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BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATORY

Welcome to the BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATORY at the Stratford Festival

It is a great privilege to gather and share stories on this beautiful territory, which has been the site of human activity – and therefore storytelling – for many thousands of years.

This territory is governed by two treaties. The first is the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant of 1701, made between the Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an agreement to set violence aside and peacefully share and care for the land in the Great Lakes basin. The second is the Huron Tract Treaty of 1827, an agreement made by 18 Anishinaabek Chiefs and the Canada Company, an agency of the British Crown. As an organization and a company of artists, we at the Stratford Festival are in a process of learning how we can be better treaty partners.  

We wish to honour the ancestral guardians of this land and its waterways: the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the Wendat, and the Attiwonderonk. Today many Indigenous peoples continue to call this land home and act as its stewards, and this responsibility extends to all peoples, to share and care for this land for generations to come. 

The Festival acknowledges its history of colonizing culture and is working diligently to understand its complicity in unjust systems that have excluded many from participating fully in the work on our stages. We are committed to continuously evolving our understanding of equity, inclusion, and anti-racism and we acknowledge that the work of reconciliation is an ongoing journey. The Conservatory seeks to create a respectful environment of learning and exchange where every participant is asked to embrace an inclusive learning experience with an openness of heart and humility and where all those that lead are open to feedback.  

The program is actively looking to partner with artists, actors and theatre makers whose talent, energy, commitment and creativity will shape the future of the theatre both at the Festival and across the country.

THE PROGRAM

*this is a living document: the information on this site will continually be updated as the work evolves 

In present artistic circles, the use of the word “Conservatory” can refer to an imperialist, white supremacist, patriarchal desire to conserve the exclusionary practices of the past. However, as the Stratford Festival consciously works to recognize its involvement with these practices, our objective is to employ the word “Conservatory” to refer to an incubator and sanctuary for tender plants, a place where they may flourish and grow, a place where they can establish themselves.

The program is devoted to the development of craft required to tackle text and language-based plays through material rich in character, storytelling, song, dance, fights and challenging themes. Shakespeare will be at the centre of the exploration, but not to the exclusion of other culturally rich material. And, in keeping with the spirit of the Festival’s Laboratory, there will be an open engagement with both traditional and non-conventional approaches to the work.

There will also be a focus to support the development of the artist’s own voice and work: members of the program will have access to the Festival’s numerous resources in the areas of mentorship, as well as archives, playwriting department, Laboratory program, costume warehouse and rehearsal space.

This is not an introductory training program: it is designed for artists who have acquired a foundational training (either from a theatre school, or a non-conventional, experiential learning process) and have two to five years of professional experience. The Birmingham Conservatory is a paid two-year intensive where artists are invited to further develop their craft alongside and within the professional environment of the Festival’s repertory company. 

The ensemble allows for ten participating artists: eight places are open to actors (including musical theatre performers who have a desire to focus specifically on developing their craft of acting); and two places open to directors, designers, coaches and/or multi-disciplinary theatre artists (who have a desire to focus on language-based material and its demands).

The invitation is such that all artists fully commit to the journey of the training, both in the season and in the studio work. Therefore, participants must be interested and available to make the entire two-year commitment as the Festival commits to their development.

OUTLINE OF THE PROGRAM
First year - 2022

January – February (pre-season)

There will be a three-week Intensive prior to the beginning of rehearsals which will include include The Binge, an introduction to the Festival and community; Combat and Intimacy work, led by Fight Director Anita Nittoly and her team; and the Arrivals Legacy Project, led by Diane Roberts and an interdisciplinary co-facilitation team, who will engage ensemble members in an exploration of their root cultural voice/bodies drawn from Ancestral sources. In creating an intercultural ensemble we are called to the question: how do we sound the legacies we carry and those we must leave behind?  
This intensive will vary for the non-acting participants.

