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Author Archive | Lynda

Excerpts from the Intern

With the holidays approaching and so many amazing things wrapping up here at Theatre Direct, it has truly been an inspiring last couple months.

Two weeks ago, we had Jacqui Russell, the Artistic Director of the Chicago Children’s Theatre, was here at Theatre Direct to work on a special Toronto Initiative of the infamous Red Kite project.  The Red Kite project was originally pioneered between the Chicago Children’s Theatre and Oily Cart in the UK to create a theatrical experience for children with autism. Since its incredibly successful inception, a new partnership was forged between The Chicago Children’s Theatre and Theatre Direct so that a Toronto creation could be generated in a week long training and workshop. Upon Jacqui and her colleague Dawn’s arrival there was not a day that passed by that was not inspirational. We learned about children on the autism spectrum, the development that Chicago Children’s Theatre went through creating Red Kite, and some of the amazing sensory based experiences we [the Toronto team] would be creating.

On the Tuesday we were lucky enough to visit the truly exceptional Beverley School and meet with 16 lovely children [with autism spectrum disorder] who would be joining us on the Friday for the performance. I myself have been involved with children in a teaching capacity for about 10 years; however, this was really the first time that I had gotten to watch what it means to facilitate a drama class with a group of children who were all on the autism spectrum. It was magical and challenging and like nothing I have ever been witness to.  It was really a unique experience to be witness to Jacqui Russell leading “drama time” with the kids.

The following days were all about creation work amongst the actors, director and designer, and learning the ticks of the trade on the educational front of producing shows for both family and school audiences. The amount of personalization, attention to details, thoughtfulness and really…love that goes into these shows from beginning to end, from the actors to the administrators, is really something extraordinary. Also – an equally surprising part of the week was when we brought a few different test audiences of early years aged children (3 – 5 year olds) and how effective and engaging the piece of theatre was for their age group.

Also here at Theatre Direct, it was the final week of the fall session of our wonderful Wednesday Ensemble that I am lucky enough to teach.  The last 9 weeks that we have been together has been full of focus exercises, movement work, tableaus, story writing, story acting, and character creation, which culminated in a lovely short sharing with the friends and families of our participants. In our sharing the members of the ensemble wrote short Cinquain poems based on one of the four seasons, to which they proceeded to choreograph movement, gestures, or frozen poses. After which, they taught the movement to their peers and it was all set to some beautiful music to meld it into one large text/movement piece. They all did such an incredible job and so many personal achievements were met that day, and over the course of our fall session. I am really looking forward to our Winter session together. So, UNTIL THEN!

Melissa Haddad – Metcalf Foundation Education Intern

Excerpts from the Intern

What an incredibly full month it has been here at Theatre Direct. I got to spend a week with Rhona Mattheson from Starcatchers where we had extensive talks about early years work with Storytellers, artists, and many other professionals in the creative community. My favorite part of her visit was the talk given that Theatre Direct organized at the Ontario Arts Council. It was just such an amazing experience to be in a room full of such a diverse group of people interested in what creating art for the early years means, how important it is, and engaging in conversation about it.
Another highlight this month was getting to visit the Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy on two separate occasions. Once was to tour the brand new building, made with the utmost thought and detail for the approximately 700 kindergarten students who go to school there in the Thorncliffe Community. The building is truly immaculate. It’s one of the most inspired buildings I have ever seen because every inch was designed with the thought “how can this benefit the 4 and 5 year old’s who will be attending” from the coded numbers and letters on the outside of the building – to the ramps and soft play atrium area on the inside. It’s honestly amazing. The second trip to Fraser Mustard was to do a teacher training in preparation for a very large residency project – The Firefly Project – that Theatre Direct is facilitating at the school. Watching Lynda Hill speak about the vision of the project, and run exercises with the teachers got me excited to be able to observe this massive and important project.

The teacher training drama workshop also got me thinking about the fast approaching beginning of Drama School here at Theatre Direct. I will be teaching a 3-term long after school program called the Wednesday Ensemble for children grade 3 – 6. After having worked intensively with children full time for 12 weeks this last summer at Seattle Children’s Theatre, it was nice to have a break and to be in the office aiding in coordinating education programs… but I am definitely now anxiously awaiting the beginning of my program. I miss the kids!!! Also Saturday morning drama club begins the same week and I will be observing Lynda in her class with the JK-SK’s to see some early years work in action!

Melissa Haddad – Metcalf Foundation Education Intern

Theatre for the very, very young.

I’ve come to Theatre Direct this fall as an associate artist, a position made possible through Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program, funded by the Ontario Arts Council. I’m here to work on some exciting new initiatives, and was thrilled to arrive just in time to help welcome visiting UK artist Rhona Matheson. Rhona is the head of Starcatchers, an Edinburgh based organization that specializes in theatre for children 0 – 5 years old.

Yes, that’s right. Theatre for infants and toddlers.

90% of a child’s brain is developed in the first three years. With this in mind, Starcatchers focuses on theatre for the very, very young. Actually, they start with pre-birth theatre projects, working with expectant mothers on creative engagement. “If a mother is creatively involved she will be less stressed. That means the baby in her womb will be less stressed. So already the baby is benefiting from the arts,” says Rhona with her broad smile.

The Scottish government has a stated aim to be the “best place to grow up. A nation which values play as a life-enhancing daily experience for all of our children and young people…” The document “Play Strategy for Scotland” is based on cutting edge research into the importance of play for the developing brain.

