reason I asked Gil about applying for the Theatre Ontario PTTP for a training residency here. 

The Blyth Festival’s mandate to “produce professional repertory theatre that reflects the culture and concerns of the people of southwestern Ontario and beyond” is one that is close to my heart. Since 2009 I have been based in London, Owen Sound and Stratford and am inspired and enriched by the creativity and stories I have encountered. Having previously lived in intensely urban environments for many years, I aspire to foster and celebrate creativity by leading a theatre company in a rural or small town environment. 

My long term aim is to contribute to Canadian culture by running a regional theatre company with rich community relationships which are embedded in, and valued by, the community it serves. I am passionate about the creation of new work that reflects local stories that can also speak to audiences across Canada. As a regional artist I wholeheartedly believe in creating relevant, high-quality theatre programming for people to experience locally: forging creative opportunities outside of urban centres. I also believe in the lasting value of engaging communities through theatre experiences that resonate both specifically and universally for local audiences. I find it particularly thrilling and rewarding when all facets of artists and community come together and share a proprietary ownership in the finished creation and performance. This is where the Blyth Festival excels. This is a large part of why I am incredibly excited about this PTTP residency at Blyth. 

Another reason that I’m excited about being here at this time is Gil Garratt. I met Gil while working at The Grand and have followed his career since that time. I value all the skills and wisdom that he brings to the roles of AD and theatre creator and look forward his mentorship, while also diving into more lively, wide-ranging, rigorous conversations about leadership, creativity, community engagement and more!

I am thrilled that the wiggly path of life is allowing me, through the support afforded by this Theatre Ontario PTTP grant, to be here, looking out at Queen St. while sitting in this rehearsal room. Soon it will be filled with new scripts, actors, stage managers, designers, directors… the excitement is just beginning.

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2017.

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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