The artist as work-in-progress: Azimuth Theatre has a new program for that

Sue Goberdhan. Photo by Janice Saxon, with permission from Work Plays Schools Program.

Morgan Yamada. Photo by Janice Saxon with permission from Work Plays Schools Program.









By Liz Nicholls,

In the creative world of what-if’s where theatre lives, here’s an alluring one: “Wouldn’t it be great if … instead of a part-time job to pay for your theatre training, you had a part-time job that IS your theatre training?”

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Morgan Yamada and Sue Goberdhan, the agile new joint artistic producers at Azimuth Theatre, have created a pilot project for that.

AZ-MAP (Azimuth’s Apprenticeship and Mentorship Program) is a horizon-broadening blend of instruction and self-guided learning for emerging theatre artists of any age: mentoring, “theatre process shadowing,” apprenticing with the Azimuth production team — and, crucially, a real-live eight-month contract for 20 hours a week. And it’s ready to be custom-made for the two participants who will launch the program.

A life in the arts requires passion, yes, but also versatility and resilience as this past year-and-a-half has demonstrated in such a visceral way. “A very small percentage of artists can wear just one hat and self-sustain,” as Yamada says. “The journey we get trapped into in the theatre-school mindset is that you can only do one thing (act, direct, stage-manage…). Otherwise you are letting go of a dream.”

Goberdhan riffs on the thought they pursued with a development team. “We’re trying to give people the opportunity, the knowledge, the resources, to be able make work that represents their identity, their journey.”

Performance is the focus. But writing, design, dramaturgy, directing, collective creation, auditioning, the business of theatre in its are all part of AZ-MAP’s instructional spectrum. For this, and one-on-one mentoring, the program gives the two lucky participants access to  the resources, talents, and skills of Edmonton’s theatre community, professional artists and theatre companies.

And it’s a win-win for Azimuth, as Goberdhan says. The AZ-MAP contract is offered “in the spirit of reciprocity…. What can we offer (the participants)? What can they offer us?” The opportunities to learn on the job include “supporting us in the running of the company.”   

In their own ways, as their strikingly varied resumés suggest,  Yamada and Goberdhan are poster people for the proposition that there isn’t one map for the artist’s journey into creation, performance, producing. Yamada is a U of A theatre school grad, fight choreographer, with a bent for physical theatre. Goberdhan’s route into theatre has been less formalized, more hands-on with indie and improv companies, with a bent for musical theatre.

“Sue and I are performers who branch out in other things,” says Yamada simply. “That’s why we built the program…. What would have been useful to us on our journey? We’re ‘wouldn’t it have been cool if we’d had something like this?’ We can’t create something if we don’t know how it could serve people like us!” Says Goberdhan, “we want people to be able to explore who they are and what they want.”

AZ-MAP is a very Azimuth sort of initiative, say Goberdhan and Yamada of their joint vision for the company. At Azimuth “we want to build relationships,” says Yamada. “Our whole job in theatre is about creating and sharing stories.” And there are stories that have yet to make it to the stage. “This program allows us to connect with the community and with other theatre companies…. It’s about how to build the community we want to see. ”

It is, they hope, “a tool kit for other organizations,” as Goberdhan says.” On the scale we’re able to offer, there are two participants. Imagine if six companies were able to offer this … something that can make a huge difference to the community.”

The idea has already demonstrated its appeal to both potential  participants and the community of professional theatre practitioners eager to share their knowledge and skills. Goberdhan and Yamada have received dozens of applicants from both. “There’s always been a clear and present need for mentorship in the arts,” says the former. “Why gate-keep the information? Just open the doors. There’s no good reason not to…. “

A jury will assist in the final selection of AZ-MAP participants. Azimuth has actively sought applicants from marginalized communities, “people who have had access barriers traditionally.” Says Goberdhan, “we want to make sure we’re giving the opportunity to someone who can utilize it to its full potential.”

“A sense of validation changes everything!” she declares. “It’s about having people in your corner,” says Yamada.   

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