Thursday, 16 November 2017

A Fruitful and Festivity-Filled Fall for Ontario Summer Theatre

by Rachel Kennedy, Professional Theatre and Education Manager

As you have probably noticed, the bright, beautiful days of summer have come and passed for 2017.  It’s true that our clocks have changed, our fall jackets are starting to feel worn in again, and some people have even been shovelling snow—but that doesn’t mean that the excitement has stopped for Ontario Summer Theatre! It has been a busy month for OST members, as we tied up their summer seasons with an AGM and welcomed new talent into the room for our 2017 General Auditions—so grab a hot cup of cocoa and let us fill you in on what we’ve been up to!

A bench at the Blyth Festival
On October 19-20th, ten of our member companies got together for our AGM in sunny Blyth, Ontario. As if the scenic drive out to the Blyth Festival Theatre wasn’t enough, Artistic Director Gil Garratt was there waiting with a full two-day schedule of activities for everyone. Day one was focused on professional development and best practices. We welcomed Deidre Walton of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatre (PACT) in the morning for a 4-hour ALL-IN session: a highly collaborative program focused on increasing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) throughout Canada’s theatre sector. After a quick lunch we were back at it with a tour of the Blyth Festival’s newly renovated facilities and a roundtable discussion about audience development, strategic planning, and the ever-changing world of social media. For dinner, Gil told the group that he had a table reserved over at the Blyth Inn (affectionately nicknamed “The Boot” by locals) for their wing night. 

The Boot
I don’t know if you have been to Blyth before, but if you are familiar with small-town Ontario you may be asking why we needed a reservation for a Thursday night. If you are familiar with The Blyth Inn’s wing night, however, you wouldn’t even be asking. As Gil, Rachael and John explained to us, wing night is when the locals come out to hit The Boot in full force. We had a fabulous time rubbing elbows with so many members of the Blyth community and it is safe to say that Wing Night definitely lived up to its reputation. 

After dinner (and a mandatory Wet Nap bath) we headed off to the brand new Cowbell Brewery for a play reading by Sophia Fabiilli, sponsored by Playwrights Guild of Canada’s PlayConnect program. The large, picturesque brewery and restaurant is located just 900m from the Blyth Festival Theatre and makes for the perfect after-dinner walk to stretch your legs. When we arrived, we were shown to a private room reserved for our event, and were treated to an incredible show of talent from Sophia, who played every character in a reading of her farce Liars at a Funeral. After hearing most of the first act, our guests were filled with questions and excitement about the rest of the play. We were hooked. Sophia was kind enough to stick around and answer everyone’s questions, and even joined us in tasting some of the local flavours (the Absent Landlord Country Kolsch was a personal favourite).

Sophia Fabiilli
“I am still smiling from the experience,” said Sophia. “As an early career playwright, the opportunity to read my work for a room of Artistic Directors does not come up every day. One of my biggest takeaways is a simple one: AD's and their staff truly love theatre. We communicate so much over email that it’s easy to forget that the people running theatres are generally really, really excited about what they do—and when you get them in a room together that passion is palpable. So, if you're a playwright hesitating to submit your play... Or an actor second-guessing yourself before an audition... Remember the people on the other end have devoted their lives to this, just like you have. Don't let fear hide your passion!”

The second day of our festivities was focused on the AGM itself. Each theatre came with their reports and we discussed themes that were present in various seasons, as well as a clear focus on the growing importance of professional development and networking. After a great discussion, and our annual nominations for the Executive Committee, the meeting was adjourned and our group slowly dissipated, taking off in various directions for a beautiful autumn drive home. 

Members of Ontario Summer Theatre
Back at the Theatre Ontario office, the activity picked right back up as we continued preparing for the OST General Auditions to be held on November 6th and 7th at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto. The generals are usually held every two years and are open for any OST members who wish to participate. This year we had eight member companies join us in inviting submissions from actors who wished to be seen. Once again hundreds of great resumes were sent out to various companies, and out of everyone’s top picks, a short list of 76 actors was chosen and scheduled. By November 1st we had our final schedule and the actors had just under one week left to finish their audition pieces. 

I was only able to attend for the last hour of Monday’s schedule, but the excitement in the air when I reached Tarragon’s studio space was palpable. I had the joy of seeing a few familiar faces as performers filed in and out of the waiting room, and I was excited to hear that our group of AD’s had also made time to see at least ten “crashers” that day as well! The atmosphere was supportive and the panel of professionals waiting inside was always filled with smiling faces, ready to soak up new talent. I wasn’t able to make it back to see everyone off at the end of the second day, but I so look forward to hearing more stories from the general auditions, and learning what new connections were made. 

So what’s next for the OST? We’ve certainly got a few tricks up our sleeves for the 2018 summer season, but for now our energy is focused on celebrating each of the current and upcoming season announcements. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our Theatre Map and find out which OST company is near you—it’s never too early to start dreaming of warmer days!

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