A Practice Is Born

by Liam Zarrillo


The storytelling process has arrived at a fascinating and complex intersection. Historically speaking, stories and stages have seen a devastating lack of representation of folks who come from marginalized or barrier-facing communities. (This has been both in terms of characters in stories, as well as the artists crafting the stories themselves.) It appears that we are now reckoning with this reality and want to do something about it.

But what do we do? Who do we need to see in stories and on stages? Who has the right to include such characters? Surely the answer cannot be: one may only craft characters that resemble one’s exact lived experience. No, it is necessary for us to be writing stories that are reflective of life. Real life. And real life is diverse.

For myself, from this aim towards authenticity and accountability, a new professional and artistic role was borne. It falls under several titles, depending on the project/project’s phase: that of cultural consultant, experiential consultant or cultural dramaturg.   

For over a year, I have been working in this capacity on a play called O Death by Scout Rexe. This play has received support from several different companies across the country, and has been championed for years by Playwrights’ Workshop Montréal.

Picture of Liam Zarrillo, Scout Rex and Susil Sharma

While I had worn the hat of cultural consultant before coming on board O Death, it is through my experience working on this project that I have begun to truly shape and hone my practice.

Given that O Death is a queer wok, it makes perfect sense that our time together has followed a queer process. A “queer process” can be defined in endless ways, as what makes it “queer” is subjectively defined by the participants themselves. As someone who identifies explicitly as a “queer theatre artist”, my definition of a queer process is one that is inclusive of, but extends beyond solely contemplations on gender & sexuality. I consider a queer process to be one that exists without any rigid pre-existing boundaries or structures. One that is constantly interrogating norms and is flexible and open to redefinition and rearticulation. It is reflective of and responsive to the needs of those involved in an ever-evolving way.

Because my experience working on O Death through PWM has been held inside of this queer context, I have had the space to experiment with and perform this new role in a myriad of ways. O Death tells the story of a trans musician (James) and his queer femme sister (Caddy) hit with several significant obstacles as their music careers are about to take off. I was initially brought on to have some chats and dig in on the authenticity of James’ character. Since then, I have had countless thoughtful sessions and conversations with the playwright. I have read several drafts. I have fed back and been heard. I have been encouraged to bring my dramaturgical experience into my role, allowing for dialogue not only about the authenticity of the trans character, but how his experience fits into his narrative journey. This non-exhaustive list just scratches the surface of such a formative process. 

And now, when I sit down with playwrights or artistic directors to discuss a new cultural consultant contract, I am able to articulate how I work, what I can bring to the table, and offer them options about how we might proceed. The number one goal being inviting in, consensual teaching, healthy boundaries and whatever most serves the story and project at the given moment.

This intersection of authenticity meets accountability is complicated, it is nuanced. I do not believe there is one hard and fast, objective answer or solution to the challenge. There is so much to be mindful of when interacting with the lived experiences of others. We need to ensure we are not taking up space that should belong to others. It is not our right to tell the stories of others, when folks can and should be given the opportunity to tell them for themselves.

I do believe it is our responsibility, however, as arts makers to consider this challenge of diversifying stories and stages, and how we might rise to meet it. There might be no “overcome” in a world as entrenched in problematic and oppressive systems as ours… but I do believe that there is “try”. There is “listen”. There is “do better than the last time.”  There is actively working towards the kind of change we want to see. 

Liam Zarrillo is a theatre artist, educator and consultant based on Treaty 1 territory.

They love and live to agitate, investigate, experiment and uncover. They work with many theatres & companies in Winnipeg and beyond as a playwright, actor, director and cultural dramaturg.

Upcoming works for Liam include The Outside Inn (co-written with Sharon Bajer) premiering at Theatre Antigonish this fall and Volare premiering at Prairie Theatre Exchange this coming spring.

They will also be performing in Daniel Thau-Eleff’s Narrow Bridge, premiering at the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre in early 2023.  

