Thursday, 28 February 2019

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 trained in artistic direction with Jillian Keiley at the National Arts Centre of Canada in Ottawa

(January 30, 2019)

My time at the NAC has come to an end and I am feeling very grateful for the opportunity that I was granted over the past month. The experience was rich in artistic conversations, practical skill development, and fostering wonderful relationships. In such a short time, I and my co-intern, Kate Smith, were able to accomplish a lot, in large part because of the generosity of the entire NAC English Theatre team. With Jill, we discussed the issues that theatre communities across the country are facing—how to increase audiences, raise the quality and profile of work in every region, while ensuring that artists are supported in a real way. Kate and I took on research projects to help assess programming options for next season, and developed a few larger projects including a pilot episode for a new podcast series that will be produced by NAC English Theatre in the near future. We also helped develop communications around some upcoming programs.

Some of the big lessons during my time at the NAC were:
  • Having a written set of values is an important piece of leadership in your organization. It helps communicate the core ideals to all staff and enables everyone to take ownership of the organization’s work. It also plays a crucial role in keeping yourself on track within the ever-changing theatre industry.
  • A sense of humour is key to building a cohesive team and ensuring people are quickly welcomed into the work. It is an important part of self-care in an industry that doesn’t afford much time for self-care.
  • Strong systems and organizational tools will allow you to stay on top of the huge amounts of information you must process as an AD, and help you to treat collaborators and artists with respect.

My time in the bowels of the NAC gave me the opportunity to develop the practical tools of artistic leadership and team management. It helped me develop a more rigorous approach to developing a vision for a theatre company. I also gained a deeper understanding of the value of transparent and early communication in all of one’s professional interactions to build trust, respect, and to ensure that everyone is able to do their best work.

It was clear that Jill doesn’t take her role as a mentor lightly. She’s offered ongoing support and advice. In fact, she threatened to come after me if I don’t seek her advice on anything to do with artistic direction. Everyone at the NAC extended themselves with such generosity that I would feel comfortable reaching out to anyone in that building for advice and expertise. The other important relationship to arise from this experience was with my co-intern, Kate Smith. We have arranged to have monthly meetings to catch up on each other’s lives and to be a mini support network for all things relating to our careers. This will be a great way to maintain the learnings we both received while at the NAC English Theatre.

This experience confirmed, without a doubt, that I love this kind of work. I love the visioning, the team building, the leadership work, and the constant opportunity (and responsibility) to learn in this kind of position. I have the passion and temperament for artistic leadership position and I know that when the time is right, I’m ready to take on another leadership role in a large organization.

At the end of this month, I am filled with deep gratitude for the people that made this possible, everyone at the NAC, friends and family in Ottawa, my co-intern, and especially Theatre Ontario who provided the funding to make this opportunity a reality. Thank you!

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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