Get to Know Us! MCT’s International Theatre and Facilitation Intern

Lambert has been shadowing the MCT staff for a few weeks, and participating in many aspects of our InterGEN project, including our recent video shoot and a series of workshops for seniors and youth.

We hope that at the end of his stay in Canada, Lambert will be fully prepared to take what he’s learned at MCT, combine it with his years of experience in theatre, and begin to create the positive change he desires.

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m a 31-year-old actor from France. I was born in a little city in the middle of France called Boussac. I originally was studying law, but then decided to go to Paris to pursue theatre. I was especially interested in physical theatre, and learned about divised theatre in school (also called collaborative creation: a form of theatre where the script originates from improvisation by a group of people, rather than a playwright). I was a founding member of two theatre companies, and helped to create a number of productions.
I’ve been feeling distanced from the real world, so this year I decided to train as a dramatic arts facilitator at Sorbonne. Theatre, for me, is a medium through which I can speak out about the ills of a society. Theatre can’t change society, but it can open people’s minds and alter their perspective. I don’t practice theatre to change the world, but to be in touch with people.

2. How has your experience with MCT been so far?

I’ve been getting to know MCT for a little while now, and I feel really comfortable with this team. Everyone is really friendly, and I’ve felt welcomed since my first day. For the moment, I am observing how MCT works, and learning about the organization’s methodologies.
In MCT’s InteGEN workshop sessions with groups of Chinese seniors, I have been helping to plan the activities, and I’ve also helped document the sessions with a sound recorder. The shared stories I record will assist our playwright, Diana Tso, in creating the script for our upcoming InterGEN play.

3. What do you hope to gain from being an intern at MCT?

During this internship, I hope to learn how to facilitate and create workshops that explore social and personal issues. I’ve been interested in Forum Theatre for a long time – I remember reading Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal maybe seven years ago, and thinking: “That’s probably one of the best ways to do theatre if you want to change something in this society.” So, when I found MCT and understood the kind of theatre they practice, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with them, and learn from them.

4. What exactly drew you to MCT?

MCT practices theatre on a human scale. Many theatre companies speak about the place of humanity in the world, but they forget about humans. The work that MCT does brings them close to people, and makes them heavily involved in creating opportunities for social change. I recognized myself in the way MCT uses theatre. They are really curious about giving a voice to societal issues such as racism, harassment, or miscommunication. In the case of the InterGEN project, it’s miscommunication between generations, but that applies to so many situations. MCT lives inside the identified issues; they work with and learn from people, and don’t presume to know what the issues are.

5. Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

That’s a difficult question. I think I really want to spread my passion for theatre by working with both actors and non-actors. I want to mix socially engaged theatre and a more classic style of theatre, which is what MCT already does! I would like to work in a company where I can be a facilitator, actor, and director, and create work with diverse people such as actors, community members, dancers, visual artists, writers – the list goes on. This may seem like a lot, but I need to dream big.

6. Can you tell us three words you would use to describe yourself?

-Questioning: I question everything, all the time, especially myself.
-Curious: I wonder about everything.
-Dreamer: Sometimes I’m here, and sometimes I’m not… But don’t call me flighty!

Get to Know Us! MCT’s Ambitious, Theatre-Loving Intern

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Travis interned with Mixed Company Theatre from the end of February to mid-May. He’s thrilled with how much he was able to learn during his internship, and intends to continue to turn to MCT for advice as he develops independent projects.

We’re glad we got to know Travis, and loved his enthusiasm for his work. We hope you enjoy his story of inspiration and aspirations as much as we do.

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m a 23 year old theatre student from York University. I was born in Toronto, but my parents are Jamaican. Singing is one of my favourite hobbies. I’m actually in a gospel group called United. Singing is a big part of me, and if I wasn’t in theatre, I’d probably be pursuing a career in music. My goal in life is to release at least two projects. Right now, I’ve started to write my own play.

2. How has your experience with MCT been so far?

I haven’t been at MCT for very long, but it’s been an enriching experience. The staff are eager to teach me what I want to learn, which I think is the coolest part. It’s not just a job where you’re told what to do. It’s really an educational experience.

3. What do you intend to gain from being an intern at MCT?

I’d like to get more experience working at a theatre company, and gain transferrable skills for my own company, which I’m planning to start soon. I also want to establish a really long working relationship with MCT.

