“Together, we can continue to evolve acting training so that it’s more diverse, inclusive and safer for the next generation of artists.”
Acting education in Canada has evolved; there are now over 45 performance training programs and many independent coaches who teach. Without a national dialogue or association for acting educators, there are few professional development opportunities to update/upgrade teaching skills related to the specific needs of training performers. The majority of performance teachers in Canada are either private coaches or part-time/sessional/guest artists within large institutions and many feel left out of the conversation about acting training in Canada. In the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp, it was time to come together and speak about our challenges. Got Your Back recognized a void in this communication and worked to bridge the gap through a curated selection of panels, workshops, long table discussions, and networking events. The following is a record of the surveys and conference held.
GYB Canada National Acting Training Survey 2018 Results:
Got Your Back created two surveys to help us come to a deeper understanding of the state of theatre training in Canada, and to help us identify the places change is most needed.
The Student Survey was for anyone who had attended theatre school, no matter where or when, and no matter if they graduated or not. The Teacher’s Survey was for anyone who teaches or had taught in a theatre-training program, as a guest instructor, part-time or full-time faculty member, or in any other capacity.
Our 2018 survey received over 500 responses and the results are shared in this essay published by HowlRound.
For more info as to how the survey was conducted, please click here.
The executive overview of the survey can be found here.
For the Acting Educators conference website, click here.
For some excellent resources for Acting Educators, check out our friends at the Canadian Theatre Educators: Resources
On Monday, May 27 & Tuesday, May 28, 2019, at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, peer-led artist collective Got Your Back advocated for teachers and students alike by opening conversation and hosting an Acting Educators Conference. This conference offered an opportunity for participants to gain practical skills while actively engaging with and sharing expert, informed, critical insights pertaining to the areas of mental health; diversity and inclusion, anti-oppression; and the creation and maintenance of safe spaces.
The three areas of focus of the conference were:
- Harassment, Intimacy, and Consent
- Student and Teacher Mental Health
- Anti-Oppression: Diversity and Inclusion
The Conference Activities
ANTI-OPRESSION, DIVERSITY, AND INCLUSION
Room For Everyone
MAY 27 @ 3:15PM – WHOLE-CONFERENCE PANEL DISCUSSION MODERATED BY LARA ARABIAN, AND INCLUDING ANDREW MOODIE, ALEX NORTON, KARLIE STARCHUCK, BREFNY CARIBOU-CURTIN
This panel discussion will examine ways in which we can begin to make our classrooms and rehearsal rooms inclusive to all. From adapting exercises and adjusting language, to inclusive casting and ensuring that students have a sense of agency, we will have guest panelists share experiences and suggestions.
Culture & Privilege: How our Individual Identities Impact Us in the Classroom
MAY 27 @ 1:30PM – WORKSHOP PRESENTED BY NIKI LANDAU
In this workshop, we will use a Conflict & Culture tool called the Identity Wheel to look at our own multi-dimensional identities and how our diverse experiences might affect us in conflict and in the classroom. We’ll discuss strategies for how to manage issues of culture and power in the classroom with sensitivity and thoughtfulness. A very inclusive way to look at what is an important issue in our classrooms!
Holding Safe Space for Creative Practice through Inclusivity, Intersectionality and Embodied Practice
MAY 28 @ 1PM – WORKSHOP PRESENTED BY VAL PLANCHE
How do we hold brave, productive, safe spaces for difficult conversations? Conflict and risk are necessary parts of the process of theatre. Educators can create conscious environments that build capacity for interaction, and fundamental grounding for more inclusive spaces. What are we doing when we train actors in empathetic practice? How can Embodied Practice help educators gain practical tools to stay present, stay in relation and in dialogue. This workshop explores some basic tools that help build capacity for interaction, and new foundations for dialogue.
CONTEMPORARY & IN COLOUR: Culturally Integrated Scene Study For Today & Tomorrow
MAY 28 @ 4:30 – WORKSHOP PRESENTED BY TANISHA TAITT
This workshop for theatre school instructors is aimed at broadening the cultural range of work covered in today’s acting and scene study classes. The majority of playwrights introduced in these classes are of the dominant culture, and thereby establish a Eurocentric perspective as the default in the classroom. As a result, many of our students from other diverse backgrounds do not find themselves, or their stories, reflected in the curriculum. This leads to a skewed, false sense of the world and of whose narratives matter. In ‘Contemporary & In Colour’, Tanisha will discuss and get teachers contemplating and discussing how they can diversify the work in their own classes. She will also share how she has begun to transform the 1st Year Scene Study curriculum as a faculty member of George Brown Theatre School, and the impact it has had on her students of ALL cultural and racial backgrounds.
