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Posts tagged ‘Nightwood Theatre’

Nirbhaya and Nightwood – Part Two: In Conversation with Kelly Thorton, Artistic Director of Nightwood Theatre

Interview by Bailey Green 

On a rainy morning in the Distillery District, I sat with down with Nightwood Theatres Artistic Director Kelly Thornton to discuss women in theatre, Nightwoods current season and Nirbhaya. 

In 2014, writer/director Yaël Farber and producer Margaret Moll reached out to Kelly Thornton with the intent of bringing Nirbhaya on a Canadian tour. “I’d known Yaël was working on a piece in India,” remembers Thornton. “And when we looked at the materials and subject matter [of Nirbhaya], for Nightwood, it’s a no brainer. This show had to come to Toronto and Nightwood is the perfect company to bring it here. We’re a politically-based company, that believes in changing the world through art and tackling the urgent issues around people’s lives.” 

Kelly Thornton met Yaël Farber in 2009 when Thornton was running the Four by Four Festival, a festival that focused on female directors, in Montreal. At the recommendation of South African director Lara Foot Newton, Thornton brought Yaël Farber in to teach a master class. They ended up running the directing program at The National Theatre School together. Thornton and Farber’s paths diverged as they went on to work on many different projects, but they remained on each other’s radar.


Nirbhaya – The Company. Photo by Sinbad Phgura.

Thornton describes Farber’s theatre as “sacred and ritualistic”. She describes that when Farber directed Miller’s The Crucible at the Old Vic in London, she asked her cast to consider giving something up and to explore the repression of their desires like the Puritans they were portraying.

Farber’s theatre seeks to ground itself in the immediate world we live in. Nirbhaya could not be a more poignant reflection of that principle. When asked about the subject matter of the show, Thornton replies:

“Violence against women has been an issue… well, basically since the beginning of time. It’s tough subject matter but we need to have this conversation. Theatre can give us catharsis and a call to move forward. And with Kathleen Wynne’s action plan to end violence coming into effect and the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25th, Nirbhaya is a cultural centre piece on this subject matter. Its impact as it travels around the world is amazing. It’s truly a transformational piece.”


(L to R) Poorna Jagannathan and Priyanka Bose in a scene from Nirbhaya.

When Thornton was asked about her focus in programming the current Nightwood season, and whether she found that any common elements appeared, she said “this season feels, for me, as if it is tackling the urgent issues of our time. It’s a highly political season.” Obeah Opera spoke about the Salem witch trials, but from the perspective of the African/Caribbean slave, and gave voice to those whose history had been silenced. Unholy tackled misogyny in religion in the form of a public debate about whether or not women should abandon religion altogether. Nirbhaya seeks to dismantle the oppressive silence surrounding the victims and survivors of sexual assault. The Public Servant deals with how public service was gutted under our former government, and how red tape can stifle the best of intentions. Refuge, written by one of Nightwood’s founders Mary Vingoe, is particularly relevant with the global refugee crisis.

When asked about what action theatre companies should take to be more inclusive of female and female-identified creators, Thornton discusses her extensive history of working with female practitioners, academics, as well as PACT, Playwrights Guild of Canada and more recently, Equity in Theatre. Thornton credits their hard work but acknowledges that we still have a long way to go:

“If you have a predominant Canadian theatre of male artistic directors, unconsciously their programming choices are affected by their gender; so I think two things have to happen. I think male AD’s have to understand that they have a responsibility—as Justin Trudeau just pointed out to the world—to stay awake to the other half of the population.               But also to get more female artistic directors into Canadian theatre. And that’s what the Canadian Women’s Directors Catalogue is about. The least women are in the regional houses, the most are in the independent scene, and so getting them in as directors in the regional houses is very important. Otherwise when the time comes to replace that regional AD, as a woman, if you’ve never directed on a regional stage you will never be consider eligible to be artistic director of that company.”

When asked what advice Thornton would give to young women beginning their careers in theatre, and she replied, “Be bold and unapologetic with your own power. Stand up and have your voice heard. Risk. Ask for what you want.”

Rapid Fire Questions with Kelly Thorton:

Currently Reading: The Element by Ken Robinson

Last Play You Saw: Unholy

TV Show You’re Addicted To: I don’t watch much TV anymore, but I guess the last show would have been Breaking Bad.

Favourite Coffee Shop: Furbo

Song Stuck in Your Head: “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys and Dolls (we were auditioning for the Lawyer Show this week.)


Written and directed by Yael Farber,
Presented by Nightwood Theatre in association with Amnesty International present an Assembly, Riverside Studios and Poorna Jagannathan Production.

Nirbhaya was inspired by true events that occurred in December of 2012 in India, when a woman boarded a bus heading homeThe piece is a tapestry of personal testimonies, which tears away the shame that silences survivors of sexual violence.

When: November 18-29

Where: Harbourfront Centre Theatre

Tickets: $20-45. Purchase here.

For more info, visit Nightwood Theatre’s website.