Collaboration, Intentionality, and Cultural Dramaturgy

Graphic image of the header for Scout Rexe's blog post. The image has three blue circles with blue and black lines framing a white box with text which reads: “Collaboration, Intentionality and Cultural Dramaturgy" with a small black box underneath which reads: "By Scout Rexe”.

by Scout Rexe


I had the honour of spending last week with dramaturg Fatma Sarah Elkashef (she/her) and cultural dramaturg and performer Liam Zarrillo (they/them) at an invited residency at Playwrights’ Workshop Montréal (PWM) to work on my play with music, O Death.

O Death is a nuanced exploration of trans and queer identities, accountability culture, and the impact of our cultural icons. After being called out by a fan, trans musician James and his queer sister Caddy must reckon with pressure from their family, the media, and the public whilst launching their musical career in the shadow of their rock legend grandfather. Generations collide as James and Caddy discover their grandfather’s corrupted legacy. 

The play is dark and funny. Intimate family conversations are punctuated with a series of surreal mindscapes that offer playful, non-linear access to James’s inner life. I worked on the songs in the show with musicians Susil Sharma (he/him) and Hayden Siemens (they/them) who composed the music, bringing an authenticity that feels essential to the play’s characters.

This project has gone through a rich and deeply collaborative development process. I first met Sarah in 2018 after moving back to Montreal with two small grants from Buddies in Bad Times and Nightwood Theatre to write O Death. I instantly connected with Sarah. We have both been committed to a deep investigation of both the play and our process, and our shared commitment to this has meant we’ve spent a lot of time figuring out how best to create it. 

Early on in the project, I identified the need to work closely with an actor with lived experience to play the role of James–someone who could work with me as a cultural dramaturg, and be properly compensated for that labour, in addition to working as a performer in the development process. When we couldn’t find the right collaborator in Montreal, Sarah and PWM secured additional travel funds for someone who could be brought in from another city in Canada. We couldn’t find the right person, and ended up canceling our workshop at PWM in 2019. 

In 2020, I moved to Manitoba, and Sarah introduced me to Brian Drader (he/him) who is a playwright as well as the Executive Director of the Manitoba Association of Playwrights. He read a draft of O Death and connected me with Liam, who is fiercely intelligent, and considerate, and a gifted actor and dramaturg. 

Liam and I started working together right away, with PWM hiring them on as a cultural dramaturg on the project. We worked intentionally to develop a safer space within each other and our work process, and in so doing, started to form a really meaningful friendship. 

Our dramaturgical conversations lead up to a 16 hour workshop with PWM in 2021 with a full cast. Because of the pandemic, we ran the workshop on Zoom, allowing Liam to join from Winnipeg, me to join from Brandon, Kate Hammer (she/they) from Scotland to play queer femme musician Caddy, and Chip Chuipka (he/him), Jane Wheeler (she/her), Julie Tamiko Manning (she/her), and Sarah Elkashef (she/her) from Montreal. That workshop was incredibly generative, and I continue to feel closely connected to this particular group of performers. 

I spent a few months re-writing the script based on the feedback from the workshop before joining Liam, Kate, and Sarah again as a Collective in Residence at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre for 40 hour residency in which we brought in musician Hayden Siemens and focused on the music in the show: the dramaturgy of the music, the creation of new songs, and the creative relationship between the queer sibling characters. As seems to be the case any time I join a group to work on this play, our time was enormously productive; we seemed to do months’ worth of work in just a few days. 

Since that residency, Liam and I have continued to work together dramaturgically with support from the Manitoba Arts Council. We decided to take the week at PWM to focus on James’s trajectory and the ways in which the play can be a healing journey for him: a story of resilience and of coming into oneself.

As a queer artist, I seek to make work that is as complex as the communities with whom it is in dialogue with. Throughout our process, we’ve worked continuously to create more trauma-informed spaces. We structured this residency with check-ins, scene-by-scene read throughs, robust dramaturgical conversations (which inevitably involved cue cards taped to the wall), and check outs. We took long lunches. We allowed ourselves shorter days, and time to stretch. All of this might sound trite, but as an artist with a full-time job in education, the days I have to make theatre feel precious and urgent. It’s my tendency to push. And so too it must be my practice to build out space for myself and my collaborators to be well–to be as safe and self-determining as possible throughout the entire creation process.