“Play creates a brain that has increased flexibility and improved potential for learning later in life.” (from “Play for a Change” by Stuart Lester & Wendy Russel, 2008)

“Play” is considered a basic human right, as is the right to enjoy art. Article 31 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child states: Children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities. Starcatchers works from that basic right, the right to play and to enjoy artistic activities. In fact, who better than artists to create inspiring works that use play? And with 700 new neural connections being built per second in the first year of life, offering artistic experiences for babies has become a mission for Rhona.

Theatre for babies and toddlers is not just for the children. Early Years theatre is, by its very nature, holistic – babies, caregivers, grandparents, teachers, childcare professionals, family and friends enjoy it all at the same time. Starcatchers has done extensive documentation of their innovative performances, showing that these experiences strengthen the bond between caregivers and children, encourage social development and enhance the quality of peer and sibling relationships. So when Rhona’s artists create a piece, it has to be something that appeals, quite literally, to all ages.

While theatre for Early Years is a well-respected field internationally, dedicating arts experiences for babies and toddlers is almost unknown in Canada. Rhona’s visit to Toronto was an opportunity for Theatre Direct excite and engage local theatre artists, educational leaders and policy makers in the idea of developing and providing playful artistic experiences for babies and toddlers.

One of the highlights of Rhona’s visit was a trip to the new Fraser Mustard Academy, a school entirely dedicated to Junior and Senior kindergarten children. The school is an outgrowth of Thorncliffe Park School, the largest elementary/junior school in North America. Housing 2000 students, Thorncliffe Park needed to expand and built an addition designed around the needs of children 3 – 6 years old. They opened their doors to 700 children this September. They’re still under construction, but the passion and enthusiasm for young children is everywhere in evidence.

Fraser Mustard Academy is dedicated to respecting the child, and everything is built for their perspective. There are large open spaces for physical activity, dance, and even riding tricycles. You can see the inner workings of the building. Pipes, tubes and electrical wires are left visible because “we want kids to see how things work,” says principal Catherine Ure.

“Scientific evidence demonstrates that neural pathways in the brains of children are built through the exploration, thinking, problem solving and language expression that occur during play.” (Ontario Early Years Policy Framework 2013)

Theatre Direct well understands the vital role of creativity in play-based learning. The company is partnering with the Fraser Mustard Academy to offer a series of artists’ residencies. The Firefly Project will take creative drama and story telling into all of the 24 kindergarten classes over the course of the year.

With new works in development for babies, toddlers and 3 – 5 year olds, it is a really exciting time to be at Theatre Direct. Just as young brains are developing, Theatre Direct will be there with inspiring and creative sounds, colours, movements, textures and wonder.

Next May, Theatre Direct is launching The Wee Festival, the first festival of work for the very young in English Canada. It promises to be a joyful and playful time for all.

Excerpts from the Intern

Hello Theatre Direct friends, families, and educators!

One fateful afternoon – June 20th 2013, to be exact! – I received an amazing e-mail that informed me that the Metcalf Foundation had given me the Performing Arts Internship grant. This wonderful opportunity meant that I was going to be interning at Theatre Direct for an entire year with Artistic Director Lynda Hill as my mentor. Children’s Theatre and drama education is what I love so being here truly feels like the right fit.

Now that my first week is well on its way, I am even more excited than I was to start. Transitions into new projects are always a major adjustment as I always want to know how to do everything immediately without needing help, which I know is unrealistic. However, Lynda and Naz have made our work place an incredibly positive, generous and open space that asking my millions of questions has felt easy.

This week, Rhona Matheson has joined us from Edinburgh- based Starcatchers and it is such an interesting opportunity to learn about early years work that is being developed abroad.  Please keep an eye out in our Newsletter and Blog for more excerpts from my experiences as an intern here at Theatre Direct this 2013/2014 season!

Melissa Haddad

Special Head à Tête Benefit Performance at Theatre Direct, November 10th, 2012

Join us on November 10th at 4:00 pm for a benefit performance of Head à Tête, followed by a light family friendly reception. Tickets are $10 for a child and $20 for an adult. All proceeds go to our Lights Up!Drama School Bursary Fund.

Head à Tête is a show perfect for the whole family – best enjoyed by those 3 ½ and older.

For Tickets, please visit our Box Office page, or call 416-537-4191. You can also email

Fall Classes Begin This Week

This Wednesday, our afterschool ensemble begins for ages 9 -13 and on Saturday, our programs for ages 3 -5 and 6-8 get underway! We can’t wait to see everyone again.  There are still some spots available so contact Kristin at to learn how to enroll.


Nuit Blanche at Theatre Direct!

In the Christie Studio: New Adventures in Sound, the intrepid sound art folks, are once again making magic in our Christie Studio with a unique installation entitled Whorl. Created by artists Craig Fahner and Neal Moignard, Whorl is an interactive sculpture that visualizes the resonant phenomena in salt. Using simple gestures, users generate visualizations based on touch.

In the Wychwood Theatre: The GeoArt Collective presents Paralandscape, an interactive adventure that explores imaginative geographies through Google Earth projections on a parachute. Going anywhere is just a shake away!

For other Wychwood Barns Nuit Blanche experiences, check out Magdalen Lau’s Morpheme and Canada’s smallest theatre as Rebecca Singh presents an evening of theatrical surprises.

Visit to plan your all night art journey!

Call for Artist Proposals!

Theatre Direct is pleased to provide funding to theatre artists wishing to create new work for young audiences through the Ontario Arts Council’s Theatre Creator’s Reserve. Proposals will be accepted between Septmeber 4, 2012 and December 15th, 2012. For more information, click here!