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Ottawa Fringe opens its doors with new mentorship program

By Jared Davidson on November 21, 2018

When Ottawa Fringe opened its lottery applications back in October, they opened it a little wider than usual. The festival is currently experimenting with something it’s calling its Open Doors Artistic Mentorship and Performance Opportunity.

The program is part of a larger effort on the part of the Ottawa Fringe Festival to open its doors to new and under-served theatre talent, such as Indigenous Artists, Immigrant and Refugee Artists, Artists of Colour and Artists with Disabilities. Brittany Johnston, Artistic Outreach and Development Coordinator for Ottawa Fringe, is optimistic about the pilot project and sees it as a positive first step. She explains that the goal of a more diverse stage is not a new one, but movement in that direction has been lacking.

“Conversations are happening in the industry about how we diversify our stage,” says Johnston. “What’s happening is that there’s a lot of conversation, but is there a lot of doing?”

The pilot will reserve two spots in the lottery for people who self-identify as part of the above-listed priority groups. Those two spots will be chosen at random, but pulled from a separate pool.

Canada likes to think of itself as a mosaic of cultures, and we definitely are that, but I don’t think that our stages are reflecting that.

The Fringe already has four pools within the lottery: local (50%), national (30%), international (20%) and youth. This fifth category has been created largely in response to what many view as a lack of diversity on display in Canadian theatres

“This is a very general statement and a little bit blunt, but our stages have been predominantly white,” says Johnston who comes from Serpent River First Nation. “Canada likes to think of itself as a mosaic of cultures, and we definitely are that, but I don’t think that our stages are reflecting that.”

The program plans to help the artists who are selected by the lottery in two ways: first by waving any fees associated with the application and performance; and second, by offering twenty hours of customized mentoring. This mentoring will take on whatever form the artist(s) require, calling on local talent to provide expertise in areas such as dramaturgy, lighting or choreography.

The depth of the program is the main reason for its small scale in its pilot phase: two lottery spots are all the Fringe is able to fund by itself. They are hoping to secure funding as the program leaves its pilot stage next year.

Artists will be able to apply to the program until the Fringe lottery closes on November 29, 2018. Already, Johnston says they’ve exceeded their expectations for applications. There has been plenty of interest, and lots of positive response.

By having more diverse voices on stage, hopefully we’re attracting a more diverse audience.

“The response from the community has been really great,” she says. “People are happy that this is happening.”

Fringe festivals have a reputation for being a supportive and welcoming environment, and while that hasn’t always been true, the soul of Fringe is one that encourages new ideas and new talent. For Johnston, it’s both a matter of creating the opportunities and letting underserved people know they’re welcome. A wonderful side effect of all of this will be, she hopes, bringing new people to the theatre.

“By having more diverse voices on stage, hopefully we’re attracting a more diverse audience,” she says.


Applications to the Open Doors Artistic Mentorship and Performance Opportunity are open until November 29, 2018.