The Arts Engagement department at NTS believes in grassroots endeavours led by locally based organisations who have a better sense of the pulse in their communities. A collaboration with Suitcase in Point was a natural way for NTS to build upon supporting artists in regions outside of larger urban centres, and to share the resources that the School has.

On the eve of the ELECTRIC INNOVATIONS launch, Marcel
Stewart, Outreach Director of Suitcase in Point shares some of his thoughts on the program.

Like many other IBPOC artists, 2020 was a challenging year for me. I’m sure you know the rap sheet: COVID-19; the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Chantel Moore...and on and on and on. I felt drained, uninspired, unmotivated, and hopeless. In spite of all the incredible and ingenious artists, globally, who were adapting in this moment, I found myself shutting off from the world.  Until May 30th, when I marched in Toronto, protesting the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet and other issues of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in Canada. There were thousands of people protesting that day. Thousands. Seemingly, every kind of person was in attendance, and the energy was electric. I was flabbergasted by how many young people I saw. But of course, the youth are living through this just like we adults are, so why shouldn’t they be marching in protest? Their experience of these injustices is as palpable as mine. Freedom will be a constant struggle for them as well, especially the marginalized and racialized youth.

Boom, inspiration dropped. Marching in that protest turned into producing Freedom: A Mixtape, a collection of original songs, stories, poems, anecdotes, spoken word pieces, and musical instrumentation from folks living in the Niagara Region. It's a community conversation about our complicated relationship with emancipation, and the human right to be free. 

Freedom: A Mixtape

The community aspect of Freedom is what makes it so special to me, and once it was released I wanted to continue growing SIP’s community. Which is where NTS comes in... 

The inception of Electric Innovations came about when I, on behalf of SIP, reached out to Ceed Stapleton, NTS Festival Coordinator, looking to see if there was any interest in building a partnership between the two organizations. During my time at SIP, youth artistic development has become the cornerstone of what we do, but we’re still the little-engine-that-could in comparison to other arts organizations across the country with more experience in this game. But a co-sign from NTS? That would go a loooong way in establishing SIP’s identity as a place that prioritizes youth artistic development while investing in the careers of those artists long-term. At least, that’s my hope for what our identity will be at SIP.

After meeting with Ceed and the rest of the DramaFest team, they challenged me to “dream big” and come back to them with a proposal for something that SIP and NTS could develop together. Soon after that meeting, Michelle Mohammed and Kaylyn Valdez-Scott, the masterminds behind programming Electric Innovations and its overall vibe, were brought onto the team. Their creative energy, passion for community development, and ability to “dream big” took the idea of Electric Innovations far beyond what I had dreamt. 

Michelle and Kaylyn approached the creation of Electric Innovations by first considering what would have helped them when they were in high school. During this process it became clear that their theatre experiences in high school were vastly different. This opened up an ongoing conversation around access and gatekeeping, which ultimately brought Michelle and Kaylyn to the four pillars that are the foundation of Electric Innovations. Those four pillars are: risk taking and play, mental health and original creation, theatre ecology and structure, and innovation and design.

Each pillar will have its own public workshop where members of the community can attend. All public workshops are open to folks of all ages and offered with a Pay What You Can option. Can somebody pinch me please? I can’t believe this is all happening:

A two week theatre intensive.

A week of public workshops being offered to anyone that’s interested.

Miriam Fernandes, Samson Bonkeaubantu Brown, Ali Joy Richardson, Miquelon Rodriguez.

Support from the National Theatre School of Canada.

This “little engine” is really making the most of the “that could” part, and what an honour it’s been going on this journey of development with the whole creative team. I believe it was the great Michael Scott who once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” To me, the development of Electric Innovations has been all about shooting shots, dreaming big, and saying “why not?”. And that’s really what being a theatre maker is all about, right? Risk-taking, being innovative, and thinking outside the box.