Nirbhaya and Nightwood – Part One: In Conversation with Beth Brown, Managing Director of Nightwood

Interview by Bailey Green 

It was a joy to sit down with Beth Brown, Managing Director of Nightwood Theatre. She has a kind and welcoming spirit that I noticed from the moment I met her. After discussing a shared love of animals (with the exception of mice) and a connection to the city of Montreal, over steaming mugs of tea, we spoke about Nightwood Theatres upcoming production, Nirbhaya, running November 18-29 at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre. The transcript of our conversation has been edited for length and clarity:

BG: How did you come in contact with Nirbhaya?

BB: We were made aware of the project through the producer Margaret Moll. She’s aware of Nightwood Theatre and our mandate and she felt it would be a perfect fit for this show. We were very inspired by the story and how it came to be. So we watched the video, reviewed the materials, and then began thinking about the logistics of bringing it to Toronto.

BG: And how did you bring it to Nightwood and Toronto?

BB: Since the production had toured before, that was very helpful to us. But one of our biggest challenges was finding a venue to put it in. Since we don’t have our own venue, we’re at the mercy of the availability of other theatres. [Nirbhaya] requires a specific stage size and we wanted a specific capacity for the audience of this show. And it was at the last minute when we found Harbourfront. Margaret wanted to get a Canadian tour for the show, so we ended up forming a strong relationship with the Cultch in Vancouver, where the show is, currently, and together we applied for funding from the Canada Council of the Arts.

BG: What common themes or elements do you see in the current Nightwood season?

BB: I love this season because of its diversity of story. There’s a lot of different stories being told. I think they’re all extremely impactful and relevant to now… to this time period. I think that they are entertaining as well as thought provoking. They grapple with issues that hit home for everyone. They are interesting and compelling.

BG: Can you tell me a bit more about your role, and what the most challenging and most rewarding aspects are?

BB: Well, I’m the managing director. Rewarding, for me, is definitely seeing the productions on stage and talking to people about them after. Whether they like them or not, I always find it to be really interesting conversation pieces about how the art affects people… what they take away from it. By and large, I have never had a conversation with someone who has disliked the work we put on stage, so that’s really rewarding to get that positive feedback and the detailed feedback as well. It’s not just ‘oh that was a great show,’ there’s always something specific that hit them or that resonated with them. Challenging is always financing, looking after the various budget lines, the nail biting as you’re watching the box office and hoping that you hit your targets and that people are going to come out and see the shows. That is always challenging. In regards to rewards, I always enjoy working with our staff and our community, the theatre community. The networking is great – so supportive and helpful.

Stay tuned for parts two and three where I speak with Artistic Director of Nightwood – Kelly Thornton, and the Writer/Director of Nirbhaya – Yael Farber!


Written and directed by Yael Farber,
Presented by Nightwood Theatre in association with Amnesty International present an Assembly, Riverside Studios and Poorna Jagannathan Production.

Nirbhaya was inspired by true events that occurred in December of 2012 in India, when a woman boarded a bus heading homeThe piece is a tapestry of personal testimonies, which tears away the shame that silences survivors of sexual violence.

When: November 18-29

Where: Harbourfront Centre Theatre

Tickets: $20-45. Purchase here.

For more info, visit Nightwood Theatre’s website.



Top Ten Fundraising Tips from Shaina Silver-Baird: Former Marketing Associate for Nightwood Theatre

 Shaina Silver-Baird is a Toronto-based actor, singer/songwriter and budding Marketing savant. This past year she had the opportunity to work with Nightwood Theatre as their Marketing Associate, soliciting donations and promoting productions like The Penelopiad and The Lawyer Show.

How does one even begin to ask for money and donations?  If people don’t have the money to give, should you bother connecting with them? Why do/should people give at all? Shaina breaks down the scary myth about “the ask” and shares her Top Ten Fundraising Tips thus far.

1. Ask for what you want

I think the most important lesson I learned while working as Marketing Associate for Nightwood Theatre was that the best way to get what you want is to ASK FOR EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT! I know – what a novel idea! But it’s a very scary thing to do. Identify exactly what it is you want: the dollar figure; the donation item or the exchange of services, and ask for it. You actually stand a much better chance of getting it when you know specifically what you want. Most importantly, believe that what you’re raising money for is worth it. You are offering an integral artistic service. People want it. People are fascinated by it. Don’t sell yourself short or approach them as if they are doing you a favour. Talk passionately and show them you’re project is worth the investment, and they will believe you.

2. Know your product

Know the show you’re selling inside and out. Know why this project deserves funding over any other project. Ask yourself: What’s important about it? What issues is it addressing? What exactly will the funds go towards? Who is involved? (Do they add credibility?) What are the donation options?

You will need to answer these questions with the utmost confidence and conviction, so know your answers before you pick up the phone or send an email. People want to feel good about their donation. Show them your passion, your conviction and your knowledge and they will have faith that they are investing in something worthwhile.

3. Know your fundraising market

We’ve all been told to consider who our market is when selling tickets to a show, but who are you targeting in your fundraising efforts? Is your audience and your fundraising pool the same market? They may not be.

