Arts for Youth Award

The AMY Project wins the 2017 Arts For Youth Award

Left to Right: Mayor John Tory, Artistic Director Nikki Shaffeeullah, General Manager Rachel Penny, Award Supporters Sandra and Jim Pitblado, and CEO of Toronto Arts Foundation Claire Hopkinson. Photo by Sean Howard
Left to Right: Mayor John Tory, Artistic Director Nikki Shaffeeullah, General Manager Rachel Penny, Award Supporters Sandra and Jim Pitblado, and CEO of Toronto Arts Foundation Claire Hopkinson. Photo by Sean Howard

A Message from Artistic Director Nikki Shaffeeullah
May 19, 2017

Dear AMY community,

We are still a bit bowled over at having won the 2017 Toronto Arts Foundation Arts For Youth Award Wednesdayat the Mayor’s Arts Lunch. Our work can be so process-based that it’s easy to forget to zoom out and appreciate the creative communities we have built and the impact our work has. We are so moved by this prize, and by the accompanying support from our friends and colleagues from far and wide!

The cash prize that accompanies the award is a tremendous gift. As a small organization, we design our programming to be as impactful as possible in the most efficient ways. This unrestricted $20,000 prize will allow us to bolster our existing programming, and to dip our toes into projects we’ve been dreaming of for a while – projects that will better serve the young artists already in our community, and those we look forward to connecting with! We look forward to sharing more about our plans in the months to come.

Reflecting on the legacy of our company, General Manager Rachel Penny and I are ever grateful to those who nurtured this organization through its first decade: Claire Calnan, Pasha Mckenley, Weyni Mengesha, Paul Beauchamp, and others. I’m amazed at how many people I meet week to week in Toronto who are excited to share how they have been impacted by AMY at some point – past participants, mentors, designers, and many more. When I became AMY’s Artistic Director in January 2015, I was determined to honour the legacy that the company had built through its then-decade of existence, and to grow AMY in ways that respond to the artistic, social, and political needs of our constantly expanding community. These goals continue to drive our work.

AMY is what it is because of who it is: the dozens of mentors who invest time and love in their mentees’ artistic and social development; our incredible and hardworking directors, who have included the likes of Toronto superstars Julia-Hune Brown, Gein Wong, Nicole Stamp, Sarah Kitz, Mumbi Tindyeweba, Lisa Codrington, Maya Rabinovitch, and Megan Watson; the amazing designers who work with us; the constant support of Toronto’s arts community, especially our current and past partners at Canadian Stage,Jumblies Theatre, SummerWorks Performance Festival,Theatre Passe Muraille, and elsewhere; the guidance and encouragement of our board of directors; the generous financial support of many great individuals, businesses, and government partners, and of course, our amazing network of AMY participants. To take one’s own lived experiences and craft them into theatre requires a bravery and creativity that many working artists never endeavor to explore; AMY’s young artists do it every year. They do it even when they don’t have stories like their own represented on stages and screens elsewhere. They do it with honesty, grace, and skill, and we work in service of them. We work to build frameworks to help transform performing arts industries into more equitable and interesting places; to make generous and glorious space for storytellers who otherwise have to work thrice as hard to receive a platform; to work against the systemic barriers to artistic training that permeate larger institutions; and to nurture the creation of the kinds of theatre that we want to experience.

On behalf of the whole AMY community, thank you to the Toronto Arts Foundation and the Arts for Youth Award benefactors for the 2017 Arts for Youth Award! We are energized, grateful, and excited to deepen our work.

Nikki Shaffeeullah

Artistic Director, The AMY Project

Artistic Director, Nikki Shaffeeullah, discusses AMY 2015

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2015 is only a few months in and it has already been a transformative year for The AMY Project. I was thrilled to join the team in January as the new Artistic Director, and to meet spring session directors Mumbi Tindyebwa and Sarah Kitz, also in their first year with the AMY family. Along with assistant director Amanda Nicholls, we have been working with the AMY 2014-2015 cohort – an energetic, curious, dynamic group of young women.

Our journey so far has significantly engaged with group process. Certainly, process has always been a central focus for AMY, with mentorship and community-building as part of our core values. But this year, both the leadership and the group’s own attention to the group’s has been so significant, so interesting, that process itself is become a part of the content of our emerging new play. Specifically, as Mumbi and Sarah have guided the group through movement-based and writing exercises exploring personal stories, we have made discoveries about the ways women let ourselves – and don’t let ourselves – imagine. The group has been eager to create art about gender-based themes, such as body image, beauty standards, sexual orientation, and family structures, while also noticing the process through which they examine those themes – often characterized by uncertainty, questions, and distinctly female politeness.  And so, The AMY Project’s emerging show explores the relationship between gender norms and the development of imagination.

These young artists are asking: what moments in our lives have nurtured our imaginations? What moments in our lives and forces in society stunt our imagination? And how can and do we reignite imagination? How can we revolutionize the female imagination?

