Thursday, 29 June 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 is training in artistic direction with Gil Garratt at Blyth Festival

On Going, New Chapters: PTTP experience at the Blyth Festival

(May 29, 2017)  The last few months have zoomed past and I’m thrilled to be back at Blyth and continuing with the work plan for my PTTP grant in Artistic Direction (including writing time) with AD Gil Garratt.

Part One of my time here was incredibly enriching. I’ve had on going conversations with Gil and Senior Management about a myriad of subjects including Development, regional Tourism and Culture, Board Management, the OAC and Canada Council applications and Audience Development, to name a few. I was present in the build up to the season launch, involved in casting searches, learned about the extensive renovation of Blyth Memorial Hall and the Philips Studio, attended lunches at the Legion and the weekly Stockpot Staff lunch and continued to research and write my adaptation of the Canadian novel, Judith, (original novel by Aritha Van Herk).

Being at Blyth is brilliant for the research that I need to do for Judith. I reached out to the agriculture community and explored many of the current industry themes by meeting with female farmers. After one of these conversations I was invited to a high bio-security farrowing farm nearby, a rare opportunity. Visiting a 1300 sow farm that produces nearly 45000 piglets a year is a world away from the novel that I’m adapting (where the new pig farmer has 10 sows) however, experiencing the realities of industrial pork production was amazing. These conversations and experiences are adding immense depth to the draft of Judith I’m currently writing.

With all of these strands of exploration going on it was a big jump to immerse myself in my own directing project, Colours in the Storm, at The Grand Theatre in London. The production went extremely well and I was thrilled that Blyth Senior Management was there for the opening night!

Since receiving the PTTP, I’ve been asked to become the Artistic Director of an emerging arts festival in Summerland, BC, The Ryga Festival. So, just after the opening of Colours, I flew to Summerland, BC to meet with the board and community stakeholders. I’m thrilled that I have the chance to apply all of the skills I’m learning during the PTTP to create a ‘professionally-led, community-engaged’ festival! It will run for nearly five days over the Labour Day weekend and is inspired by Canadian playwright, George Ryga. (His play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe opened the National Arts Centre). Inspired by this spirited, pioneering playwright and author, the festival will include theatre, spoken-word, literature and music.

Blyth Memorial Hall - Opening Day!
After these adventures, I returned to Blyth in time for an exciting new chapter of history here, the grand re-opening of Blyth Memorial Hall. Gil took me on a tour and I marvelled at all the changes. This massive renovation improves the Blyth experience for both patrons and theatre makers and these updates are totally in keeping with the original spirit of the building.

The opening day about 250 people turned out for the opening ceremony. After the national anthem, flag-raising and speeches from Deb Matthews, Deputy Premier of Ontario, and representatives from the County, the Legion and others, it was wonderful to witness so many people excited about touring this wonderful building, seeing it refreshed and ready to go for the upcoming season. Congratulations to all involved in making this vision a reality.

Jacob Zimmer leading an Open Space workshop at
PACTcon 2017 in Charlottetown
(Photo courtesy of Boomer Stacey)
Yesterday I returned from another ‘new chapter’ that the PTTP has allowed me to pursue. I attended my first annual conference of PACT members (the professional association of Canadian theatres). I attended under ‘the wing’ of Blyth, as well as my incoming role as AD at the Ryga Festival. The conference was nearly five days of incredible workshops, panel sessions and late night conversations about all things theatre and beyond, all held at the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown. I’m already reflecting on this event and look forward to continuing the enriching, diverse and challenging conversations started there with arts leaders from across the country.

For the next few weeks I’ll be diving back into writing, rehearsing with Gil and continuing to expand my Artistic Directing skills while immersed at Blyth. Having started this PTTP grant time during the winter with the small yet mighty Blyth staff, I’m looking forward to the actors, stage managers and creative teams arriving to add their energy and talents to the 2017 season. I’m also looking forward to blogging about the learning curves, both anticipated and unexpected, that will emerge here. Based on my adventures so far, I’ll be bursting with updates.

Related Reading:

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 2017.

Learn 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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