March – October

During the first season actors will have a role(s) and understudy roles. They will also receive individual and group instruction in voice, movement, the Alexander Technique, singing and text. Training goals in these disciplines will be driven by the artists. Note: the actors will be involved in two productions (not the traditional three) in this season. 
Depending upon the discipline, the non-acting participants will have other offers in the season. (Directors will be employed as assistant directors, designers as assistant designers, etc.)

Focused instruction will be given to the understudy responsibilities contracted for the acting participants. Understudying is a vital part of a repertory company and the demands are a learning opportunity within the program.

 October

 Close of the Festival season

November – December

The structure of the studio training will be project - and not term-based:

At the end of the season, artists return to the studio (the rehearsal hall) for six weeks, during which time they will focus on two small exercises (Neutral Mask with David Latham; Movement with Pulga Muchochoma) and rehearse Ted Hughes's adaptation of Agamemnon with Jonathan Goad (directing) and Adrienne Gould (movement direction).
Once again, depending upon the discipline, the non-acting participants will have other opportunities to engage. (Directors may work as assistants, or choose to act; designers would have the opportunity to design for the in-studio projects, etc.)

December – January

Three to four weeks away from the Festival.

Second year - 2023

January – February

Artists return to studio training, after a month away from the Festival. During this six-week period, Yvette Nolan will lead the work and direct her adaptation of The Birds.

March – October

In their second season, artists will be featured in a production. In addition, they will be cast in two additional productions and will once again receive individual coaching throughout the course of the repertory season.

October – November

One week to ten days away from the Festival.

November  – December  

In the final six weeks, artists return to the studio to rehearse a production (with non-acting participants contributing in their fields). This production will be presented in one of the theatres.

Breakdown:

21 weeks of in-studio work; 70 weeks of in-season work

For the acting participants: the primary focus of the studio training is centred on the foundational work of voice (including singing), movement and text work which will be delivered in both individual tutorials, group classes, scene study and in-studio production exercises. 

For the non-acting participants: participation in the voice, movement and text work in the studio training is required. In addition to these studies, individual instruction and mentorship will be coordinated individually and centred in the area of specialization. For example, directors will be mentored and work as assistant directors (both in the studio and season), likewise, designers will be employed as assistant designers, coaches as apprentice coaches, etc.

CIRCLES OF LEADERSHIP

The Circles of Leadership support, inform and direct both the content of the program and manner in which the program will be delivered. All artists participating in the Circles of Leadership (whether directly or indirectly) are involved in supporting the artists of the program.

Artistic Director – Antoni Cimolino
Guides the artistic direction of the Festival, including the vision and direction of the Conservatory

Director of the Birmingham Conservatory Janine Pearson
In addition to teaching and coaching, the Director serves as a facilitator to the work of the program 

Directors' Office  –
Work to fulfill the artistic direction of the Festival, including the Conservatory 

Anita Gaffney, Executive Director
David Auster, Producer
Bonnie Green, Associate Producer
Jason Miller, Creative Planning Director
Beth Russell, Casting Director
Jennifer Emery, Casting Assistant
Marcel Stewart, Artistic Associate, Casting
Bob White, Director of the Foerster Bernstein New Play Development Program
Franklin Brasz, Director of Music
Esther Jun, Artistic Associate, Planning
ted witzel, Artistic Associate
Julie Miles, Associate Producer, Forum
Shira Ginsler, Producing Coordinator

Director of Human Resources, Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Company Manager – 
Work to create a healthy, safe and inclusive work environment for all Festival members

tba, Director of Human Resources
tba, Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
Hilary Nichol, Company Manager

Artistic AdvisorsWalter Borden, David Latham, Yvette Nolan
These artistic elders have tremendous experience and wisdom. They are resources in teaching, directing and leading conversations regarding the work.

Associate Artists – Raoul Bhaneja, Esther Jun, Thomas Olajide, Lucy Peacock, Steve Ross, Michaela Washburn, plus two non-actor associates (depending on the two non-acting participants).
These artists (from both inside and outside of the company) are involved in advising and supporting the leadership and speaking to the direction of the Conservatory, providing feedback on the work, participating in short-term teaching, and mentoring artists in the program. 