4. What exactly drew you to MCT?

I learned about Forum Theatre and MCT over the summer. I wanted to figure out the kind of programs I’d like to implement with my own company, and a friend suggested that I check out MCT. I looked at their website and saw that they were offering internship opportunities. I was interested, so I reached out to Kristin, the Artistic Projects Manager, and now here I am.

5. Can you tell us more about the company you’re starting?

Right now the company is called Get It Together. It’s a working title, but the idea behind it is that as an at-risk youth, you’re always being told to “get it together,” but nobody has ever told you how to do that. So what I want to do is give youth the opportunity to do just that – learn how to develop the life skills that allow them to “get it together.” The life skills that will enable them to make a change in their own communities. This is something that I’ve wanted to do since high school, but I didn’t have the resources or knowledge to start at that point. I only started planning the launch of my company in May of 2015.

6. What inspired you?

I was inspired by my experiences in theatre and experiences in high school. During high school we had the opportunity to participate in the Sears Ontario Drama Festival. Our student troupe was able to share our story with audiences during the competition, and made it all the way to the regional round. It was great! It changed our perspective, the way we saw ourselves. I want to help others have that experience.

7. Finally, what do you like about theatre?

I love being able to go on stage and be a totally different person. You can grab people’s attention and convey a message without directly speaking to them – creatively addressing an issue. There’s also the feeling of camaraderie. Working in theatre is like being on a sports team, except without all of the competition. All sorts of people come together to create one collective piece. I think it’s also important to create art with meaning. Creating art for art’s sake is fine, but I think it’s great if your work of art can mean something to someone. I want to make a difference.

MCT and Sefton Jackson: MicroSkills Workshops

About MicroSkills

Community MicroSkills Development Centre is a multi-cultural, non-profit, community-based organization committed to assisting the unemployed, with priority to women, racial minorities, youth, and immigrants. Recognizing barriers that immigrants, racial minorities, youth, and women face in their efforts towards self-sufficiency, MicroSkills aims to enable these groups to participate more fully in Canadian society, and assist them in acquiring the skills needed to achieve self-determination and economic, social, and political equality.

The programs are designed to assist the unemployed achieve career and personal goals. Clients can choose as many services as required to help them on their way to becoming self-reliant and economically self-sufficient.

Sefton, Mixed Company Theatre, and MicroSkills

Sefton Jackson is a graduate from the Humber College theatre program, and was washing windows for corporate buildings when he met Waawaate Fobister. Waawaate was one of the actors at Mixed Company Theatre (MCT) in Cobblestone, a show that reflected the stories of youth living on the streets and in shelters. Waawaate saw in Sefton a kindred spirit for the performing arts whose talents were better served on the stage, not washing windows. He encouraged Sefton to check out MCT and recommended him to the artistic director, Simon Malbogat.

Sefton later interviewed with Simon, who saw his raw talent and passion for acting, and thought that he would be a perfect addition to the Cobblestone show. Sefton started acting in Cobblestone in 2006, then moved on to Showdown and Showdown 2.0. He continued touring with Showdown 2.0 through high schools and public schools for a number of years. During this time Sefton began exploring roles outside of acting, and began facilitating workshops with Mixed Company Theatre. The most recent workshop he has facilitated has been in partnership with the Community MicroSkills Development Centre, delivering workshops looking at gender differences at North Albion Collegiate.

The workshops were designed to be homework drop-in sessions, where students spent time getting help with their homework, and participated in the MCT and MicroSkills workshops. Initially, the workshops were catered to male students, but later were opened to include female students. The students were comprised of Grade 9-12 youth who faced difficulties keeping up in the classroom. Sefton used games as a way of entering into deeper conversations about the power dynamics between genders, equality, and how to build more respectful peer communities.

These workshops were developed to encourage learning in both directions, from the facilitator to the students, and vice versa. Some of the things that Sefton learned were a couple of new phrases that he had never heard before. These included “Curing AIDS”: the idea that anything could be cured by having sex, and “Girl Clowning” or simply “GC”: to go online and act nicely or flirt with someone, then behave in the exact opposite way in person in front of their peers, essentially shaming them (usually a boy behaving this way to a girl).

