Back in September, we introduced you to Artista, a new program launched by Imago Theatre offering free theater training and mentorship to young women. I sat in on a session and caught up with the participants and organizers back in November, and wrote with project co-founder, Joy Ross-Jones, about the final showcase the group put on in December.
By all measures, it was a resounding success. Ross-Jones and Warona Setshwaelo, along with 14 professional artists, created a family-like community with the five young women who completed the program. The space I entered on that Monday evening in November was magical and there was a palpable energy of the bond they had formed, and the safe space they had create together. In spite of being an outsider, I felt like I was welcomed into their bubble, and left it high on the good feelings and experiences they shared with me.
Our conversation that day was interview-like, here are some lovely moments they shared.
Stephanie Weiner (SW) : What have been some highlights for you of the last ten weeks?
Tiernan Cornford (TC): For me, I think it has been hearing the mentor’s stories. I usually see them on stage and put them on a bit of a pedestal, so just being able to speak with them and hear their side of the story, talking to them one on one…is great.
Bruna Florio: I was really nervous coming here, I didn’t know if I had the same experience as other people. It’s just everybody sharing here, we all have stories that you can relate to.
Katherine Chou: I just really enjoy coming here every week, and getting to do some acting exercises. And to have this group of women to support me and to talk with, to see that I’m not alone in this.
Emily Schon (script coordinator/mentor): Being privileged with some of the work that the participants have been offering up. There’s been a lot of really beautiful, really trusting work that they’ve done in building their community together. It’s just been really awesome to watch it.
Warona Sethswaelo (Artista coordinator): I’ve been blown away by people’s commitment, the participants, the mentors. It has been incredible. The fact that people show up and show up, you know what I mean?
SW: Having completed 10 weeks now, what would you say to other young women about the program?
TC: It’s more than just about theater and acting, it’s also about exploring and discovering yourself creatively.
Sarah Lapointe: I felt like I was put in boxes at school. “Oh, she has anxiety. Oh, my body this and that.” Here, those things aren’t your identity. Those things are compartments of it, that make up a bigger thing and that bigger thing is more important and that bigger thing is what you’re here to do. If you need a place to go to let out all the ugly noises, let out all the wonderful noises, and let out everything, and find yourself in pieces on the floor and pick up the pieces you want, this is the place to come.
In December, the participants put on two shows with writing, movement, poetry and dance work they had developed throughout the 13 weeks of the program. Each show included a ‘talk-back’ portion with the audience. Ross-Jones said: “(…) I was very proud to see how confidently the participants spoke about their Artista experience. (…) to listen to them speak about feeling empowered by their experience with us made it clear to me that this was a truly valuable experience to them. The performance was funny, touching, real and overall, a really great show. We are so proud of what they created!”
This is just the beginning! Ross-Jones spoke of building a larger Artista community that will grow as the program continues. Participation connects these young women to one another and with a network of mentors and professional artists who can then introduce them to wider opportunities in the world of theater and performance. She goes on to say: “This is a world that, like many others, is still male-dominated, so having the support of professional women who have and are breaking through the glass ceiling, is an incredibly useful tool for these emerging artists.”
The next session of Artista will run in the Spring of 2016. Stay tuned!