Developing Teachers and CoachesLisa Cromarty, Martha Farrell
These mid-career artists will have the opportunity to develop their pedagogical skills (in specific areas: eg. voice, movement, text) by having the opportunity to work alongside a chosen mentor (who is teaching or directing in the program).

Directors, Master Teachers, Teachers and Coaches –
A great teacher is a facilitator: one who walks alongside, one who nurtures, not one who wishes to mould the artist in their own image.

Raoul Bhaneja (Associate Artist)
Walter Borden (Artistic Advisor) Behind the Curtain at Theatre Aquarius
Lisa Cromarty (Emerging coach - voice)
Paul de Jong (Head of Coaching)
Martha Farrell (Emerging coach - voice)
Jonathan Goad (director)
Adrienne Gould (movement/period dance/movement direction)
Esther Jun (Associate Artist)
David Latham (Artistic Advisor)
K. Cathy MacKinnon (Head of Voice)
Pulga Muchochoma (dance/movement)
Anita Nittoly (fight/intimacy director)
Yvette Nolan (Artistic Advisor)
Thomas Olajide (Associate Artist)
Lucy Peacock (Associate Artist)
Diane Roberts (Arrivals Legacy Project
Steve Ross (Associate Artist)
Jennie Such (singing)
Michaela Washburn (Associate Artist)
Members of the acting company
Members of the coaching team

Company 
The company (actors, stage managers, crew, artisans, etc.) all play a role in nurturing and supporting the Conservatory artists.

These actors are not our actors.
They are the youth of the Theatre’s longing for itself.
They come through us but not from us,
And though they are with us yet they belong not to us.
We may give them our guidance but not our thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
We may provide space for their work but must not stifle their souls,
For their souls dwell in the theatre of tomorrow, which we cannot visit, not even in our dreams.
We may strive to be like them, but must not seek to make them like us.
For the theatre goes not backwards nor tarries with yesterday.
We can be the bow from which these artists as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and
They bend us with their might that their arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as the archer loves the arrow that flies, so they love also the bow that is stable.
-adapted from Kahlil Gibran’s poem On Children

Community
The community and surrounding area provide the program with an opportunity to explore and participate in experiences outside of the Stratford Festival.

During their time in residence, the artists will be introduced to numerous arts organizations: The Stratford Symphony Orchestra, INNERChamber, Gallery Stratford, Stratford Summer Music, The Grand Theatre in London, The Blyth Festival, etc. In addition, relationships will be encouraged with community organizations like The Local Community Food Centre – where volunteering at a community meal and/or working in the gardens are possibilities.

Our History and Our Future:

Since the Festival’s inaugural season in 1953, there has been a commitment to provide training for artists and artisans alike. This commitment was initially driven by the fact that there were no professional training programs in Canada at that time. If one wished to study as an actor, technician or designer, they were required to seek training abroad. Frances Hyland travelled from her small village of Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, to train at RADA in the UK, Patricia Hamilton from Regina to Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh. Therefore, when the National Theatre School opened its doors in Montreal in 1960, it was an auspicious occasion for Canadian artists. Initially, there was a unique bond between the Festival and “the school” as both French and English sections spent the final term of their school year in Stratford learning alongside the professional company. Eventually, this in-house apprenticeship concluded as other training institutions were created across the country.