HARASSMENT, CONSENT, & INTIMACY
Navigating Harassment, Consent and Intimacy in the Classroom (panel)
MAY 28 @ 10AM – WHOLE-CONFERENCE PANEL DISCUSSION MODERATED BY JENNIFER WIGMORE, AND INCLUDING VICTORIA SHEN, NIKI LANDAU, VIKTORIA BELLE, SIOBHAN RICHARDSON
Harassment, intimacy and consent issues have become an important topic of conversation in our industry, but how do contract teachers, coaches and guest artists navigate this new reality in the classroom? Contract teachers are often left out of the loop within an institution’s reporting practices or are unclear on what the protocols and policies are. How do we negotiate consent with students in regards to intimate interactions or address the levels of intimacy that may require outside help/expertise? What are the intimacy protocols for schools? How do we create common language across the industry so that we all feel comfortable addressing intimacy and consent in the classroom? This panel of experts in harassment, consent and intimacy will help us unpack some of these questions so that we feel more supported in our teaching practice.
Managing Intimacy and Consent in the Classroom
MAY 28 @ 1PM – WORKSHOP PRESENTED BY SIOBHAN RICHARDSON
This introductory workshop will explore how educators can manage intimacy and consent as it relates to performing intimacy in the classroom through discussion and exercises led by Intimacy Directors International co-founder Siobhan Richardson. Physical contact with another person (ex. hand on the forearm or a handshake) may be offered but is not required. Please note: this workshop will not result in Intimacy Director certification; it is meant to supplement an educator’s toolbox.
Boundaries: Physical and Emotional Levels of Intimacy within the Classroom
MAY 27 @ 11:15AM – ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION PRESENTED BY LORI RAVENSBORG
How do facilitators/instructors support and navigate their actors’ on physical and emotional boundaries? Join a roundtable discussion of ideas on navigating the blurry lines between these boundaries versus an engaged commitment to the actors work. We will discuss subtle and important differences on how to support actors in authentically commiting to sometimes difficult scene circumstances, versus where individual and personal boundaries need to be empowered to claim personal boundaries when they need to stay healthy. We all need to model our school programs to welcome and adhere to the new Safe Spaces codes of conduct now being practiced in the industry at the same time as encouraging actors bravery in telling the story at hand. Our starting point will be discussing setting up a contract/code of ethics within the Acting Program guidelines, as well as negotiating boundaries between partners for scene work (with instructor support).
Setting Up A Safe Coaching Practice
MAY 28 @ 4:30PM – PANEL DISCUSSION MODERATED BY TRACEY HOYT, AND INCLUDING ERIC ARMSTRONG, CATHERINE MCNALLY, VICTORIA SHEN, MICHELLE ARVIZU, AUSAR STEWART
As private and specialty coaches, how do we set up a safe coaching practice? With no regulatory body that encompasses coaches, what practical steps can coaches take to keep our students and ourselves safe? How do we set up guidelines around disclosures and mental health issues? How do we create and maintain clear boundaries between Instructor/Coach and student? On this panel, we will discuss how to maintain positive artist guidance and mentorship while maintaining healthy boundaries. Some of our specialty coaching peers will share how they are utilizing new tools to create safer coaching practices and we will discuss how our professional unions and labour law come into play for us as coaches.
Safer Artistic Spaces
MAY 27 @ 1:30PM – WORKSHOP PRESENTED BY VIKTORIA BELLE OF THE DANDELION INITIATIVE
This workshop approaches prevention practices from a survivor-centric, integrated and tool based framework. Participants will develop their skills around communication and consent, which will support Acting Teachers and Students develop a foundation for consensual practices. We will explore integrated models that provide various anti-oppressive and LGBTQ2S+ centered that prevent and respond to sexual harassment and gender-based violence. This 90 minute training session will help you walk away with more skills, knowledge and a strong base to develop inclusive and safer practices and pedagogy for survivors, for yourself, for your students and for your industry.
STUDENT & TEACHER MENTAL HEALTH
Mental Health for Students and Teachers
MAY 28 @ 2:45PM – PANEL DISCUSSION MODERATED BY SEAN QUIGLEY, AND INCLUING MARIE BEATH BADIAN, SUZANNE ROSS, NATHAN CARROLL, MATT ELDRIDGE
There are growing mental health challenges in the acting training sphere facing teachers and students. With no training in the area of mental health and little institutional support, how do part-time/sessional/guest artists navigate and manage mental health issues in the classroom? This diverse panel of mental health experts, graduates and artist-educators will discuss how acting educators and coaches identify strategies and negotiate the gray area of caring for students with mental health accommodations, while maintaining healthy boundaries for themselves.