PWM offers a space for artists to create outside of the pressures of imminent production. This is vital, as is their practice to support artists holistically over time. My ongoing relationship with the artists I’ve met through creating O Death has been hugely impactful. I will continue to work with Sarah dramaturgically for as long as she’ll have me; in addition to O Death, I’m working with her on my new project Cult Play. Since meeting Kate, we have become writing partners, working long-distance from Canada to Scotland on our TV series called Make It. And I can’t imagine working on another play without Liam–someone whose collaboration and friendship has completely opened up the possibilities for me as a theatre artist and human being; I’ve often walked away from our dramaturgical meetings feeling that not only the work, but I, have been transformed in a meaningful way. 

I can’t wait to be in the room with these brilliant artists again. In the meantime, the next step for me is a writing residency in Riding Mountain National Park for two weeks in the summer. Since O Death is set in a house in the woods, I can’t think of a better place to hide out and finish the next draft.

PWM’s Accessibility Committee

Image with text that reads: "Finding the love: PWM's Accessibility Committee"

An overview of our process so far


Over the past several years, Playwrights’ Workshop Montréal (PWM) has been researching ways to create more accessible and inclusive spaces. In 2019, we hired Kéroul to conduct an accessibility audit of our physical spaces, and they gave PWM a report with many recommendations. As tenants in the building, we have been limited in what changes we can make to the physical spaces, and so we shifted our focus to areas where we have more immediate agency to make changes: digital and cultural accessibility. In 2020-2021, PWM worked with Accessibility and Inclusion Consultant Clary Chambers to find tools, resources and approaches to creating more inclusive and accessible digital and cultural spaces. As Vice President of PWM’s Conseil d'administration, Corrina Hodgson, describes in the article below, in the winter and spring of 2021 we invited six D/deaf and disabled artists from the community to speak with us about how PWM could become more accessible and more inclusive. 


FINDING THE LOVE: PWM’S ACCESSIBILITY COMMITTEE 2020-2021

By Corrina Hodgson

CHALLENGING ACCESSIBILITY AUDITS

Like many theatre organizations in Montréal, PWM is located in an inaccessible building that it leases. Unsurprisingly, it scored low on an accessibility audit executed two years ago.

While the results of the audit were factually correct, they did not sit right with me. I am a disabled playwright and I have served as an artist member on PWM’s Board of Directors for the past four years. The audit did not capture the culture of the organization that I know.

Enter Clary Chambers.

We decided to move beyond an accessibility audit and expand our definition of accessibility to include Cultural and Digital Accessibility. This definition of accessibility came from a workshop that I’d attended in 2019 by Spark Clarity run by Clary Chambers. PWM hired Clary Chambers to train staff members and assist me with the first meeting of the Accessibility Committee. 

One core learning acquired from Clary this time around was the idea that accessibility begins at the point of contact. It’s not enough to have an accessible space or event. We must make our communications accessible. This impacted how we communicated with the members of the Accessibility Committee about our meetings. Every email included an ASL  video, and a separate spoken video with closed captions. This allowed our emails to be read, listened to, listened to and read at the same time, or watched. Beyond communicating the content of the email, this approach communicated that everyone’s welcome and that everyone’s accessibility needs are valid.

THE MEETINGS

Image of Clary Chambers sitting outside a pastel pink building with a notebook.

“ . . . [W]e are not struggling because there’s something wrong with us; we are struggling because the systems that were set in place were for a specific group of people, and they’ve never been changed.”  — Clary Chambers

For six meetings over six months — 12 hours total — artists Cherie Pyne, Violette Kay, Willow Cioppa, Penina Simon, Sage Lovell, Lois Brown, and I (Corrie Hodgson) — met with PWM staff in attendance,  including staff participant Heather Eaton to discuss all things accessibility and how disability, chronic pain, and chronic illness impacts our life and art, both before and during COVID (acknowledging that post-COVID has yet to exist.) We spoke of our interactions with PWM, discussed how PWM could be an ally, and future dreamed.

