MTYP's Creator's Unit talks about a performance they've just seen
MTYP's Creator's Unit in a workshop

MTYP Creator’s Unit develops new voices

Four years ago, MTYP started a Creator’s Unit. Headed by local artists Andraea Sartison and Rick Chafe, the Creator’s Unit includes roughly ten budding writers who meet monthly to encourage them and to work on their latest projects.

“We’re giving people a process in which they can create work,” says Andraea. “And we’re promoting Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) as a professional art form in our city. MTYP is a jewel in Winnipeg’s crown. And yet a lot of artists don’t know how to create for TYA. Or they see it as an early part of their careers. We want to change that perspective.” 

In addition to working on their own projects, all of the artists attend all of the professional productions that MTYP puts on its mainstage and afterward they discuss the show and explore the techniques used by the creative and performing artists in it.

“What’s exciting for me to see is that people are returning year after year,” says Sartison. “There are new people who are prolonging their process. They are taking more time. Their shows have been in process for three seasons. We are putting more ownership on them to tell us what they need. We’re creating some independence.”

This is the key part of the Creator’s Unit. The artists have autonomy. They decide what their plays will be about and at what pace they will move. They also take on multiple aspects of the work. Sometimes they are the director, the designer, even the actor. The roles are continually shifting.

The impetus for the unit came after Rick Chafe saw a performance of Hannah Moscovitch’s In This World. “The content was edgier than I expected and extremely truthful,” says Chafe, of the teen play that tackled issues around consent, race and privilege. “I thought, if this area was open in Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA), there might be a whole bunch of writers who were into it.”

At that time, MTYP was starting to invest again in the development of new work. MTYP Artistic Director Pablo Felices-Luna says the goal of MTYP’s Creator’s Unit is twofold – to help artists become better writers and to create partnerships. “Essentially, the unit is about developing artists. Whether their work makes it onto our stage is an entirely separate conversation.”

Right now, there are several projects in progress. There’s a musical in process about the changing of the seasons. A clown piece. Two or three playwright driven pieces about cultural identity, racial identity and divorce. And a collective show created about dogs.

Last May, the members of the Unit rehearsed and staged a reading for invited guests. They read Billy and the Moon by Wren Brian as well as Sagitarria, a new work by Hannah Folger. In September, “Both shows got a reading with a professional cast,” says Sartison.

“It’s harder to write for TYA as an adult,” says Sartison. “You’re writing for such a specific audience with every play. You have to know your audience really well and it’s very very particular to them, such as what media they’re taking in. You have to remember what it’s like to be a kid. And that’s an easy thing to forget.”