Making Friends while Making a Difference

Lynne Li

By: Lynne Li

I’ll be honest. Transferring from another postsecondary institution and starting my studies at Sheridan in the summer made me feel quite lonely. I don’t have much trouble making friends, but I felt quite disconnected from the other students in my program. 

Flash forward a few months – I had just started the first day of my second semester when I received an email from my Professor of Business Communications, Brian Chama. It was a job posting for students to work on a collaborative research program for Creative Humanities and the Toronto Fringe Festival’s TENT program. I knew next to nothing about the Toronto Fringe Festival, was short of a job (let’s just say there’s no love lost between me and the Forever 21 brand), and was looking for more ways to get involved on campus, so I figured I may as well give it a shot. 

Source: www.energizer.ca

As with most things that incite my passion and interest, I set about learning more about TENT and the Creative Humanities team with the zeal of an Energizer Bunny. 
  
I was happy to recognize the familiar face of Glenn Clifton as a research collaborator, having taken Composition and Rhetoric with him, and the fact that the entire team was quite diverse in terms of fields of study. I thought that perhaps that was the missing piece of the puzzle in my feeling of disconnect, and that meeting and working with students outside of my BBA program could help me feel like part of a community. 

After a successful interview, I was filled with nervous excitement in the days leading up to the first meeting. Thoughts like “But I’ve never creative problem solved before and “I hope I can contribute something of value filled my head. At the meeting however, all my previous worries were put at ease. 

Creative problem solving, as it turns out, is an incredibly fun thing to do, even at 8am on a Friday morning. 

Maybe it was the colourful sticky notes, or the stickers, or the kids’ toys, or a combination of all three that gave the entire session a sense of goofiness and almost child-like light-heartedness. I clearly remember an improv activity we did that was led by Professor Patrice Esson. A pair of snazzy red sunglasses (and may I add, with one missing lens) was passed around the table and we each had to use it as part of an alter-ego persona. Mind you, I was part of an arts program in high school but kept my distance from any drama-related course or activity. At once, my head was racing to come up with creative and imaginative ideas, as well as back-up ones too in case I had the same thought or character as someone else in the group. In the end, it was just fun to laugh at everyone’s silliness. I am proud to say that I’ve survived my first improv experience and came to genuinely enjoy it! 

The first TENT session was nothing I would have expected from the job position and description: it was incredibly liberating to defer judgment and feasibility during the process. For those of you who haven’t practiced CPS before, deferring judgment is essentially avoiding making judgments early in the divergent thinking phase. Instead, it is delayed to a later stage in the process to optimize a brainstorming session. This is an essential step in the CPS process as it allows a team to get their creative juices flowing and bounce ideas off of each other, before switching gears to analyze and select the best ones. It was a fresh breath of air from my previous work experiences in accounting (which were very data-driven), as well as a welcome break from my business courses. 

From our first “kick-off” meeting on October 4, 2019. I am still astounded at the number of ideas we came up with. 

Throughout the entire process from generating a rough idea for the TENT Insider Event, to designing and gathering the content for the zine, to working directly with some key TENT partners, it was a whirlwind of collaborative and individual activity, all the while being manageable and fulfilling work. 

I became much more acquainted with the CPS process, learned what a zine was and how it could be used effectively, and how to best apply the skills I had while simultaneously acquiring new ones. 

Let me back up a bit. You’re probably wondering, “what in tarnation is a zine anyway?” And no, it’s not a mini magazine, though they do have their similarities. Here’s a definition for ya: It is an independently published booklet filled with text and images that is commonly used as a creative medium to express a certain subject matter or artistic idea. You can find out a lot more at Broken Pencil, “the magazine of zine culture and the independent arts”, here (thank you Brandon for sharing this resource with us). 

I learned, through improv, that it’s OK to step outside of my comfort zone and face the unknown sometimes, especially when surrounded by a group of caring and supportive people. This led me to apply, and ultimately work at TD, a position where I’ve been able to use my knowledge of financial services and products to help educate customers and allow them to be financially literate and confident. 

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the TENT Insider Event on February 27, 2020, and that was the perfect culmination to witness and experience how all of our collective efforts came to fruition. Hosted at the Riverdale Hub in Toronto, the event used creative ways to educate people about the program and inspire them to become TENT champions. The tasty hors d’oeuvres and intense trivia competition were an added bonus! There, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with some TENT alumni, and learn about their personal journey as an actor, director, or producer, and what lies in their future. Not only did I learn more about the theatre entrepreneur community in Toronto, but I gained a much greater understanding and appreciation for the artists who choose to follow their dreams and pursue their passions despite obstacles. 

The TENT Insider event wouldn’t be complete without a good ol’-fashioned CPS session! 

Through this experience, I’ve been able to connect and work with some incredibly brilliant and talented people; whether that be creative writing or illustration, I was inspired by their resilience through hard times or their idée fixe with cold emailing (@Kate). And finally, I’ve been able to learn things and form friendships that will last a long time after the Sheridan-TENT collaboration comes to an end.

Left: Eating a very healthy meal with Sarah Whang (creative documenter) at The Marquee. Right: Sheridan Paint Night with Ayesha Qamar (research assistant).