We miss our colleagues. We miss being with them. We miss working with them. And we miss learning from them.
That last part is critical, particularly if you work behind-the-scenes like Peter Lyne does.
Known to just about everyone at the NAC as “Spike,” he’s the highly respected Technical Director for NAC Indigenous Theatre. Learning – and teaching – is something he’s passionate about. He’s taught production at McGill University, Concordia, the University of Windsor – three universities that never would have accepted him as a student, he laughs – and at the National Theatre School of Canada, a school that did. (He’s a graduate of its production program.)
Learning about working in the performing arts is also a priority for the National Arts Centre. In its most recent strategic plan, the NAC committed to creating new opportunities for skills development in the performing arts, and the advancement of professionals who are IBPoC (Indigenous, Black and People of Colour).
This past year, he was a ThisGen Fellowship Mentor, a national initiative through Toronto’s Why Not Theatre company. The fellowship supports IBPoC, female, trans, and/or non-binary theatre practitioners get to the next stage in their careers through training, mentorship and peer-to-peer connection.
“I love teaching,” he said. “A lot of people I know who are successful in the arts had a mentor in the early part of their career. Whether it was in a formal education setting, or just a relationship, or someone who just took you under their wing as a technician. I know what a lifesaving thing that was in my career, when someone believed in me.”
For Spike, that person was Norberts Muncs, one of his teachers at NTS. “He recognized that I was actually doing really good work, when other teachers thought I was not top of the class. He gave me that first chance. And when he became director of the production program, he brought me in as a coach. His early belief in me gave me the power to succeed.”
Why Not Theatre paired Spike with Crystal Lee, a freelance production manager in Toronto who has worked with companies like Obsidian Theatre, Why Not Theatre and Cahoots Theatre, as well as the NAC. Crystal had been hired by Why Not as production manager of The Mahabharata, an ambitious production supported by the National Creation Fund that was due to open at the Shaw Festival in 2020 but was postponed due to COVID-19. Spike had previously worked with Crystal at the NAC and the two had already been in touch about the project. She was delighted they could formalize their mentorship through the ThisGen fellowship.
“There are many aspects to the industry that aren’t covered in the practical learnings of a theatre school program,” Crystal said. “Having Spike in my corner, helping me navigate around how to advocate for myself as a leader, or what I should be thinking about while planning an international tour, or sharing frustrations about the lack of equity in the industry was so crucial to my professional development, and my overall confidence in my career.”
The pandemic altered the fellowship experience, which usually involves travel and face-to-face time. Instead, they met via Zoom once a week, with much of their work centred on developing equitable hiring processes for Means of Production, a group of freelance production managers and technical directors who are working on addressing issues like work-life balance, equitable pay rates, and standards. He also connected Crystal with other professionals, both inside and outside the NAC. Having Spike as a mentor was invaluable, she said.
“Everyone should have a mentor. Theatre production especially is constantly changing – advancing in new technologies, and cultural shifts in representation. It’s important to rely on those who’ve help build the industry, and to know how they’ve built it – what was successful? What needs to change? How can you advocate for change without understanding the context? For the current and older generations, it’s important to make space and learn from new, young and diverse perspectives that identify with the many communities that are shaping what’s produced on stage today.”
Now that the ThisGen fellowship has ended, Spike is mentoring Hailey Verbonac, a Métis Production student in his final year at NTS.
Giving back and teaching is something he’ll always do, Spike says.
“I try to stay connected to anyone I mentor or taught. I always tell anyone comes through here: ‘Just because you’ve left here, that doesn’t mean our connection has stopped. If you ever run into something, give us a call.’”