PWM and I urged participants to inform us of any accommodations that would make meetings more accessible for them prior to or during meetings. This seems simple, but isn’t. As one participant pointed out, we don’t always know what we need, we just know this isn’t it. And another one said that we’re so used to being asked for what we need, but not for what makes things easier — and that’s a big difference.

Some accommodations we made were that we had ASL-English interpreters and encouraged everyone to make use of chat features. Speakers identified themselves prior to speaking. Participants were welcome to turn cameras off or keep them off for the entire meeting if that felt right. They were welcome to fidget, stand up and stretch, or attend while lying in bed. Nothing was interpreted as disinterest or “unprofessional.” Instead, we welcomed all bodies in all states of being, and all modes of communication were treated equally.

This approach to meetings sent the message that you do not have to fit yourself to the meeting. Instead, the meetings were made to fit our participants. Their form was malleable so that the humans didn’t have to be.

This malleability of structure is something the committee agreed was a shared value as disabled artists. Many of the group members wondered if PWM could extend this flexible approach to other aspects of its work. For example, could PWM livestream their events for those of us who are physically incapacitated but would like to attend? Could PWM’s programs be made accessible remotely? And, of course, the ultimate malleability extends to deadlines. Many of us are writing on *Crip Time and therefore require flexibility with deadlines. In a field that defines “professionalism” as meeting deadlines (among other things), could PWM become a leader in challenging this definition and explore flexible deadlines with disabled playwrights? Could they fight for longer development time for the creation of new works? As Violette Kay pointed out, we just watched extensions be handed out universally and no one had to ask, so why do we think it’s so impossible to grant them to individual artists?

A zoom screen shoot of one of the accessibility meetings. Featuring (left to right, top to bottom): Corrina Hodgson, Emma Tibaldo, Fatma Sarah Elkashef, Sage Lovell,  Jordan (ASL-English Interpreter), Jesse Stong, Willow Cioppa, Penina Simon, Jennier (ASL-English interpreter), Marc Duez, Heather Eaton, Cherie Pyne, Violette Kay, Emily Soussana, Andrew Scriver, Lois Brown and Lesley Bramhill.
A zoom screen shot of one of the accessibility meetings featuring (left to right, top to bottom): Corrina Hodgson, Emma Tibaldo, Fatma Sarah Elkashef, Sage Lovell, Jordan (ASL-English Interpreter), Jesse Stong, Willow Cioppa, Penina Simon, Jennifer (ASL-English interpreter), Marc Duez, Heather Eaton, Cherie Pyne, Violette Kay, Emily Soussana, Andrew Scriver, Lois Brown et Lesley Bramhill.

HOW COVID IMPACTED OUR ART

A common experience amongst participants was a surge in survival employment during the pandemic. While most of our peers suffered financial losses, many of us were busier than ever. After all, we are a population that lives in quasi-lockdown without a pandemic, so the businesses we have developed — from music lessons and podcasting to consulting and technical writing — are well suited to COVID circumstances. 

While suddenly earning more than ever before, and doing so in a time when many were struggling, was fortunate, it came at the expense of our creativity. Many of us felt obligated to take on as much paid work as possible, knowing that when the pandemic was over, we would once again be relegated to the sidelines and our earnings would return to pre-pandemic levels. The result amongst members was a sense of pushing past limits and not having anything left to give to creative projects. And there was a mounting guilt and panic about those projects, some of which had deadlines looming and dramaturges waiting for new drafts.

Sage Lovell spoke about how COVID had reduced opportunities for Deaf artists while accessibility measures increased options for Deaf spectators. This led to questions of how PWM could attract and support Deaf creators. Sage also reminded us of the very real fatigue brought on by digital spaces — something that everyone has experienced by this point in the pandemic.