Demystifying the Emotional Body: Mental Health & Safety in the Actor Training Studio
MAY 27 @ 11:15AM – WORKSHOP PRESENTED BY TANYA ELCHUK (AND BRAD GIBSON — IN ABSENTIA)
Student actors are generally expected to hone their ability to access and express real emotions in service to their work. Actor training also typically includes increasing one’s somatic awareness, including of body, breath and voice. It is not uncommon for these investigations to elicit unexpected (and often uncomfortable) experiences, including intense emotional responses and unusual sensations. Such explorations can also lead to anxiety and panic attacks, hyperventilation, tetany, altered states of consciousness, disassociation, and other trauma responses. All of this is further complicated by the growing proliferation of mental health challenges experienced by young people today. What can we as teachers and coaches do to best prepare ourselves and our students to navigate these potent territories with safety and efficacy? This lecture/workshop seeks to address this question using contemporary research and best practices drawn from psychotherapy, somatics, neuroscience, and theatre training. Topics addressed will include: what emotions are and how they function; recognizing when a student requires assistance; basic intervention techniques; referrals; suggestions toward trauma-informed studio practice; practical tools to help actors titrate, manage, and contain their emotional expression towards greater emotional range; containment; and navigating the boundary between “the work” and “the personal.” Practical explorations will be offered and discussion encouraged!
I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends
MAY 27 @ 11:15AM – WORKSHOP PRESENTED BY STEVEN SPARLING
As acting teachers, we know that our students are struggling. Many need regular support in order to meet the demands of an acting training course. As teachers, we want to support them as best we can. But we too are struggling. Struggling with demanding workloads, precarious situations as freelance/sessional teachers, and more students with needs than we probably have time to properly deal with. In order to meet this crisis, we need as many lines of defense as possible. At the same time, we know a network is crucial for success as an actor (it’s not what you know, it’s who you know) so getting our students connected with peers and alumni expands their networks before they graduate. It engages our alumni, while supporting our students. A peer and alumni mentoring scheme kills two birds with one stone. Students receive valuable support, while forging relationships with students and grads above them. It creates a habit of seeking and offering mentorship. In this session, I’ll talk about a mentoring scheme I ran at the London College of Music (UK) when I was the Head of their BA (Hons) Musical Theatre Degree. I’ll share how I set it up and students’ response to the scheme. We’ll also explore some really interesting multi-generational ‘family’ models used by some of the leading American schools to support students in their studies and beyond.
MAY 27 @ 1:30PM – PANEL DISCUSSION MODERATED BY MARCIA JOHNSON, AND INCLUDING JENNY RICHMOND, TALIA SINGER, JEANNETTE LAMBERMONT-MOREY, TAL KATZ
How do acting teachers understand and handle student mental health accommodations? Contract teachers are often caught between the training institution and the student. Accommodations can often require a change in teaching methodology or course delivery, as well as having an impact on artistic practice, but with no standardized way of accommodating students with mental health needs often the contract teachers are left to figure out what to do and how to do it. With growing questions of how accommodations sit beside professional expectations and industry standards this panel of educators administrators and graduates will try to unpack some of the issues facing the contract teacher in regards to accommodating accommodations.
Mental Health First Aid for Educators
MAY 28 @ 1PM – WORKSHOP PRESENTED BY SUZANNE ROSS
Description: Mental Health First Aid – What a great idea! What is that? Performing arts offer us a beautiful opportunity to explore the full range of human emotion and get a glimpse of other lives through our characters. While this can be a cathartic experience, what happens when our roles, or our coursework with students, initiate or worsen mental health disorders? What is the role of the acting educator or coach in supporting students and clients? Suzanne brings both her professional training as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and extensive experience working within the Addictions Recovery community to this session. The role of the caregiver will also be explored, with an emphasis on setting healthy boundaries and effective self-care strategies. A short activity supporting this topic will leave participants with a personal resiliency mission statement which can be used to help them support others. Participation and collaboration will help make this interactive workshop a useful and memorable experience. Time will be made for both discussion and specific questions. This session is open to all who have an interest in mental health, no previous experience with the topic is needed to benefit from this program.
Mental Wellness for Acting Educators
MAY 28 @ 4:30PM – WORKSHOP PRESENTED BY MATTHEW ELDRIDGE
Stress and anxiety levels tend to be higher in artistic communities. Depression and anxiety are often the result of experiencing “invalidating environments.” Artists are especially prone to invalidating environments due to the competitive nature of their jobs, significant physical and emotional demands, vulnerability, often facing rejection, criticism and the feeling of always needing to be “on”. This educational workshop will focus on:
- Discussion on how to create validating environments/how to find validation in one’s self
- Matt sharing his personal experiences from Cirque du Soleil
- Stress management/mental wellness skills/how our thinking impacts our feeling and recognizing depression can impact your thinking
- Learning specific coping skills
- What to look for in a therapist/therapy programs / resources available
More info on the panellists, presenters, and organizers can be found here.
-Tarragon Theatre, AFBS
-Mpath Group, Martha Burns, ACTRA, McNally Kennedy Acting, AVIV Mediterranean Restaurant
-CAEA, Steven Sparling, Drama IMC Estate of Mavor Moore
-Theatre Ontario, Pop Up Box Office