Paprika Festival is a youth-led professional performing arts organization. We run year round professional training and mentorship programs that culminate in a performing arts festival of new work by young artists.
- We generate opportunities for young artists to lead their own creative process with the support of their peers and professional mentors.
- We set the stage for young artists to have their voices heard in a setting that is supportive and also dependent on critical response.
- We ensure that young artists are well equipped to find employment in diverse cultural industries and to become our successors.
Established in 2001 by 18 year-old Anthony Furey, the Paprika Festival has evolved in its vision and scope significantly. The young Mr. Furey approached former Artistic Director of Tarragon Theatre, Urjo Kareda, with the idea of creating a festival that showcased work created entirely by young people. In March 2002, the first Paprika Festival showcased five new plays created by artists 21 and under.
Since its inception, Paprika has introduced exciting new initiatives to respond to the needs of young creators. This included the “Inter/national Project,” programmed in 2005 under the guidance of Artistic Producer Natasha Mytnowych; and, the “Oasis Alternative Artists Lab” and the “After-School Artists Lab” in 2006. In 2007, Artistic Producer Tessa King programmed the first “Creators Unit,” which was created with the intent to support the development of new film, visual art, and spoken word projects. The Creators Unit continued as part of Paprika’s core programming after King’s departure in 2008, at which time Julia Lederer stepped into the role of Interim Artistic Producer.
Rob Kempson became the Artistic Producer in 2009. The company continued to change in response to the needs of the youth arts community. In the 2012/2013 season, Kempson, with the facilitation of Rosamund Small, piloted the Advisory Board – now known as the Festival Administrators. This new program provided the opportunity for participants to receive insight and mentorship in the administrative responsibilities of an arts organization. At this point, Paprika became a Company-in-Residence at Theatre Passe Muraille, providing a home-base for the company, its staff, and participants. The 2012/2013 season also saw the introduction of Paprika’s first General Manager, Katherine Devlin, noting a priority to stabilize the organization’s operations.
During his tenure as Artistic Producer between 2013-2015, Dan Daley launched a community arts initiative, an expansion of the Paprika Productions program, and the presentation of both national and international young artists. In 2015, Artistic Programs Manager Rosamund Small developed and curated Paprika’s inaugural Intersection conference – a day of workshops, debates and roundtables on issues and topics relevant to emerging artists.
The 2015/2016 season, led by Artistic Producer Darwin Lyons and General Manager Michelle Yagi, introduced a new partnership with Native Earth Performing Arts, a renewed focus on community arts engagement, and a strategic plan for Paprika’s future.
In 2017, General Manager Leslie McCue introduced the first Indigenous Arts Program, intended to provide young and emerging Indigenous artists a platform to develop new work while connecting with the broader Indigenous arts community. In 2018, Leslie McCue and Artistic Producer Ali Joy Richardson engaged in a 7-month long strategic planning process led by Jane Marsland to create a new trajectory for the company’s operations and programming focused on decolonizing practices and increasing accessibility.
In 2018, Daniel Carter started his tenure as General Manager, and in the spring of 2019, Kanika Ambrose joined him as Artistic Producer. With the 19th Paprika Festival, they introduced a brand new program in the Design Lab, intending to support the learning of emerging designers within the performing arts industry. They also introduced the first iteration of Paprika’s #HotTopics series of talkbacks, workshops, and conversations to further engage young and emerging artists in conversations pertaining to the future of the theatre industry.
In the spring of 2021, Julia Dickson started her her tenure as General Manager, overseeing the execution of the 20th anniversary Paprika Festival. Paprika was also awarded the Toronto Arts Foundation’s 2021 Arts for Youth Award for its outstanding commitment to engaging Toronto’s youth through the arts and its significant contributions to the arts and culture of Toronto. In the summer of that year, Keshia Palm stepped into the role of Artistic Producer.
In 2022, They created a newly designed Creative Producers program, offering hands-on training and showcase opportunities for IBPOC, LGBTQ2SIA+ women, trans and non-binary artists under 30. With foundation support, they are piloting a 2-year model where Creative Producer participants receive a Toronto Living Wage and residency fees for time spent in program sessions. Spring 2022 they began a strategic planning process with Currents Group aimed to update Paprika’s 2018 Manifesto, staffing model, and transition strategies in order to address Paprika’s incredible growth, and the significant impacts to the arts sector due to COVID-19. Introducing financial partnerships with community and industry partners bolstered Paprika’s operating budget by 16%. Paprika relocated its homebase to Outside the March’s office in September 2022.
They continue to work towards deepening relationships between Industry & Community Partners to create meaningful connections between participants and the larger arts sector, prioritizing incremental changes to support better staff pay, and adapting Paprika’s programming and operations to respond to sectoral changes caused by COVID-19.
In our 20 seasons to date we have supported the artistic work of over 1,200 individuals and launched over 120 professional careers.
We have grown from a Festival of five short plays to a Festival with year-round programming featuring a diversity of productions, playwrights-in-residence, a resident company, a creators’ unit, a youth advisory board, a cabaret series, ongoing mentorship, monthly training days and a vibrant connection to the professional arts community.
We value barrier free access to our programs. Our programs are free-of-charge and are inclusive to peoples of all origin, faith, mobility, economic status, sexual orientation, and any other equity-seeking group. We create a space where all voices are heard and valued equally.
We aim to create a space where a diverse group of young people can work with like-minded peers, take artistic and personal risks, and meet collaborators within a safe and supportive environment. Through our mentorship-based training programs we connect participants to the larger Canadian Theatre ecology.
We give youth the responsibility of being treated like professionals. Paprika gives their participants the autonomy to create new work that is their own, while giving them the tools, training and mentorship to push their artistic skills as far as they will go. We provide an opportunity for youth to be leaders, and we ensure that young artists are well equipped to find employment in diverse cultural industries and to become our successors.
We pride ourselves on being an entirely youth-run organization, focused on serving emerging artists. We strongly believe that young people are willing and able to take on leadership roles as they continue to learn and grow in their artistic work, in their careers and in their communities.
- To create opportunities for young people to connect with their peers in an authentic way in the creation of the performing arts.
- To create meaningful connections with artistic mentors who are invested in the future generation of young professionals.
- To empower young people with the confidence, artistic freedom and leadership skills necessary to grow and succeed in the arts
- To generate a supportive yet rigorous community that inspires young people to create the highest caliber of artistic work.
- To bring a generation of young leaders into our cultural industry as practitioners, social entrepreneurs and advocates for social change through art.
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