Paprika Festival

Paprika Festival is a youth-led professional performing arts organization. Paprika provides year-round theatre training and mentorship programs that culminate in a festival of new work by young artists. The organization has served as an unparalleled professional launchpad for artists since 2001, providing free, personalized training and a direct bridge to the industry.

We asked Daniel Carter, general manager of Paprika Festival, to tell us how the youth-led arts organization sets the stage for young artists to present their work and also take the reins of leadership.

Paprika is really a festival by youth and for youth. Why is focusing on youth such an important ethos of your work?

The impetus of Paprika has always been to support the next generation of theatre artists, arts managers and arts leaders, and to build learning opportunities for healthy succession. It’s important and empowering for young people to see themselves reflected in the organization, which is why Paprika has been run by a staff under the age of 30 for the last 18 years. Having young leaders with fresh, relevant ideas at the helm of the company has allowed us to develop meaningful training that is thoughtful and accommodating to participants’ needs and fears. We’ve been in their shoes not too long ago – we understand. With this personal insight, we provide better resources to the youth who join our programming to fill gaps in their education and professional development. We say Paprika is where the future of theatre begins – and that’s true. Paprika aims to ensure each participant leaves our programming confident that their vision of their career in the arts is viable.

You have had over 1,000 participants in the festival since it started in 2001. What sort of impact from the festival have you seen in the theatre community over the years?

Paprika has such an outsized impact on Toronto’s theatre ecology. Countless artists in this city have found an opportunity for growth and development through Paprika. We think this is a testament to the environment Paprika aims to create – Paprika builds each artist’s capacity so that they can leave our programming with tools and confidence to take on work with major theatres. Paprika acts as a launchpad for new and emerging artists and new work, ensuring a healthy and diverse theatre ecology. Just in these past few years, Paprika has showcased artists and work that are now celebrated locally and internationally, including Britta Johnson’s Life After, Bilal Baig’s Acha Bacha, and Nam Nguyen’s A Perfect Bowl of Pho.

Artistic mentors are a key part of Paprika – why is that an important part of the process?

The necessity of artistic mentors comes out of Paprika’s belief that learning and training needs to be individualized and adaptable (“one size fits one”). Each participant chooses an artist mentor who they want to work with and learn from while developing their work. Through these mentorships, participants receive personalized and tailored insight and advice as they develop artistically and professionally. Paprika recognizes how integral mentor relationships are in ensuring an easier transition into the theatre industry. And so, while mentors play a key role in the creative process – offering feedback and guidance in the development of new work and skills – they also act as a bridge, connecting participants to professional opportunities post-festival. This returns to Paprika’s goal of offering participants the skills, tools and network to confidently enter the industry and find work. 

What does youth leadership mean to you?

Youth leadership is punk. Youth leadership is decolonization.Youth leadership is approaching obstacles and practices with curiosity and fearlessness.

As young people in leadership positions – whether that’s leading an organization, leading a rehearsal room, or leading a creative process – we have the space and opportunity to be critical, to ask questions, to take things apart and look at it in a new way. In this sense, youth leadership means feeling encouraged to take a risk and plunge into something that is unknown or scary. For the first time in most of the participants’ and staff’s lives and careers, they are given the ability to shape their path of learning and leading, which is so empowering – and refreshing.

Youth leadership is the opportunity to challenge – the system, the rules, the powers that be. What would you keep? What do you think is working and not working? And what do you do about it?

How does it feel to be nominated for the Arts for Youth Award?

We are turning 18 and this is such a cool way to celebrate that milestone! There have been over 1,000 artists showcased through Paprika, which reflects the culmination of a massive team effort that spans those nearly two decades. To be a part of the team who get to experience Paprika receiving this recognition is extremely special.