Thursday, 1 November 2018

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Brendan McMurtry-Howlett

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

Brendan McMurtry-Howlett training in artistic direction with Jillian Keiley at the National Arts Centre of Canada in Ottawa

(October 24, 2018) Two weeks down, two weeks to go. As short as that time seems on paper, it feels as if I’ve been here for a month already with how much happens each day. I have loved every minute of it. Every day brings a new surprise and new challenge. My co-intern, Kate Smith and I have learned to stay agile as new problems and tasks are presented to us. Watching the whole team at the NAC work together has been a real lesson in fast thinking, hard work, and how to keep a sense of humour and lightness through it all.

In the first few days of the internship it was a bit overwhelming trying to grasp how the overall organization of the NAC works and how the English Theatre fits into it. It operates more like a small department in a large university than a standard theatre company. On top of trying to understand the inner workings of the NAC we were trying to keep pace with the amount of meetings, emails, and “Daily Dilemmas” that Jill deals with each day. It’s become clear how important good systems and organizational tools are to being able to process huge amounts of information as an artistic director.

Within a few days we acclimatized to the exhilarating pace with the help of the incredibly generous staff at the NAC, all of whom have willingly shared their time with us in the midst of the flurry of activity. We have sat in on all sorts of fascinating meetings, have assisted the constantly shifting process of programming next season (far more complicated than I could have anticipated), drafted plans for a few new initiatives English Theatre will be taking on, and have still had time for some deeper philosophical conversations on the nature of leadership. Everyday I have pages of notes, ranging from profound wisdom on leadership to little practical tidbits to stay on top of things. Here are a few of those tidbits I’ve received from Jill and the rest of the English Theatre staff:

Touch Paper Once – If you can, deal with a letter or an email when you first lay hands on it, rather than laying it to the side to be dealt with latter. It will take more time and brain energy to think about it again, pick it back up, and deal with it, than it is to just deal with it immediately.

Programming Priorities – Keep an explicit list of priorities beside you when programming your season. There will be ample pressure from other departments to program based on the bottom line and keeping this list will help you stay true to your programming priorities.

Working TOWARDS Something – This is the idea that in this kind of leadership role, it is unrealistic to believe that you will be able to accomplish something in any kind of finalized way. You are always working TOWARDS something, as the ground constantly shifts under your feet. It is acknowledging that the goal is not to arrive, but to keep striving and improving with your eyes on the horizon.

Meditation – When you hit the point in the day when you feel tired, or overwhelmed by stress and tasks, a quick 8-minute meditation will do wonders for you.

Take Walking Meetings – Whenever it is feasible, take your meeting on a walk. It changes scenery and gets the blood moving.

Related Reading:

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is March 1, 2019.

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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