Director’s Lab North was one of those bizarrely beautiful experiences that you don’t see coming and don’t even know that you need, until you’re right smack in the middle of it, exhausted from all the honest self-discoveries and exhilarating professional exploration. I remember taking a moment on the last day of the week-long directing intensive at Tarragon Theatre to discover I had truly re-calibrated how I see myself as a theatre artist, re-discovered some of the artistic values I forgot were vital to my practice, and re-imagined a new, bold future for myself as a regional artist living in Canada.
Pat the Dog Theatre Creations sent me to Director’s Lab North as part of a project called Regional Women Lead, which was created as a grass-roots solution to gender inequities for women from regional centres working in Canadian theatre. To provide a little context, I live and work as a theatre artist outside Toronto, which to the theatre community may seem like a difficult, or maybe even outrageous decision to make. See, I grew up in Goderich, Ontario, and consider myself extremely fortunate to have gone to school, trained, lived, and worked in theatre in Toronto for 10 years after high school, but I made the seemingly bold choice to continue pursuing my career in the arts outside the major urban centre that is Toronto. A few years ago, my partner and I moved to Cambridge, Ontario, and probably to the surprise of many of my friends and family, my career in theatre has continued to flourish, not dwindle. My love for storytelling strengthened, not diminished, and I am fortunate to see a bright future full of incredible opportunities ahead. I am a big believer that stories from and about regional areas are just as authentically Canadian and certainly as important as those from inside the boarders of the GTA. I personally connect to stories by and about rural people and places, so I have dedicated myself to this pursuit as an academic and practitioner with my whole heart. That’s why I jumped at the chance to work with Pat the Dog Theatre Creations on the Regional Women Lead project and was honoured with the opportunity to represent regional women at Director’s Lab North this past June.
Director’s Lab asks a group of 30 theatre directors, hand-picked by the lab’s co-ordinators Evan Tsitsias and Esther Jun for their diverse backgrounds and training, to clear their schedule from 10am to 10pm for 7 days in June. Based out of the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, we spent our days getting to know the other talented participants of the lab and learning from highly skilled theatre practitioners such as Stafford Arima, Richard Rose, and Jill Carter by participating in workshops and listening to interviews. Plus, we attended select Luminato Festival performances created by some of Canada’s most celebrated artists such as Ronnie Burkett, Nicole Brooks, and Erin Brubacher, who were available to us to discuss their practice in detail the very next day! Yup, it’s really quite amazing if you’re looking for an opportunity to develop your skills and grow, not only as a theatre director, but as any kind of artist working in theatre.
This combination of practical skill building, more academic discussions, watching completed work, and dissecting the creative process, was an intense experience to say the least! But this jam-packed week demanded substantial growth in a short amount of time, pushed me to identify where my creative blind spots are or where I should reach out for further training and help. What was probably even more surprising was that this experience also pushed me to recognize my strengths as a regional theatre creator, and celebrate them more openly. Like many artists, I am often in my head, bogged down by that annoying self-doubt and crisis of confidence, but there’s no time to overthink at Director’s Lab! You must act, be present, and honour the truth that comes out in the moment in the rehearsal room. There’s nothing like needing to react to get you out of your head! I found myself unapologetically declaring what I can bring to the table and what I value most as a theatre artist.