Our sense of being overwhelmed by our side gigs and day jobs happened right when we were the most disconnected from our creative communities. We didn’t get to finish work and head to the theatre to gather in person with colleagues for a reading or show. We no longer had informal hang outs in local cafés to drink coffee and write. Many members longed for some sort of casual, drop-in group on a digital platform where we could congregate and support one another while writing. Again, flexibility in this vision played a key role, so that writers could come and go as needed.

Moreover, many of us live in small abodes. Penina Simon bemoaned the loss of her beloved cafés as that’s where she was used to writing. Similarly, Willow Cioppa spoke to the difficulty of working, eating, doing therapy and then trying to be creative all at the same table in their apartment.

POST-PANDEMIC ACCESSIBILITY

For many of us, defining a post-pandemic world is difficult. We struggle to imagine a time of safety after these past two years. Merely imagining physical interactions with friends — never mind strangers — induces anxiety. Willow Cioppa foregrounded the important role that consent will play in our post-pandemic world, as we will all be at different comfort levels with physical touch, with hugs, and it will all have to be negotiated.

When committee members were asked if they felt safe attending PWM as an artist or spectator in the future, we all agreed that we did. We know that PWM as an organization is thorough and careful, that safety measures will be followed.

But then someone raised the question of how would we get to PWM? How many of us felt safe on the metro? On busses? Not one of us. 

And Violette Kay raised a larger, more important question, addressing in-person endurance. The thought of entering an in-person five-day workshop seemed, well, exhausting.

It’s not just a question of if we feel safe.

It’s a question of if we are ready.

Or maybe when.

And what we do until then.

PWM has striven to be a safe space and creative hub prior to and during the pandemic. We would love to see it maintain a digital presence both during and after the pandemic. That presence would bring safety and creativity to its community on a consistent basis. While we have been overwhelmed and lacking in focus throughout the pandemic, we have fought and continue to fight to maintain an artistic practice. Knowing that we can rely on PWM to remind us that we are artists first, that our art matters, and that our voices have important things to say brings a lived experience to the slogan “Access is Love.”

*Crip Time is explained by Alison Kafer in her book, Feminist, Queer, Crip as “Rather than bend disabled bodies and minds to meet the clock, crip time bends the clock to meet disabled bodies and minds.”

ABOUT CORRINA HODGSON

Headshot of Corrina Hodgson.

Corrina (she/her) is a Queer and disabled playwright and dramaturg with a passion for nontraditional story structure. Raised in Toronto, Corrina had the good fortune of being on writing units at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and Nightwood Theatre before obtaining her MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. She has been playwright in residence at the University of Lethbridge and her work has been produced across Canada and in the US, as well as on CBC Radio One. She is the co-creator and Artistic Producer of The Rose Festival, Montreal’s multidisciplinary festival for Queer Creators.


OUR COMMITMENTS

Below is a list of actions PWM has taken since the Accessibility Committee conversations, as well as actions we are committed to taking in the coming year and beyond. These actions are informed by multiple sources, including those already mentioned, as well as PWM’s staff and board. We are learning more each week, and welcome feedback from community members so that we may continue to render our practices and spaces increasingly inclusive. To ask questions or offer feedback, please email: accessibility@playwrights.ca 

We acknowledge that PWM is evolving as a company, our dramaturgical thinking is dynamic, and we commit to the actions below being dynamic as well. 

