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Shen Development Series at Soulpepper

By Janine Marley, Oct., 11, 2017

I had the pleasure of being selected to attend the Shen Development Series: Office Hours, a conference at the Soulpepper Theatre Company’s facilities in Toronto. The Shen Leadership Fund supports the development of Asian-Canadian arts leaders, and provides funding for the new creative initiatives by artists of the Asian Diaspora.

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.

Participants came from very varied 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, and a founding member of Director’s Lab North, spoke about workshops for new plays and how to make them as useful as possible.

Having worked on a brand new production this summer, her tips on how to integrate workshops into the creative process were very instructive.

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 of 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.

Derrick presented “Kim’s Convenience” and “Come From Away” as examples of plays and playwrights who get picked up at smaller venues like Fringe. 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, who has produced on Broadway and is also currently an instructor in the theatre program at Ryerson University, infused her talk with several enthralling stories about her life in the theatre and film industries. 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.

It was an engaging and informative talk which I certainly took to heart.

Finally we met Richard Lee an award-winning actor, fight director, sound designer and theatre producer.

Being one of the few people who hadn’t learned fight choreography before, this was an awesome opportunity to learn a new skill.

We learned a basic fight slap, and then we got to expand it by making a story out of it and giving it some intention. Being untrained as I am, it was exciting to learn 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!

Janine Marley, kingsvilleJanine Marley
Janine Marley is an actor, director, and reviewer from Kingsville. Her lifelong passion for theatre and its studies took her through her Masters Degree in English Literature and taken her on many exciting theatrical adventures. When she’s not making theatre, she’s watching it and can be found in the audience at the Stratford Festival any given weekend during the summer.
Follow Janine on Twitter: @thetheatregirl

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