Joy Ross-Jones of Imago Theatre is program director of Artista, a free theatre mentorship program for young women.

Imago Theatre’s mandate is to tell Her Side of the Story, so it makes sense that Joy Ross-Jones and Micheline Chevrier (Artistic Director) created an innovative theatre mentorship program for young women in Montreal. Artista brings young women aged 16-21 as mentees together with women working in the Montreal theatre community as mentors. The program’s aim is to provide a platform for the young women to share their stories through theatre, and to gain an understanding of what it means to work in the theatre arts.

The group of mentors and mentees meet weekly for a four hour session. “Each week, we start with an hour of sharing food and chatting. This upcoming year, we will be inviting women working in various fields from the Montreal community as guests to our meals, to showcase the diversity and range of possibilities,” said Joy. “After eating, we have a three hour workshop led by a mentor or a guest teacher focusing on things like movement, voice and text creation. For example, this year we will also be doing mask creation workshops and creating mask characters.”

Artista seeks cultural diversity in its mentees. “We strive toward equity in this program. The umbrella term for who we are looking for is young women in need, but the term need takes on many forms,” said Joy. “We give priority of acceptance to young women who are recent arrivals in Canada who are searching for community, as well as to visible minorities, and young women who don’t have the financial ability to participate in this kind of program otherwise.”

The mentorship program is free of charge to all participants, and that remains one of their priorities.  “It’s important to us that Artista remains completely free because we want to break down as many barriers to access as possible,” said Joy. “This does mean that we spend a considerable amount of time fundraising for the budget, to provide a meal as well as a quality theatre workshop each week.”

The next session for the Artista mentorship program begins on January 15, 2017, and applications will be accepted until January 11. The program runs for 15 weeks, and this year’s theme is Home and Belonging. “For one of the projects this year, participants will be interviewing a person their lives who has a story of home and belonging, or maybe a lack thereof,” said Joy. “These interviews will inspire our storytelling, the mask characters, and everything will tie into our final performance at the end of the 15 weeks.” Artista’s final performances are a chance to tell the mentee’s stories with an invited audience of artists and community members.

And a final message from Joy: “If you are a young woman who wants to explore theatre, don’t be scared to come check us out, even if you don’t have a theatre background. Artista is a welcoming, safe space to explore the performing arts. Additionally, if you know a young woman from the ages of 16-21, spread the word! I am happy to meet up and chat, have an email exchange or talk by phone to answer any questions. It would be my absolute pleasure!”

For more information on the Artista mentorship program, click here.

Joy can be contacted at: joy@imagotheatre.ca

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