Thursday, 25 January 2018

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Howard J. Davis

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


Howard J. Davis will train in directing and designing with Peter Hinton, Beth Kates, Michael Giafrancesco, and Michael Hart at The Grand Theatre in London

(December 17, 2017) I am ready to begin a very exciting venture under the support of the Theatre Ontario Professional Theatre Training Program to train in direction and design under a powerful team steered by Peter Hinton (direction) with Beth Kates (lighting and video design), Michael Gianfrancesco (costume and set design) and Michael Hart (Stage management) on the new Canadian work about Mabel Gardiner Hubbard, the wife of Alexander Graham Bell. The show is called Silence and is written by Trina Davies premiering at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario in January 2018.

To date all my professional theatrical experiences has been self-initiated and I have learnt on the job. This training program feels like the opportune moment to take a back seat and observing masters in their craft. Almost like a revisit to theatre school this is a natural progression to building my practice and allowing me to be schooled in the creative side of theatre which I feel is naturally where I see my career leading while also continuing as a performer in theatre and film. Adaptation has been a word I firmly hold to in my development as an emerging artist and opportunities like this cannot be done without the generous support of programs like this.

Photo by Scott McKowen
The artists I have the luck of working with on this show have beautiful aesthetics and a commitment to elevating theatrical narratives through their craft. It is my intention to be able to direct a designer but also know how a designer caters to a directors artistic needs in my future endeavours. 

There are technical skills I am hoping to gain through the utilization of film in theatrical productions. Observing the collaboration between Beth Kates and Michael Gianfrancesco is also key in how video and lighting can complement with set and costume design as well as learning QLab and the implementation of film.

My job will be to help in the preparation of the rehearsal to ensure a clear, concise and productive process, to provide necessary information for table work and be an aid in presenting the premiere of this new Canadian work. Language is a key part in this narrative and working with deaf artists is something I will be observing acutely. How a director navigates the bilingual nature of a process like this is paramount, as well as in navigating this short turnaround of rehearsal without a hindrance to detail and precision. I have no doubt of Peter's abilities to do this given his discipline, inclusivity and sensitivity to subjects and attention to details.

As an actor, to date, I have professionally played two characters who have disabilities. The first was at Ryerson Theatre School where I played Tiresias in Moira Buffini’s Welcome to Thebes. The second was professional in 2015 when I played a blind lover in the Canadian play Bombay Black. The irony of both of these characters was that although they could not literally see, figuratively they had more world view and capacity of sight than most around them. 

As actors we rely so much on the visceral and sensory experience and these theatrical journeys were an awakening in my understanding and sensitivity to those communities that I was able to explore. Communities that work so hard to make it through our world that is, sadly, inaccessible for most to navigate.

A world with no hearing is an alien experience to me and as an artist and musician I cannot imagine a life without sound. Ironically the majority of my job on Silence is to watch and listen, something antithetical to the subject of deafness that the play explores. It is important to have great sensitivity toward projects that deal with subjects that I am unfamiliar with and being introduced to the deaf community is something I am looking forward to. Also as a creator of theatre patience and observation is key in the process.

Work like this allows me to have practical hands-on experience but also to observe seniors artists at work objectively, and how they interact in their professional creative relationships while working through roadblocks and artistic struggles and achieving the victories when it is successful.

As a multi-disciplinary artist, learning and elevating my artistry in team-building is a daily ritual of mine particularly on this show in order to learn how theatrical elements are built not in isolation but in partnership with each other. Watching and learning how designers navigate dialogue with a creative director—from the realization to the execution of a new Canadian story—is invaluable for me as someone who wants to both direct and design. 

The biggest takeaway this opportunity allows for is the expansion of my understanding of disabilities and enhance my sensory skills used and involved in the creative process in order to maximize my creative kinesphere.

Mabel Hubbard Bell and Alexander Graham Bell
Photo courtesy NGS archives
As I look into the world that Trina explores in the play I am struck by how Alexander Graham Bell’s and his contemporaries’ innovations around communication during the 19th century radically changed the modern world we live in today. If you drive the 2-hour drive it takes to witness the natural phenomenon of Niagara Falls, you can imagine yourself in a world that Mabel Bell inhabited before it was encircled by the commercial capitalist world of iHOP, Starbucks and casinos. Mabel Bell saw the world through curious eyes and wonder and was unfortunately labelled as someone disabled which Alexander tried to hide from the world.

Perhaps it is time that we don't look at invisible disabilities as disabilities at all, but as an opportunity to explore the world in a different way. To not take for granted what you have is crucial. Being rendered deaf could open our eyes and other senses to more opportunities lost to the naked eye. Posing a loss as a positive could perhaps save us all.

We cannot understand the condition of others until we immerse ourselves in their lived experience. Those who no longer hear have not lost their hearing but have gained their deafness.

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2018.


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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