How to create your own theatre: don’t be afraid

All photos by Andy Carroll

When I started my degree at Trent, I never dreamed that within four years I would have written my own play and staged it in downtown Peterborough.

This past February, I directed a double bill of original one act plays at the Theatre on King: When I Sorrow Most and Quinn McGlade-Ferentzy’s Sinking’s Better Than Standing Still. By the end of August 2015, I had talked Quinn into writing her script and designing and running tech for the two shows, and had booked three nights at The Theatre on King with Ryan Kerr (TTOK’s artistic director) for the production.

But I don’t think I actually realized this was really actually a thing that I would be doing until Quinn and I had our scripts read at Mysterious Entity’s Script Club that October. Script Club is a monthly event which provides playwrights the opportunity to have their scripts heard aloud by volunteer actors as well as getting feedback for rewrites from the audience. Putting my script through Script Club boosted my confidence and definitely improved the final play I put on.

Next up was to apply to Theatre Trent so I wouldn’t be paying for the whole thing out of pocket.

We cast the two plays in November and rehearsed through the Winter until it was opening night. Despite having worked on the project for half a year at that point, it was an overwhelming and vaguely unreal experience.

I was 22 and had written and directed my own show with a group of wonderful folks who ranged from staples in the theatre community to people who were just starting to get into theatre.

The process certainly taught me a heck of a lot and while many of those lessons are things lynnI’d have to write another play to try and explain, I’ve limited it to three basic tips for any Trent students who think maybe, just maybe, they’d like to try and make some theatre magic for themselves.

1. Have some idea what you’re getting yourself into!

Theatre is exciting and fun and challenging. The best part about doing it is pushing yourself to learn and grow. It’s a cliché, but risk-taking is key (and often rewarding)!

That said, if you’ve never been part of a play either on stage or off, you should get your feet wet before committing to a revival of Cats because you saw it once in Toronto. We all have to start somewhere, but don’t direct for the first time without some idea of how to get a cast and crew together and efficiently run rehearsal time. Also keep on top of those logistical details like sets, props, lighting, and making posters.

If you have a script you really want to put on stage but don’t feel ready to be in charge of all the nitty-gritty, find a friend with a bit more experience who might be willing to direct it and you can assistant direct or produce the show. Theatre is only made through teamwork: it’s okay to admit you don’t know everything and call on others for support!


2. Theatre Trent is your best friend!

Theatre Trent offers funding to local productions with the primary criteria that 50% of the cast and crew have a Trent student number. That means that as long as half the people involved are students or alumni, you could put on a play for free! Doesn’t matter if that one actor you want to cast went to Trent 30 years ago, they still count!

One of the best parts of being funded by Theatre Trent is its partnership with The Theatre on King, a black box theatre that lives right downtown. TTOK provides productions funded by Theatre Trent with free rehearsal time in the space, which will leave more room to allocate funding toward things like costumes and set.

TTOK is also the least expensive performance space to rent in Peterborough and is equipped with dynamic options for lighting and sound. It’s a small theatre, but this gives new artists the room to fail – believe me, you don’t want to be performing for 5 audience members in the Wenjack.

Theatre Trent has three funding application deadlines throughout the year: October 15th for Winter/Spring productions, February 1st for Spring/Summer productions, and May 1st for Summer/Fall productions.

But you should have a number of things figured out before you apply. What’s your budget for the show? You won’t have the exact cost of everything yet, but if you need to purchase performance rights for a play, get the estimate ASAP; some simple googling should give you a good idea what things like specific props will cost.

But don’t forget that Theatre Trent houses a vault of costumes and props from past productions in Sadleir House that you are welcome to sign out (plus thrift stores should always be your first stop, especially for costumes).

I suggest copy and pasting the application into a word processor to fill out fully before working with the online form – that way you don’t have to do it in one sitting and there’s no risk of submitting an unfinished application.

If you don’t know all of your cast and crew yet, that’s okay too – at least start with listing yourself and make sure you have those student numbers for your final report to Theatre Trent.

Theatre Trent funding can’t be used to pay you, the actors, or anyone else on the production team, but! all the money made off the door goes straight to you! Throw your cast and crew an after-party! Divide that cold hard cash between your team (you couldn’t have done it without them)!


Anyone interested in putting on a performance at any point in the near or distant future should definitely Like the Theatre Trent Facebook page and check out their website at

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

There are so many people at Trent and in Peterborough who do theatre – you may need to dig a little to find the niche where you fit, but they’re there, trust me!

At Trent, various theatre happens yearly through the Cultural Studies and Indigenous Studies Departments, the Anne Shirley Theatre Company, and the Classics Drama Group.
In Peterborough, there’s Mysterious Entity, the motley collective, The Theatre on King, The Peterborough Theatre Guild, St. James Players…. and so on.

This means there are a ton of people around the community who have the experience to help you with any problem that may come up in any stage of putting on a production.

And stranger still, most of them are more than happy to help and support us amateurs in any way they can!

So, to recap: get out there and get some experience while still being willing to take risks; Theatre Trent is your lord and saviour; and people will have your back if you let them. All you have to do is actually do it!

About Simon Semchuk 51 Articles
Simon Semchuk writes primarily on the arts and queer issues. A third-year English major, he is also interested in theatre, literature, and fluffy animals.