Creative Problem Solving at CAFF

Wagons Loaded, We Headed West

Who doesn’t love a road trip? The mere suggestion invokes the idea of an adventure: discoveries to be unearthed, friendships formed, strengthened, deepened. All of this is exactly what happened when we took our Mobilizing Social Innovation to Train the Next Generation of Theatre Entrepreneurs (TENT for short) project on the road one grey day in early November and headed west to the town of Windsor.

Windsor was the location chosen by the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) to host their annual conference. And so I, Paola Di Barbora, recent Sheridan grad (BA, Craft & Design 18) and TENT Project Manager, was joined by our fearless project leader Brandon McFarlane (Professor of Creativity and Creative Thinking) and Jennifer Phenix (Professor of Humanities,) and possibly the embodiment of pure sunlight, in our mission to share our Creative Problem Solving (CPS) knowledge at CAFF.

It’s All About the Casting

If you are unfamiliar with the Fringe Festival, I can tell you this: the community is built from dedicated, hard-working people with diverse backgrounds who are committed to creating theatre ‘by the people, for the people’. Fringe is a grassroots, charitable organization whose mission is to run accessible, inclusive programming while supporting performers and creators with opportunities to showcase unjuried work. Although the main focus for Fringe is the annual festival, they also provide year-round programming for youth, artists, and the entire theatre community. They are truly an amazing bunch.

You would be excused for thinking there might be ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ bringing a group such as this together. However, quite the opposite is true. Maybe it’s the theatre in them, but I have never met such a collaborative, unassuming cohort of personalities.

The Day’s Agenda

Our role was to introduce the concepts of CPS – a structured process for solving problems or finding opportunities that push beyond conventional thinking to arrive at novel/useful and therefore creative solutions. This inherently creative bunch of Fringers were the perfect audience for our facilitation.

A festival such as Fringe is built on shoe-string budgets and our goal for the day was to brainstorm how to increase revenue by increasing attendance. We broke into separate groups to work through the problem. You could practically hear the innovation happen as the noise level rose and participants became more animated as they embraced the process.

The goal wasn’t to solve the problem in a day, but rather to master the CPS process while generating potential solutions to a key industry challenge. The end result was an engaged group who produced a multitude of new ideas through a prescriptive methodology that could be used in the future to tackle other challenges.

New Friends, New Opportunities

The session was successful on many levels. We not only created an atmosphere of possibilities, but our brainstorming discussion was also an energetic way to open a weekend of collaboration for the rest of the Fringe Festivals conference. Additionally, some of the ideas developed had the potential to be implemented immediately.

For me personally, it was a tremendous way to take a process I know well and use it in a setting where solutions had the capability of creating real-world opportunities. But more than that, it was the experience of working with a wonderful group of people and supporting them in their efforts to spread the joy of Fringe.

Well, looks like our job here is done, pardner.

Paola Di Barbora
TENT Project Manager