Sefton used the opportunity of the youth sharing and explaining these phrases to engage in a discussion about the impact of the behaviour, and the power dynamics of the actions that these phrases elicit. He worked with the students to identify who the power wielders were in instances of Girl Clowning, the power dynamics between men and women, and the unfair and negative implications. Through this informative dialogue, Sefton was able to help the students understand how these phrases and actions deteriorate relationships between the genders, and demean female students.

MCT and MicroSkills Workshop Philosophy

Each workshop started by going around the circle and sharing everyone’s names, since there were different students each week. In addition to sharing names, students were asked to check-in with how they were feeling that day, and in that moment. This ensured that Sefton, as well as the other students, were aware if someone was having a bad day and needed extra support or empathy. Sefton encouraged an environment where there were no right or wrong answers, so that students could speak frankly without judgement. Students were allowed to share their views freely, using language that they were comfortable using. The workshops began with Sefton identifying that he was not an expert, but a facilitator, open to learning with the students. If someone required services beyond Sefton’s abilities he would then refer them to other resources.

Student Feedback/Outcome

Students came to the workshop identifying each other by their gender, with a distinct separation between boys and girls, and all the stereotypes that went with it. At the end of the workshop, students left seeing each other as human beings and equals. In the beginning, students entered and sat by themselves, not knowing anyone, and not wanting to sit next to anyone. By the end they developed friendships, sat together, shared jokes, and played games. Sefton also used games to show the students the shift that had happened in their social interactions with one another, and at the end they were able to understand the benefits of nurturing a communal and friendly culture of equality and respect.

Sefton’s Feedback/Outcome

Sefton was able to engage with the students in a way that allowed learning to happen. One teacher, after observing Sefton’s first workshop, was worried that the rest of the workshops would just be repeating the same games and format, and that students wouldn’t be learning anything new. He asked Sefton to include ways of addressing and building perseverance, and helping youth deal with their inner relationship with themselves (How do I deal with me?). Sefton was able to adapt the workshops to include inspirational quotes from famous figures such as Martin Luther King and Einstein. He had students create three images to go with the quotes that most resonated with them. The images were meant to be visual representations of perseverance highlighted in the quotes.

Unexpected Learnings

Sefton didn’t expect to become so attached to the students, since he had only spent five sessions with them over two months. He really enjoyed keeping up with and learning their various slangs, and felt that the kids not only accepted him as a peer, but fully respected him as a facilitator. Facilitating workshops with Mixed Company Theatre has helped Sefton realize that he enjoys engaging in the arts as a facilitator working with youth through different themes and issues.

What keeps him connected to Mixed Company Theatre

In his own words, “To be honest it’s Simon.” This is an answer that several participants of MCT programming have mentioned. For Sefton, he has learned many lessons from Simon, lessons about people, life, and the various ways that we manipulate and are manipulated by others in the arts sector and in general. With each and every show and workshop that he has worked on with MCT, there is always a culture of learning: learning from each other from participants, and from the audience. This has helped Sefton, as an actor, to be prepared to adapt and be open to recommendations and feedback. Each performance is different, which allows him to really sharpen his improvisational skills. Sefton tells us that when you’re an actor with MCT, you learn to do many things beyond acting; you learn to put up and tear down your sets and pitch in with the rest of the team to ensure that you all give the best performance possible, and that has prepared him for the wider world of performing arts.

MCT and Catherine Frid: The Emergence of Half Full

Catherine Frid is one of the playwrights in residence at Mixed Company Theatre (MCT). She first met Simon Malbogat, the Artistic Director of MCT, through a forum theatre workshop that he delivered at York University in 2014. She approached Simon about volunteering with Mixed Company Theatre, and they explored ways to utilize her playwriting expertise. Together they decided to jointly apply for an OAC Playwright Residency program grant to create a show for students that focused on mental health and anxiety. Upon receiving the grant, Catherine began conducting her research, and met with therapists, psychiatrists, teachers, and young adults to learn more about the effects of anxiety, whose stories would eventually become the basis for the school production Half Full.