TopicActionTimeline
CommunicationsInclude videos of how to get to PWM’s location and how to get to our office/studio once inside the buildingcompleted
CommunicationsExamine user experience to make accessibility information very easy to find on PWM’s websitein progress
CommunicationsAdd alt-text & image descriptions to the website and all social mediain progress
CommunicationsUse a maximum of 5 words of text in all graphicsongoing
CommunicationsOffer general and technical guidance and assistance for applications to PWM programs/job openingsongoing
CommunicationsSituate accessibility information and access needs requests at the top of blog articles or event pages on the websitein progress
CommunicationsAdd a video tutorial to our Accessibility webpage on how to use the accessibility features on PWM’s websiteto be completed in 2023
CommunicationsAdd captioned video invitations to events and programming communicationsin progress
CommunicationsAdd voice-over to videos on our Accessibility webpage on how to get to PWMto be completed in 2023
CommunicationsAdd photos of the PWM studio with people to the Accessibility webpagecomplete
CommunicationsOffer diverse modes of communication for applications at PWMongoing
CommunicationsUse a relay service for telephone communicationsongoing
ProgrammesProvide support to artists as they adapt to digital and hybrid mediums of creation and dissemination through Digital Dramaturgy Clinicscompleted, ongoing
ProgrammesCheck-in with artists about comfort, safety and preferred work conditions during the process of organizing development workshopscompleted, ongoing
ProgrammesAdd drop-in hours to the remote Writers’ Room to accommodate different scheduling needscompleted, ongoing
ProgrammesCommunicate about the Writers’ Room through email and a shared Google calendar rather than Facebookcompleted, ongoing
ProgrammesHire an artist with lived experience with disability/chronic pain to co-facilitate the Writers’ Roomcompleted, ongoing
ProgrammesHire and collaborate with artists from the d/Deaf community on their artistic projectsongoing
ProgrammesSend tech gear to artists that need it for participation in programmingcompleted, ongoing
ProgrammesOffer hybrid, in-person and remote workshopscompleted, ongoing
ProgrammesOffer technical orientation workshops and/or video tutorials for different digital platforms for artists prior to activitiesin progress
Public EventsImplement and communicate about accessibility for eventsongoing
Public EventsPublicize PWM’s current practices and structures in place for eventsin progress
Public EventsDesignate a PWM staff member as an Accessibility Liaision, available to respond to questions and requestscompleted
Public EventsHire ASL-English interpreters for live readingsin progress
Public EventsProject script during public eventsnot started
Public EventsOffer livestream options for public eventsin progress
Staff TrainingTwo PWM staff members begin learning ASLongoing
Staff TrainingBegin staff training on working with neurodiverse artists, welcoming D/deaf, disabled and/or neurodiverse members of the public to cultural spacesin 2023
Working with StakeholdersInclude accessibility support requests in all funding request budgetsin progress
Working with StakeholdersContinue to advocate to funding bodies for more support and longer and more flexible creation & development time in new theatre creationongoing
Working with StakeholdersWork with property management to install non-slip and contrasting colour bands on the stairs inside the entrance of the buildingin progress
Working with StakeholdersWork with property management to apply to the City of Montreal for a reserved parking spot directly in front of the building entrance at 7250 Clarkin progress

THIS CONSULTATION PROJECT WAS SUPPORTED BY

CAM Logo

Working Online: What We Learned

With the onset of COVID-19, Playwrights’ Workshop Montréal quickly shifted gears to move its operations online in order to maintain the safety of the organization’s staff, artists, and audience. In the time since, we’ve learned a few key things as a dramaturgical centre, and want to share our findings with you. This is a fairly broad overview, and as time and resources permit, we will be adding to this blog post. 

Online day by day: maintaining community.

Staying connected while upholding a sense of community was a priority very early on. The PWM’s team was lucky as we had just started using Slack regularly, which facilitated the transition to working from our separate homes immensely. While not working together from the same physical space continues to have its challenges, the continuity of regular day-to-day real-time exchanges between staff was ensured. A regular morning and evening check-in for staff via Slack was also quickly established in order to keep consistent lines of communication. While attendance at these check-ins is not mandatory, they have been a pleasant way for employees to not only discuss work-related topics, but also to connect on a personal and social level. For employees who appreciate sharing a social space together, these daily check-ins have been a fantastic way to encourage a sense of community, regardless of one’s level of active participation. And like most theatre companies, we also held weekly Zoom staff meetings to keep projects and planning moving forward. 

