This post is part of a series of reflections about Imago Theatre’s Youth Mentorship Program, ARTISTA, by program mentors and mentees. Here Joy Ross-Jones (ARTISTA Program Director) reflects on creating the program.
I feel very privileged to have the title of Program Director for Imago Theatre’s youth mentorship program, ARTISTA. This program – which offers professional mentorship, theatre workshops, free meals and tickets to see professional productions around the city – is still a relatively new initiative. It launched in the fall of 2014, but has already established itself as a space to nurture the voices of young, artistically and community-inclined women. ARTISTA has already cultivated a community of over 30 emerging and professional artists. I once saw an artist wearing a t-shirt that said, “Community Is Everything.” I love this message. I believe ARTISTA is an important community-building tool and powerful contribution to our efforts to reach gender equity in the performing arts.
I began working at Imago Theatre in the summer of 2013 as an Administrative Assistant just as Micheline Chevrier was taking the reigns as Artistic Director. I was witness to the community reacting to Micheline’s craft and inspiration, as Imago adapted its mandate to focus on the female voice and provide a platform for diverse and marginalized voices. Imago began, through their productions, engaging in difficult conversations with audience members during talk-back discussions. The dialogue Imago created was nuanced and acknowledged the complexity within the conversations we were having. Several questions began to pop up in our minds; what is Imago Theatre’s place in the Montreal community as a production company that motivates social justice? How can Imago Theatre welcome a younger demographic of thinkers and theatre goers? Does Imago Theatre just produce shows, or should it diversify its activity to allow for a deeper conversation?
Micheline had longed to nurture and empower youth through theatre. I have always loved teaching theatre and have had a number of exciting and important experiences teaching young women. And so, ARTISTA entered the conversation as an extension of the company’s activity. Through Micheline’s mentorship, I coordinated a few team meetings, some visioning conversations and one giant Indiegogo campaign, and voilà, ARTISTA was alive, wobbly on its legs at first, but powerfully present as one of only two free theatre mentorship programs for young women in all of Canada. Welcome ARTISTA!
We held our first ARTISTA workshop in October of 2014 with a small, but passionate group of young women between the ages of 15 and 21. The team, consisting of myself, co-coordinator Warona Setshwaelo, and the mentors, Julie Tamiko Manning, Jessica Abdallah, Jen Roberts, Stefanie Buxton, Delphine Bienvenue, Alex Haber, Deena Aziz and France Rolland, were impressed by how quickly the young women bonded. We started cluing into the power of girl-specific spaces to quickly cultivate open and trusting dialogues. We were witness to the power of sharing stories over food then performing our stories in artistic ways for others. This practice cracked open confidence and bonded individuals together as a chosen-community. Once again, I would like to acknowledge my fortune in being a facilitator of these conversations and this growth, for as much as the participants learn from myself and the rest of the team, we learn just as much from our young participants. I’d like to print my very own t-shirt that reads: “Intergenerational Spaces Rock and Community is Everything.”
As time passes, Imago Theatre gains strength as a hub for theatre artists to flourish under Micheline’s artistic savvy and Imago’s welcoming, empowering mandate. Women artists have flocked to the company, so we realize that there is evidently a need for mentorship opportunities. This year, we were so excited to reflect ARTISTA and Imago’s mentorship mandates in our fundraising activity, the Atelier – a series of workshops for the creative and professional development of theatre artists, both men and women. This is the first time we’ve offered spaces for emerging and established artists to develop their crafts under the guidance of BADASS women professionals, and it won’t be the last. The fact that people keep showing up at Imago Theatre’s door with questions and a desire to learn, clearly reveals this community’s needs. There are many of us out there that want to grow, observe, learn, ask hard questions, search for answers together and feel like we are a part of something. And Imago Theatre is responding to this need in various ways.
If you are or know any young women roughly between the ages of 16 and 21 who are looking for a safe space to engage in the performing arts, tell them about ARTISTA. If you want to see some beautiful theatre that provides a platform for urgent, important stores and engage in a nuanced conversation about them afterwards, come see Imago Theatre’s February production of Intractable Woman. If you are a theatre artist who wants to continue pushing their craft forward, come and be a part of the Imago Theatre community. It’s a great place to be.
Joy Ross-Jones – ARTISTA Program Director