2020-2021,  blog


Looking back with Mae Smith

This was a big year for our friends at the Paprika Festival, our company-in-residence. Not only was #Paprika20 their largest program to date, they also announced new executive leadership team, Julia Dickson (General Manager) and Keshia Palm (Artistic Producer). The two-week festival welcomed over 500 audience members digitally, forging a path for the future of performance by embracing digital platforms. Theatre Passe Muraille is a proud festival partner of #Paprika20.

We asked Mae Smith, who was part of this year’s Paprika Festival Design Lab, to talk about her #Paprika20 experience. 

Mae is a white-looking woman in her 20s with curly, short brown hair. She is wearing a black shirt and smiling up at the camera

Mae Smith is an Associate Editor and Social Media Manager for Intermission Magazine. She is a theatre artist focusing primarily on lighting design, theatre criticism, props making, and working backstage. Outside of theatre, she is a writer, editor, crafter, and a Pisces. Mae’s writing has been featured in Critical Stages, alt.theatre magazine, and DARTcritics. In addition to her work at Intermission, Mae is studying Creative Writing at the University of Toronto and was a member of #Paprika20’s Design Lab.

As I get closer and closer to the day I might set foot in a theatre again, I’m so grateful I never fully put theatre down during this ongoing pandemic.

I’m so grateful I didn’t wait fifteen months to collaborate on a show. I’m grateful I didn’t wait to meet a bunch of new theatre artists eager to create new work. I’m so grateful I got to be in Paprika’s 2021 Design Lab.

In planning, the Paprika Festival was to be remote to start and then by the summer we’d be able to perform in person to some capacity. Perhaps, we’d even get to do a workshop in a theatre where my mentors (much love to Steph Raposo and Miquelon Rodriguez) could have me and my cohort, Renee Wong, hang and focus lights together. As anyone who saw this year’s Festival – or anyone in Ontario – can tell you, that didn’t happen. 

Mae's team is on a zoom call, everyone looking so happy and excited

I won’t lie and say that working remotely and using Zoom completely fills the gap when it comes to making theatre. I was drawn to theatre because of the hands-on approach. I love running backstage to hand off a prop, trying to wipe Styrofoam beads off your pants only for them to stick to your hands, and the gasp everyone in the booth makes when you hit a cue way too early. However, I’ve learned that nothing can get in the way of the enthusiasm and creativity of artists that just want to make stuff together. I felt everyone, like me, had this hunger to collaborate and soak up as many ideas as possible.

From the moment I entered the first online workshop, I didn’t care how rough my internet connection was or how many times I’d try to talk while on mute, we were going to make something, and I was excited.

I worked on Letters to my Grandma by Anusree Roy which is Director Lab participant Malika Daya’s project. I was the lighting designer and the sound designer which marked my first time designing lights for a digital show and my first time designing sound for any kind of show. Whenever a participant spoke about their work or ideas, it was magnetic. When Malika spoke about her vision for Letters to my Grandma it elicited what I can only imagine is the same feeling that compels people to stand up during church services.

With such a strong vision, though, I worried I wouldn’t be able live up to it. Every time I tried to remotely control the actor’s smart light bulb, I felt like I was using a computer for the very first time. For most of the rehearsal process, the technical requirement to play my sound files through Zoom made it so I couldn’t hear what was being played. We went weeks with a comically loud phone dialing sound and no one told me!

After weeks of patience and many tutorials from Angela Mae Bago, our stage manager, I programmed the lights, adjusted the volume, and we shared our work with an audience. It was an open rehearsal so I wasn’t expecting it to feel much different than any other evening where we ran the show but I started to cry when we started letting people into the meeting. I watched the participant list grow and I imagined each name filing into a bright red seat and flipping through their program.

When the show finished, I watched each name disappear before logging off like waiting for the house to empty before sweeping the stage.

But it didn’t feel like closing night.

Although the 2021 Paprika Festival is technically closed, it doesn’t feel over. I know I’m not done collaborating with the other artists. I know I’ve met mentors who will continue supporting me. And I’m forever grateful.

The Paprika festival poster, which is drawn in a cyber graphic art, against a faint screenshot of the Paprika Festival website is collaged against a pink background. It has large text #Paprika20 on top.

Paprika Festival is a youth-led professional performing arts organization, who runs year round professional training and mentorship programs that culminate in a performing arts festival of new work by young artists.

Learn about Paprika Festival at www.paprikafestival.com