So, over the Festival’s 68 years the artistic leadership has supported the continued development of its company: the great actress Eleanor Stuart taught voice to Kenneth Welsh, James Blendick, Diana Leblanc; the legendary Gwynneth Thurburn taught workshops in voice and text; Powys Thomas and Neil Dainard ran the Actors Workshop; Iris Warren taught voice and text for many seasons before her protégé Kirstin Linklater arrived; Kristin trained voice teachers Ann Skinner, Lloy Coutts and David Smukler; and later returned to lead the Third Stage Company (1984), nurturing artists like Seana McKenna and Fiona Reid; Michael Langham developed the first young company (1985) that included Lucy Peacock and Ted Dykstra; Tom Kerr’s company (1986) included artists Kim Coates and Jerry Etienne; Robin Phillips (1987-88) supported artists Peter Donaldson and Nancy Palk; artistic director John Hirsch invited Patsy Rodenburg to coach voice and text; Bernard Hopkins’s young company (1989-1991) included Antoni Cimolino and Dathan B. Williams; Marti Maraden’s company included Thom Allison and Marcel Jeannin; Richard Rose’s company included Jane Spidell and Kevin Bundy; and the John Sullivan Hayes program for Theatre Training (1997-98) included Graham Abbey and Claire Jullien. In 1999, Artistic Director Richard Monette and master teacher Michael Mawson established a Conservatory for Classical Theatre Training, which, for the next twenty years, under the direction of David Latham, Martha Henry and Stephen Ouimette, included such artists as Evan Buliung, Michelle Giroux, Michael Therriault, Kennedy (Cathy) MacKinnon (coach), Deborah Hay, Haysam Kadri, Caleb Marshall, Paul de Jong (coach), Sara Topham, Dan Chameroy, Dion Johnstone, Laura Condlln, Sophia Walker, Danielle Irvine (director), Nicolas Billon (playwright), Keira Loughran, André Sills, Raquel Duffy, Ins Choi, Chilina Kennedy, Paul Nolan, Josue Laboucane, Shannon Taylor, Jessica B. Hill, Antoine Yared, Sara Farb, Saamer Usmani, Monice Peter, Rodrigo Beilfuss, Nick Nahwegahbow, Ijeoma Emesowum, Farhang Ghajar, Andrea Rankin and Amaka Umeh.

We acknowledge that there were many storytellers on Turtle Island (both from Indigenous and settler cultures) who, for hundreds and thousands of years, shared their stories prior to the founding of the Stratford Festival. With gratitude to all of these contributors, the artistic leadership continues to support the natural and necessary evolution of training: one that is inclusive of all artists – reflecting the colour and culturally rich times of the moment and our future. 

Birmingham Conservatory Alumni 

How to Audition

Requirements for Applicants: This is not an introductory training. The program is designed for artists who have acquired a foundational training (either from a theatre school, or a non-conventional, experiential learning process) and have two to five years of professional experience. 

Auditions for this program are held once every two years (upcoming auditions to be held in 2021). Specific details will be posted in advance on the Festival’s website, on the Equity e-drive, and on Casting Workbook. 

If you would like to submit your photo and résumé for consideration, please do so to casting@stratfordfestival.ca

Requirements for Auditioning: Actors are asked to audition with two contrasting Shakespeare monologues and one contemporary monologue and/or a piece of music (if you wish to bring your guitar, you are welcome to do so). It is suggested that each monologue not be more than 1.5 minutes in length. You are welcome to present one of your monologues in a language other than English if you wish. 

Directors and designers candidates will be interviewed. 

Once applications have been submitted, the Festival’s casting department will notify all those selected to audition/interview.

Due to the present pandemic, all initial auditions will occur online in the form of a self tape.

It is our hope that in-person callback auditions will be possible in Stratford during the early autumn. Callbacks are organized in a two-day workshop where candidates will have the opportunity to work with voice and movement coaches, speak with alumni of the program, explore the Festival and the city and be auditioned, once again, individually. During this workshop process the candidates will meet and be auditioned by the Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino, and members of Artistic Advisors and Associates. 

The Birmingham Conservatory is only open to Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

We welcome applicants of every identity, and encourage artists from Indigenous, Inuit, Métis, Black, People of Colour, Deaf, disabled and 2SLGBTQ+ communities.

 

The Birmingham Conservatory at the Stratford Festival is made possible by the support of the Birmingham family, the Stratford Festival Endowment Foundation and the Department of Canadian Heritage. 

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Support for the 2021 in-season work of Conservatory participants is generously provided by the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Fund, and by John & Therese Gardner.

2021 INSTRUCTORS AND DIRECTORS

Stephen Ouimette (Director)
Adrienne Gould
Kennedy C. MacKinnon
Janine Pearson
Melissa Veal (Coordinator)