Paprika Festival, 2021 Finalist

Since 2001, Paprika Festival has been a launching pad for young and emerging artists. Paprika runs free year-round training programs that culminate in the annual Paprika Festival, showcasing new work by new generation artists. Paprika has been the starting point for several of Canada’s most celebrated artists and arts leaders.

Read more from the Paprika team on how it feels to be a finalist again for the Arts for Youth Award.

Congratulations on the 20th anniversary of Paprika! What does this accomplishment mean to you? What will the next 20 years look like for Paprika?

Thank you! It is such an amazing milestone to reach and a testament to the significance of this company and what it strives to do in Toronto’s theatre ecology.

As a company, we definitely have some operational and programming goals -- more congruent staff pay, raising artist fees, increased accessibility measures throughout the programs and the Festival -- that we hope to address in the upcoming years. However at the end of the day Paprika aims to be as responsive to the ever-changing needs of young and emerging artists and the changing landscape of the arts ecology.

Over the years, more and more theatre companies in Toronto have introduced training programs, and so we try to identify how our programs fill any gaps or exist alongside these other opportunities for young artists. One thing we are definitely noticing is a growing number of young artists applying to our programming from outside of Toronto and around Canada, and so we are considering what Paprika could look like on a more national scale -- what opportunities exist for emerging artist development? where? what do we offer that other companies don’t? and how do we position ourselves to support those artists?

It would be wonderful for Paprika to develop a national network of emerging artists, to support training and development from afar, and build more opportunities for artists to travel with their work.

How has your current cohort of youth and emerging artists been able to connect and create during the pandemic?

The artists have been working digitally like most others in the industry. I think this moment we’re in and the restrictions that have come along with it have really pushed the artists at Paprika to think about process and creation in new ways, which has been so inspiring to witness.

Our Creators Unit, a program that focuses on collective creation, features artists from across Canada this year, and so the question we had going into the program is how do we create work across geographies. The group of artists and the facilitator, Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks, have fully embraced this question. They’ve created a sense of play over zoom, they’ve been mailing writing prompts to each other, and have really committed to re-thinking how they can share in an artistic process regardless of where the artists live.

Overall, the artists this year have been so open, flexible, and adaptive and so understanding as we encounter changing restrictions from week to week and this has translated into their approach to their work.

Daniel, you will be stepping down as General Manager for Paprika in April 2021. How has your time at the festival impacted your career?

What’s so great about Paprika is that it prioritizes growth and development at all levels of the organization - including the executive team. Being able to take on this leadership role so early on in my career has provided me with the opportunity to apply knowledge and deepen my understanding of leadership and management in such a holistic and practical way.

Because Paprika is a relatively small company, there is room to not grow but to question practices and processes that are common or grandfathered in the industry -- there’s room to re-think and re-imagine how and why we do things, which I think has been the greatest gift from my time here.

Above all, Paprika has played a huge role in helping me articulate what leadership means to me and what leadership could look like - and I’m so appreciative to have had this time with Paprika to reflect on that and to carry that forward with me through my career. 

Your motto is “where the future of theatre begins”. Given all the changes in the sector this past year, what do you feel the future of theatre is in Toronto?

I think this past year has revealed a lot of the inequities that exist in the theatre ecology, and amplified voices who have, time and time again, pointed to these inequities prior to the pandemic and social movements. Over the past year, we’ve seen a lot of exciting actions being taken by companies that redistributes power/decision-making abilities, that redistributes funds and resources, and have positioned companies to provide more direct support to artists -- which I think we can summarize as a deeper and more meaningful investment into the artists and communities we’re working with and supporting.

The change that has happened and the conversations that are happening point to a shift that is beginning to centre community and artists in a much more impactful way -- it's less about the  artistic work being done and more about the artist and the people. And I think it's exactly this relationship between companies, communities, and artists that is being examined, reconsidered, and improving.

At Paprika we have an ethos of “one size fits one” and in this we approach programming and operational decisions through a responsive framework that puts the artist at the centre of our work and decision-making. And every year -- after community events, training programs, and the festival -- we build feedback opportunities to reconsider and develop our practices and approach to our work through an accountable and informed framework.

And so, I think the future of theatre in Toronto is something that is less product-driven, and more centred around the artist and what they need to exist and live and work in this city (especially this city); it’s focused on deepening relationships and impact rather than expansion and continuous growth.

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

It’s extremely special. We’re a small organization with an extremely dedicated staff and team of facilitators and artists making things happen, and so being nominated again is very encouraging. Since our last nomination, Paprika has grown so much and reached so many new artists across Canada and around the world through our programming and so this nomination is a great opportunity to celebrate those accomplishments and all of the folks who have helped to make that happen.