Unexpectedly, working remotely has brought a sense of freedom for some. As dramaturgs, we no longer felt constricted to meeting with artists on a schedule predetermined by availability of the creation studio. We finally released ourselves from the deep-seated feeling of our work needing to be witnessed by others, in order for it to be real.   

We did however recognize that working remotely created anxiety in other areas of operation. It became harder to distinguish urgent work from time-sensitive work. Whether this feeling of anxiety was/is due to inhabiting the same space for both work and personal life, or because we are experiencing a recurring perspective when speaking to others (i.e. a head in a box), or simply because it’s all more complicated to juggle everything all the time – the truth is – it’s been overwhelming.  Our unverified conclusion: shifting your physical space makes it easier to separate events and compartmentalize tasks. 

Digital staged readings: a very different beast from live play readings!

Providing our audience with quality digital staged readings has been a giant learning experience. Engaging a virtual audience is very different from engaging an in-person audience. Visual aesthetics and design inevitably have an important role in engaging an on-line audience for a play reading, which is not a primary concern for in-person, in-process play readings. The camera has a crucial role in the overall storytelling process, and it must be considered. The camera is the portal to the audience, With this in mind, setting aside adequate time to rehearse with a camera, film, review, film again, and edit more is absolutely crucial. Be mindful of incorporating accessibility prep into your timeline of tasks, closed captioning needs to verified and edited. 

Digital workshops: preparation is crucial

Over the last year, PWM learned a lot about the inner workings of running a successful digital workshop. While the experience was not without challenges, we had the pleasure of reaching artists from far and wide! Our platform of choice is Zoom, because it is easily available, fairly simple to navigate, and quite stable.

Development workshops: We have found that  a successful workshop via Zoom requires a clear but simple instruction guide for participants. We created a tutorial that used screenshots and graphics, instead of text. This became a great tool to help participants less acquainted with Zoom understand how to download and manipulate the software. Moreover, we offer the option of a scheduled tutorial before the workshop if an individual requires further assistance. It is a great way to ensure that all participants have access to what they need to be comfortable. Moving forward, we plan to include a video tutorial.

Scripts are sent as PDFs and, we suggest, using a split screen Zoom option so that participants can view the active speaker while following the script with minimal interruptions. 

We have found that workshops should be capped at four hours per session. We generally found that energy levels waned past that length. Lastly, emphasizing the importance of good headphones with an external mic doesn’t hurt!

Exploring practice sessions: In setting up our professional development digital workshops, we have discovered that a crucial step involves integrating the facilitators/invited artists technical and/or software preferences. If the facilitator does not have experience using digital platforms, we introduce them to the programs we use: Miro, Zoom including breakout rooms, gather.town, wonder.me). Connecting workshop facilitators with technical staff, in our case, potatoCakes_digital, ahead of time and offering training sessions has ensured that the workshop runs smoothly and with confidence. When requested, the sessions receive unlimited technical support by potatoCakes_digital.

When planning an online workshop we have found that using more than one platform helps to break up the day. Frequent breaks throughout the workshop are also a great way to retain the attention, engagement, and overall morale of the participants. However, it remains difficult to engage participants for more than five hours at a time, even with interactive elements.

Include a longer time for introductions in the online workshop’s schedule. This is an important step in ensuring trust and comfort. See this link for useful ideas on how to set up healthy Zoom environments from Offers and Answers.com. 

The little things we learned working online

A lot of us are now well versed with working online. But, if you are exploring working creatively online for the first time, below are a few things we learned along the way. We hope there is a thing or two in there that will be useful to you! In no particular order:

  • Have your webcam ready, facing you directly in a space that is well lit, and not backlit;
  • It is best to use a neutral backdrop that is not distracting when workshopping a play with actors;
  • Ensure that you are in a quiet room. It’s best if you are not near an open window;
  • Use earbuds/headphones with an external microphone if possible;
  • If you are using earbuds with integrated microphone, avoid wearing clothes that interfere with your mic;
  • Use a hard line Ethernet cable connection for your internet and do not use Wi-Fi (if possible). If you live in a home with multiple internet users, ask if it is possible to be a lone user. If someone in your home is streaming while you are on Zoom, it may make your internet connection unstable; 
  • Consider changing it up! Integrate interactive activities, and regular breaks. 