Therefore, be honest with yourself. Are you looking for money from friends and family, business execs or local businesses? What would entice that specific pool to donate? For example, my fundraising market when organising the silent auction for Nightwood Theatre’s The Lawyer Show 2013 was… you guessed it… lawyers! So I sought out larger ticket items to auction off that they would be interested in and could afford. This included: a wine and cheese tasting, prime Toronto Maple Leafs tickets, a Caribbean resort getaway etc. It was a very successful endeavor because the lawyers (audience and cast members) were excited about the items and the companies donating were excited about the opportunity to publicise to a market of affluent, legal professionals. However, if I was targeting other artists in their 20s, these items would be out of their realistic price range, and companies would be less inclined to donate items with such a high value. I’d try to create multiple opportunities for lots of people to donate smaller amounts such as: soliciting a higher quantity of smaller items they could realistically bid on; do a 50:50 draw; an indiegogo campaign and/or an event with a cover charge.

4. Ask yourself: What makes you different?

With all the companies, artists and organisations out there asking for money, the competition can be daunting. I was lucky to be working for a company that was a registered charity, which was a huge help in pitching to prospective donors. But you can still be successful without that status. Ask yourself: what is different about my project? Who will be genuinely interested in it?

For example, if your play centres around characters of a specific cultural background, sign onto that lovely tool called THE INTERNET and find every organisation, store, restaurant or community centre dedicated to that culture. Draft a donation request letter that’s engaging, professional and honest and send it to all of them. You can ask for money, silent auction donations or the opportunity to buy ad space in your program. Remember, you’re offering them the opportunity to advertise to their target market, assuming your show will draw an audience comprised of that specific cultural group. This can apply to groups with a specific subject of interest as well.

Finally, remember to display postcards in every business or organisation your find that parallels your show’s subject matter. Invite the staff of these businesses and organisations to the first couple shows of your run and hopefully you’ll turn donors into audience members and word-of-mouth promoters.

5. Excel spreadsheets are your best friend

Keep track of every piece of information using excel spreadsheets. Literally. I’m not joking. This includes every single person you’ve contacted; when you contacted them; which channel you used to contact them; who provided you with their contact information; whether they seemed interested and why; what they donated etc. Even if you don’t get a bite from 80% of the people you contact (which you won’t), you’ll build an amazing database for the next time you do a show. And most importantly you’ll stay organised. You’ll know exactly what information you have and what you don’t. This is especially important once you start securing donations, be they cheques or auction items. You don’t want to lose track of those figures. Excel is your partner in crime!

6. Create a database of contacts

This tip follows closely on the heels of # 5! So you’re a new company. You don’t have a lot of contacts or donors. Sweet. Fake it ’til ya make it. All you need is determination and the internet. Highlight who you think will be interested in your company/show, be it businesses or individuals, and collect their contact information. Find emails online or by calling up the company, and make a list serve. And you guessed it: record it in a grand excel document. Then personally address each email when you send out your call for donations. It takes a lot of time but a) people appreciate the personal touch and b) if you’re not willing to put in the few minutes it takes to type their name and kick off with a personal sentence about why you think this donor opportunity is perfect for them… why should they donate?

7. PDF’s are your second best friend

It may seem like a minor detail but send all your official forms and documents as pdf files, not word documents. I like to think most people wouldn’t do this, but word documents allow a second party to change the text of the document when filling it out. PDFs do not.

8. Tap your network

You know more important people than you think and it’s especially easy to get in contact with them using social networking sites. However, I find that doing a mass, impersonal facebook call to action will help you get your mother and your best friend to donate, but not much more. Therefore take the time to message and post to specific people. Many will say no, but the ones who say yes may just do it because they appreciate the personalized effort.

You also know many people with valuable skills. Can you approach them to auction off services or goods? Even better, can you do a trade? For example, what about approaching an emerging photographer to do your show photos in exchange for another service? What about asking your local grocer to donate snacks to your fundraiser instead of donating money? You can offer them an ad in your program in return or the opportunity to display flyers! Be creative!

9. Make sure you have something to offer in return

Businesses are very willing to donate if they think it’ll get them visibility. Therefore, stress the fact that you are getting lots of people in one place, at one time, making your show a prime marketing opportunity! The fact that your show is attracting an audience gives you power and something to offer. Use it to your advantage! It’s a trade: you get money – they get an ad where hundreds of people will see it. You get an item to auction off – they get visibility and the opportunity to get people excited about their product. Again: It’s a trade-off. You’re not begging.

10. Set solid deadlines for yourself… and then be flexible

It’s important to set deadlines for yourself so you know exactly how long you have to raise funds. Always plan for a bit of cushion time after these deadlines, so setting them a week earlier than they actually need to be is a good idea. Everyone is busy and inundated with emails, so getting in touch with people can take a while. Start soliciting months in advance so you can follow up multiple times if people don’t get back to you.

Make sure the due date for receiving donations is clear in your donation requests. Ideally, people will honour that deadline and it’ll force them to get their donations to you in a timely fashion. There will always be people who come through last minute, but a deadline will help you keep the latecomers to a minimum. I was accepting my last auction item for The Lawyer Show the day of the auction, but I would suggest avoiding this if possible – simply for your own sanity.

… 11. Most importantly have fun! And good luck fundraising!