Written by Micahel Kras & Sunil Puri
ALERT (or, Artistic Leadership and Entrepreneurial Training) is a creative producing training program, hosted by the Hamilton Fringe, for young artists and administrators who aspire to be artistic leaders in Hamilton’s burgeoning cultural scene. Each year, a small pool of people is accepted into the program for intimate, hands-on training in a number of essential skills like grant writing, budgeting, community engagement, marketing & social media strategy, curation, fundraising, and more.
For the past three years ALERT has brought together a diverse group of young people committed to making art in Hamilton. Presented here are the perspective and experience of two of this year’s members.
For Michael Kras it started in his third and final year of theatre school:
I thought of myself as a Capital A Actor, making it through the whole conservatory training thing and preparing myself for what I was sure was going to be an immediate and fruitful career. But half of our final year of training wasn’t about technique anymore. It was about producing skills.
We were told we’d need those skills. That the work wouldn’t always, or ever, come to us and we’d need to be prepared to make our own if we really wanted to keep doing this whole theatre thing after graduation. They were serious. I was dismissive. Of course I’d get hired out of school! I was a good actor and a good playwright, right? And good actors go to Stratford or Shaw Festival! Good playwrights get programmed by theatres of all sizes! FOREVER!
Then I left school. And, surprise surprise, Shaw Festival wasn’t calling. Stratford didn’t mail me a contract. I found out it’s wicked difficult to get a theatre company to actually READ your play, let alone produce it. And all at once, I thought: “Damn. They were right. I’m gonna have to do some of this myself.”
Sunil Puri’s relationship with theatre in the city began as a Fringe volunteer:
I have always been interested by theatre, and by art in general but I do not have any professional artistic training. While I had the opportunity to take a number of litterature classes in university that taught me to think deeply and critically, they did not give me any skills to produce my own form of creative expression.
I was first introduced to the Fringe Festival when I moved to Hamilton five years ago. Looking to make new connections in what I considered then to be a “big city” I volunteered with as many cultural organisations as I could. I was immediately struck by the community of excited and engaged artists that surrounded the festival, and the very capable leadership behind the production of the festival.
As I settled in the city I had the chance to work a number of administrative jobs for artists and arts organizations (including the Fringe Festival), all the while I hungered to create. In partnership with a close friend, Jenny Vasquez, I began to put my creative ideas onto paper, but still lacked the skills and professional context to be able to confidently produce work.
That’s where ALERT comes in.
Through the ALERT program a series of workshops are led by industry professionals and leaders in their respective fields. As a central, practical piece of this training, each member is tasked with heading a component of producing Frost Bites, the Hamilton Fringe’s site-specific sister festival that happens every winter. You not only leave with the theoretical training from workshops, but the practical skills learned and earned through working tangibly on a legitimate arts and culture event in the city. Furthermore, the program offers a place for each of the members to learn from one another’s diverse backgrounds and experiences.
Kras explains: When I studied at my particular theatre school, I didn’t realize at the time how lucky we were to get some producing and business training alongside our acting and creation work. In fact, my school is one of the only ones that actively teaches it. Many trained actors are shoved out of their conservatories with three years of technique worked into their bodies and voices, and told “Go!” without having the first clue where to start.
From there, you face the reality of the theatre industry: you can have talent and drive to spare, but in an oversaturated and underfunded career field, major institutions only have so many resources and opportunities to give out. The reality is, if you want to work frequently in theatre, chances are you’ll have to make much of that work yourself.
Frankly, in Hamilton, theatre has fallen way behind in the arts and culture boom. Programs like ALERT are there to train our city’s next generation of theatre professionals to help it catch up. It starts with working on Frost Bites (which is going to be loaded with awesome art invigorating Barton Village and you should come check it out), and, hopefully, moves beyond into the creation and nurturing of a robust professional theatre scene in our wonderful, scrappy city of Hamilton. We need a theatre scene that can allow artists to live here, make their art here, and actually make their living doing it.
That’s a long time off, still. But the training ALERT offers to young artists who are planning to take the community by storm means that it’s far from impossible.