Creating with Digital Technology

In the coming months, potatoCakes_digital will be filming our studio set up so anyone interested can access information on the equipment we determined necessary to take us through isolation and into a hybrid model. We are committed to offering greater accessibility to our programming.

In addition, we will be launching the Digital Dramaturgy Initiative Website, created in partnership with PTC, MAP and Blyth Festival. The website will showcase a number of digital experiments initiated by theatre artists in Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver. The site will feature case studies, presentations by digital experts, and process documentation collected during our DDI residencies. The purpose of the DDI residencies is to explore and expand our collective vocabulary around artistic interactions with digital technology.  

PWM has also been holding community consultations with seven incredible artists, working to identify specific actions to expand accessibility to our programming, our digital platform, and physical space. The gathering of knowledge will be shared with the theatre community in early fall.

PWM would like to thank the following funders, who, without their support, we would not have been able to adapt to the digital sphere in the way we have. 

This initiative is funded by the Foundation of Greater Montreal covid-19 collective fund and the Secretariat for Relations with English-speaking Quebecers.

Remembering Sharon Pollock

Picture of Sharon Pollock (left) with Corrina Hodgson (right)

A week ago on April 22, Sharon Pollock, an oft-produced playwright who was known for works that explored Canadian history and identity at a time when few of her contemporaries were doing so, died at her home in Calgary, Alberta. She was 85. Playwright and PWM’s board member Corrina Hodgson was fortunate enough to work with Ms. Pollock on one of her first plays. The following text is Corrina’s personal recollection of Sharon’s impact on her work and life.

I was in my 20s, living my dream as an MFA student at the University of British Columbia, navigating life in Vancouver and living by myself for the first time ever when I learned that Teatro Berdache would be producing my play, Quietly Overwhelmed, in Calgary. It was my first professional production and I thought life couldn’t get any better when artistic director Steve Gin informed me that my dramaturge would be Sharon Pollock.

I had grown up the daughter of parents who exposed their children to the arts from a young age, but their definition of the arts was the O’Keefe Centre, the AGO, and Mirvish Productions. I knew there was more, but it took me until my undergraduate years at the University of Toronto to find my people — and Sharon Pollock was a bright shining beacon. Her works and the works of Natalie Meisner, Judith Thompson, Djanet Sears, and of Suzan-Lori Parks fed my late teens and early 20s. I thought of their words as a trail of breadcrumbs that showed me there was another way to be in this world.

And suddenly, Sharon Pollock was in my world.

Sharon demystified the writing process at exactly the right time for me. She made it practical and real. Not mundane. Not boring, but a task that we were lucky enough to get to do. She would call me while washing dishes because she had a thought about one of my characters, or because something in the script suddenly struck her as a much larger question that I should be exploring. She made me realize that writing wasn’t precious. It was something to integrate into my daily life — like doing my dishes or sweeping my floor. Something to carry with me as I went about my everyday life. And she showed me that writers could have everyday lives.

When I finally met her in person, she was just as warm and practical as she had been over the phone. She hugged tightly and quickly, and her smile was a flash of warmth. There was nothing fake about the woman. Everything was as efficient as her words, and my god did I admire her. I think one of the things I loved best about her is that she allowed the admiration, but always directed it back to my work.

Sharon’s words have been a gift to us all, and she gave me a gift of words that I have carried with me nearly 20 years now. When I was struggling in the second act of my script, she said to me, “At the very beginning of all this, you glimpsed the whole, and it was that glimpse that motivated you to undertake this journey. Your job now is to find your way back to that whole.” Now in my 40s, I recognize that she wasn’t just giving me writing advice. Like all good dramaturges, she was giving me life advice.

Godspeed, Sharon. Your journey is complete, and you have found your way back to your whole. I am so grateful to have shared a brief moment of it with you.