Our 2015 show is called Aperture, and explores the lens through which young women are viewed and view themselves. In it, the youth ask bold and forward-thinking questions of themselves, each other, and the audience. Artistically, the AMY leadership is guiding the group in exploring non-traditional staging techniques. Pedagogically, we are exploring how a group can support and encourage each other to engage in healthy creative conflict in order to grow, both individually and collectively. As co-director Sarah Kitz says, “I’m encouraged by the generosity of these young women. How they have decided to trust and support each other’s individual voices. What makes me most excited is their willingness to be pushed into bolder territory. They are ready for it.”

Thank you for continued support of and interest in the AMY Project. We look forward to seeing you at our spring workshop presentation.

-Nikki Shaffeeullah

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Session co-directors: Mumbi Tindyebwa & Sarah Kitz; Artistic Director Nikki Shaffeeullah

9 Diaries on stage

By AMY Graduate, Shellie Love

 

 

The stage is their diary and that is just what I witnessed last Sunday as I saw the production of Derailed in its entirety. I was blown away by the issues touched upon and the realness of stories coming to life. Set in the tunnels and trains of the subway station. You ever read a book or watch a movie and the

whole time you feel as if you’re on a journey with the story teller. In their shoes, experiencing what they’re experiencing. Feeling what they’re feeling. Or maybe not. But powerful enough to strike a chord within you, provoking a thought, feeling or emotion? Well that’s exactly how I felt as I sat second to front row.A show about the societal pressures we face, identity, the war within ourselves, and the list goes on, this year’s ensemble partnered with community mentor artists, worked extensively through the summer to put together a play that is relevant yet timeless. Providing a platform for young people to share their stories not only provides an outlet but also a healing.

“It’s really amazing when you see young women come in and there’s a bit of resistance or a block or something they’re not ready to talk about but clearly want to talk about it.” Shares Megan Watson, this year’s director of The Amy Project. She continues, “Through [writing/improv] exercises and time together where we can just trust each other and the girls go from not being able to go there to being able to go there and go there with beauty love and openness.”

For Megan this experience came new to her. While she’s been directing for 10+ years this is the first time working with an all women cast. “Any group of powerful young women getting together means there’s gonna be a lot of opinions and cooks at the kitchen. Everybody has something to say and everyone wants to have their voice heard and I think that’s the amazing thing but it also makes it challenging.”

One scene that really stood out was the dialogue between a group of friends and a girl new to the country. Who’s goal is to fit in, kind and naïve she tries to converse with the girls but they laugh and make fun of her. Telling her that her outfit is wack and her hairstyle won’t get her hanging with the popular girls. As the play progresses two of the girls from the popular group begin to warm up to her, feeling torn between the ring leader and the new girl.

It takes hard work to be able to put nine voices, stories, and individuality on stage and manage to have it blend, creating a play that flows and there’s no doubt this year’s cast did just that. From a single mom on the brink of homelessness with a son who has a disability and just received news of a negative turn of events to love and heartbreak to homophobia, racism and culture, Derailed will make you laugh, gasp, tear up, and then some. A unique group dance piece performed to a mash up of some of the best songs from the young girls; don’t miss out on the chance to see this play.

“I really want the audience to see a show that’s full of beauty and entertaining and I want them to laugh but also want them to know that these girls are speaking from their truth and so I really want the audience to have the opportunity to meet the young women in the cast and hear their stories and leave sorta feeling inspired of what they’re capable of.” Megan says.

Derailed is one of those plays that are timeless. Ageless.

While watching it you are guaranteed to see something jump out to you where your reaction is “man I know what that feels like.’ And for those that may not it’s an opportunity to take a walk in the shoes of nine young women who go through trials and triumph. A beautiful struggle.

Only four shows left. Make sure to check it out!

 

AMY’s 2011 Production: Check Out

Come see what AMY has been up to this season!

CHECK OUT
Presented by the AMY 2011 participants
Directed by Claire Calnan and Lisa Codringto
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A woman lines up at the return counter to get a refund for ‘the perfect dad’ product; a customer goes shopping for words and discovers that “pressure” and “can’t” are the only ones she seems to be able to afford; a BFF doll stands on a shelf selling herself to passersby. CHECK OUT chronicles a full day of operations at The More Frills Super Mega Ultimate Extreme Shopping Centre Place. This multi-disciplinary performance piece takes a playful look at the things we value and asks us how much we are willing to pay.

Through one-to-one mentorships and weekly sessions of lively discussions and theatre-making exercises, this year’s group of 12 young women have created an engaging theatrical offering that courageously explores themes of isolation, addiction, body image, and the commodification of…well, everything.

THEATRE PASSE MURAILLE backspace
April 8 at 8pm
April 9 at 2pm and 8pm (Gala show)
Tickets: Check Out: $15 in advance; Pay-What-You-Can at door from The Arts Box Office

CHECK OUT is co-directed by Claire Calnan (NOW Magazine top theatre artist 2009) and Lisa Codrington (Governor-General Award nominee) and has assembled an extraordinary group of mentors including Saidah Baba Talibah (songstress, recording artist), Morwyn Brebner (The Optimists, Little Mercy’s First Murder), Anna Chatterton (Independent Aunties), Audrey Dwyer (Actor, Director, Dramaturg), and Motion (Author, Spoken Word poet)