I had the pleasure of being selected to attend the Shen Development Series: Office Hours conference at Soulpepper Theatre Company in Toronto. The Shen Leadership Fund is meant to “support the development of Asian-Canadian arts leaders, and provide funding for the new creative initiatives by artists of the Asian Diaspora…The Shen Leadership Fund also supports creative new initiatives identified by Soulpepper as emerging priorities and provides the necessary seed funding to help lift them off the ground, such as the Tiger Bamboo Festival in 2016, in celebration of Asian Heritage Month.” *
Led by the current Shen Fellow Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, the conference was an engaging meeting of minds to discuss theatre administration and all of the issues and victories that come from our line of work. One thing that truly amazed me was the varied collection of people which were assembled that day. The participants all came from very different backgrounds and were involved in just as many different facets of the theatre industry. It was so refreshing to hear that other people in the industry, even if they have a great deal more experience than I do, are encountering some of the same issues as I do when it comes to putting on theatre. However, to help us navigate this crazy business we call Show, Courtney assembled some of Toronto’s finest theatre practitioners to share their knowledge, stories, and answers to our questions.
Esther Jun, the associate artistic director at Tarragon Theatre, spoke about workshops, their value, and how to make them as useful as possible. Having worked on a brand new work this summer, I was very interested in hearing more about the workshopping process and how I might be able to use it in the future. She also had great insight and advice about getting involved in theatre companies and how to get yourself noticed as a theatre practitioner. One of my favourite parts about her talk was hearing about how Esther was involved in the original cast of Kim’s Convenience. I absolutely love the TV show and have a copy of the play, so to have met someone who knows Ins Choi personally and was able to work with him on his first iteration of this inspiring play was amazing.
Derrick Chua, one of Toronto’s most notable producers, has seen more theatre this summer than most people see in a few years. His experience is absolutely invaluable in regards to knowing what professional producers are looking for when picking up new shows. Derrick emphasized and reinforced one of the main pieces of advice of the day which was to keep doing work. He actually used Kim’s Convenience and Come From Away as examples of plays and authors who get picked up at smaller venues like Fringe and whose work is able to take off and become really popular. It’s because they continued to produce work that they were able to get seen by the right people. Derrick’s network and knowledge base were clearly vast, and it was fascinating hearing him speak.
Tania Senewiratne, the General Manager at Soulpepper Theatre Company, infused her talk with several enthralling stories about her live in the theatre and film industries. Tania ensured to answer several of the questions we had posed to her and infused her answers with personal anecdotes. It was an engaging and informative talk which I know I certainly took to heart. One of her main points which I will always carry with me is about knowing your limits. I tend to push myself quite thin or work with people I’m not 100% comfortable with, and I learned from her talk that saying no and knowing where my limits are is a good thing.
Finally we met Richard Lee who is a fight choreographer in Toronto. Being one of the few people who hadn’t learned fight choreography before, this was an awesome experience to learn a new skill. We learned a really simple fight slap, and then we got to expand it to making a story out of it and giving it some intention. Being untrained as I am, it was fascinating to learn how to do even the most basic of moves. But I had underestimated how difficult it would be to do just a simple slap. It gives you a whole new perspective and appreciation for huge fight scenes you see on stage.
I was thrilled to have taken part in a day which was informative, reassuring, inspiring, and thought provoking. As I mentioned before, sometimes it’s just nice to hear that the struggles you’re facing aren’t just your own. I truly feel like I learned a great deal about my craft, and am also a little better equipped now to go out and get where I want to go in my career. I cannot thank the folks at Soulpepper and the Shen Fellowship enough for this opportunity!
*This quote was taken from the Soulpepper website.