It is expected that everyone will experience anxiety and stress in their lifetimes, but it may never reach a debilitating level, such as that experienced by those suffering with an anxiety disorder. The Anxiety Disorder Association of Canada defines anxiety disorder as follows:

“An anxiety disorder… is diagnosed when various symptoms of anxiety people experience create significant distress and some degree of functional impairment in their daily living. A person with an anxiety disorder may find it difficult to function in areas of life such as social interactions, family relationships, work or school. Often, different anxiety disorders occur together or with other conditions such as depression or substance abuse.”[1]

From the definition above, we can see that anxiety disorder, like any other mental health disorder, is complex, and often occurs in tandem with other conditions. Because the term ‘anxiety’ is often used by the general public in relation to the stresses of everyday life and social interactions, there can be little sympathy given to individuals who identify as having an anxiety disorder, an illness far more debilitating than the fleeting stresses and anxiety of everyday life.

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada, in their Quick Facts: Mental illness and addiction in Canada, 3rd Edition, states that the number of Canadian children and youth affected by mental illness at any given point in time is 15% of the youth population, or 1.2 million, and the most common problem among children and youth is anxiety, which affects 6.5% of youth in Canada.[2]

In 2015, Simon and Catherine ran six workshops exploring anxiety: with Aboriginal youth, on- and off-reserve, in Brantford; Grade 7-10 youth with anxiety in the East Metro Youth Services program in Scarborough; a Grade 11-12 youth drama class at Harbord Collegiate; Horizons for Youth Emergency Shelter; and with a small TDSB class. In these workshops, Catherine was able to get the first hand stories of youth struggling with anxiety, learn how they experience it, and the various things that cause anxiety, from social media to peer relationships.

Previous to her work developing Half Full, Catherine had no experience with or knowledge about the anxiety epidemic affecting youth in Ontario. Her research gathered from her workshops and interviews with mental health experts, educators, and youth living with anxiety helped her understand the deep, pervasive, and overwhelming nature of anxiety, and the impact on those suffering from it. This was the reason that the decision was made to make anxiety a character, called ‘Anx,’ in Half Full, representing the reality of its effects and impact. Half Full is meant to help students understand that they are not alone in their struggles with anxiety.

Catherine also deepened her research into youth anxiety by consulting with youth mental health professionals. These included a child psychologist, a child therapist, a youth counselor, and a TDSB teacher. She also consulted with other youth health professionals from the TDSB Mental Health Committee, Prologue Arts, East Metro Youth Services, and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. Her research and consultations also extended to youth living with anxiety, to ensure that she had multiple perspectives of the real impact that anxiety can have.

Half Full was further developed with input from table reads of the first draft of the play with MCT staff and the public at OISE. Catherine grew her knowledge of youth mental health and learned more about anxiety at two great conferences: HEADSTRONG—Youth Mental Health and Anti-Stigma Summit, sponsored by the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and the Mental Health Commission of Canada; and the Ignite4Youth Conference.

Researching anxiety included doing interviews and workshops with experts and youth struggling with anxiety, and has deepened her understanding on the topic and made her more empathetic to those struggling with it. She has learned to be more aware of the signals of anxiety sufferers, and the ways to engage with them, and this has made her more present in her interactions with people in the world around her.

Initially Half Full was not meant to focus on cyber bullying, and the anxiety induced from using social media. Catherine learned that the internet and social media were key triggers for youth anxiety. Youth can’t simply not go on social media, turn it off, or disengage from it fully. The internet and social media are the key channels through which youth communicate and engage with one another. In the workshops with students, youth identified what they saw as the benefits and hindrances of the internet. They saw that the internet has made it possible to find a vast amount of information about a wide range of things that used to be inaccessible. You can find out anything you want to know. The immediacy of the internet is also seen as a big positive for youth. However, this also means that things good and bad can be uploaded and shared quickly, and have the power to impact social relationships amongst youth.

Catherine did not realize how severe and paralyzing it can be to suffer with anxiety. This is why it was important to show viewers what anxiety looks like from the inside: the heart palpitations, hyperventilation, and sense of intense panic that individuals experience. The Half Full school tour runs from April 4th-29th, 2016, and will be delivered to students in the GTA and surrounding areas.

 

[1]Anxiety Canada, About Anxiety Disorders http://www.anxietycanada.ca/english/

[2] Mood Disorder Canada, Quick Facts: Mental illness and addiction in Canada November 2009, 3rd Edition http://www.mooddisorderscanada.ca/documents/Media%20Room/Quick%20Facts%203rd%20Edition%20Referenced%20Plain%20Text.pdf

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