Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Tijiki Morris

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

Tijiki Morris trained in directing with Erin Brubacher at Aga Khan in Toronto


Part 1: June 27, 2018

We are about to begin our two week workshop for Noor. Prior to this process I was not acquainted with the director, Erin Brubacher. In February I was able to be with part of the team for a few rehearsal and read the stage directions for a reading at Rhubarb. Leading up to the beginning of the process, Erin and I had a number of talks over the past few months and I helped with the casting of one of the actors.

I am looking forward to being immersed into the kind of process and environment she will cultivate in the room as well as understand the kind of tools and framework she instills as a director throughout this process. As someone keen on developing my own directing skills and interest in pursuing this type of role, I look forward to gaining more insight into how different people organize their processes in relation to the specific project at hand.

In searching for one of the actors for this play, we discussed the importance about finding a queer POC actor to play the character of Aubrey. Casting queer actors for queer roles is something that I feel strongly about. Although I think that it is possible for straight/cis actors to play queer characters, there are still so few roles available for queer people, and queers actors are able to bring an authenticity to a role that reflects the experience that is out of the straight dominant world.

One of my primary motivations for joining this project was the cultural and linguistic content of this play. The piece itself revolves around a storyline that features a queer relationship, a South Asian family, and the use of Urdu. This is the second play this year that I will be involved with where I am able to support and use my background and knowledge of Urdu (particularly in service to projects that encompass a queer South Asian lens.)

In theatre school, a teacher once said to me that “you can either walk through the door, or be a door that other people can walk through.” I have thought about this sentiment repeatedly over time and am invested in how I can apply that for the type of artist and person I personally want to emanate. I’m interested in how I can support and help others prosper. As part of the directing team, I want to continue to learn and seek new ways of being a facilitator that creates space for all artists to grow and share their own ideas to the collaborative development of the project. 

Another aspect of the process that I am very curious about discovering is working with collaborators from various disciplines, each coming with different styles of artistic practices. Being in a room of such diverse ideas and people will be interesting to witness and be part of. I am curious how it will affect the process of our way of working together and the development of the piece.

Part 2: October 8, 2018

We are currently in rehearsals for Noor at the Aga Khan Museum. It is quite an experience to be making a show in a yurt in the inner courtyard of the museum. More so, much of the entire rehearsal process is open to the public for museum visitors to come and go and observe us as we work.

This type of process has created an environment that is incredibly beautiful and magical to witness, while also being frustrating to deal with. Being an assistant director involves taking on multiple roles. One of those tasks has been helping museum and public visitors in and out of the space. This can sometimes be quite distracting as I might be heavily invested in taking notes or watching a scene and then be immediately interrupted by a group of visitors entering the yurt and needing assistance. However, I am also grateful and amazed by what the open rehearsals have done to impact the process. Having the opportunity to interact and observe the audience/public very closely has allowed me (as well as the other collaborators) to gain a variety of insights as to how people are responding to the piece as it is being made. The open rehearsals also became a type of performance/ performances where the act of watching us perform became a mode of engaging with the work. I am curious to learn how this will impact the development of the piece and the way in which we all work together as the process continues.

Part 3: November 5, 2018

The yurt was a magical place to be. For 21 days, we were in a secluded space inside of the museum. It was remarkable to witness such a unique way of making a piece together where actual forms of diversity were being implemented in so many ways. Making a piece of theatre in a museum space, collaborating with artists from different disciplines, and the diverse audiences that interacted with the piece meant that the piece was opened up to a larger number of people that it would have been had it been in a theatre space in downtown Toronto. It also created an accountability to the audience that sometimes is taken for granted in traditional theatre spaces.

Creating with a team of collaborators from different practices also forced us to rethink and reshape how we would work together. It involved taking our own commonly held ideas of how things ought to be done because of the way we are accustomed to doing so, and reorienting them such that they intersected with each other and thus created an entirely new way of working together. It helped me recognize how vital it is to approach work with an awareness of how context, space, and people shape how projects are made and developed.

I am grateful for the space I was given in this process to make it what I wanted it to be. Erin and I met up to debrief about the project the other day. Neither of us knew how it would be. She has never had an assistant director previously and although I have worked as an assistant director, each experience has been vastly different. Erin was very receptive to sharing her process and choices whether on the ride to rehearsal, or over lunch. It was a gift to be able to share my thoughts and ideas in the room and to feel that the actors trusted me as well.

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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