If you were an emerging producer, just imagine how invaluable it would be to be able to pick Michael Cassel’s brain. If you were a young director, how exciting would it be to spend time with Simon Phillips or Wesley Enoch or Mitchell Butel. A young lighting designer would have so much to learn from Trudy Dalgleish, while many a young choreographer would love to make moves with Kelley Abbey.

Shaun Rennie has just launched a new mentorship program called Sparrow Mentors which makes all of the above, and more, possible.

Shaun Rennie. Photograph supplied

With the support of a Cultural Resilience Grant from the City of Sydney, and guidance from leading mentorship-training business Art of Mentoring, Rennie has recruited 11 industry leaders from across disciplines and designed a pilot program that will provide potentially career-changing mentorships to promising young artists.

The 11 industry leaders taking part in the first Sparrow Mentors program are: choreographer, director and actor Kelley Abbey; actor, director, writer and artistic director Mitchell Butel; producer Michael Cassel; lighting designer Trudy Dalgleish; stage manager Alex Duffy; director, writer and artistic director Wesley Enoch; actor, writer and creator Virginia Gay; writer Benjamin Law; actor, composer and lyricist Eddie Perfect; director Simon Phillips; and actor, director and writer Ursula Yovich.

The directing mentees will also have the chance to meet with Alex Timbers, the Director of Moulin Rouge and Beetlejuice, when he is in Australia next year to direct Moulin Rouge. Meanwhile, all Sparrow members will have access to an In Conversation Series which will feature the likes of producer, casting director and Chair of the Hayes Theatre Lisa Campbell, and actor Callum Francis.

It’s quite some line-up.

“I’ve been very touched by how supportive everyone’s been,” Rennie tells Limelight.

Rennie, a performer and theatre director, was working with students at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) when COVID-19 first hit. As theatres closed across the country, he introduced the students to a handful of suddenly-out-of-work industry professionals in an effort to ease anxiety about their futures and provide them with a sounding board during this challenging time.

Feedback from the students and the professionals was overwhelmingly positive. Recognising that there was clearly a need for creatives to feel connected and empowered, particularly while a global pandemic was wreaking havoc in the live performance industry, he decided to establish Sparrow Mentors.

“I believe in the ability of artists to shape a better world and I believe in the potential and passion of my colleagues and the young artists I work with. Being a professional artist can feel like you are alone at sea without a compass. I hope this program will help artists experience a sense of community and upward mobility in our sector during this difficult time,” said Rennie.

“Sparrow is an opportunity to be challenged, inspired and encouraged by someone who has been where you are and is willing to share their experiences and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.”

Applications for the Sparrow Mentors program are now open online, and close on September 20. The pilot program will run for six months, with a minimum of one meeting per month for each chosen mentee. Applications cost $10 and there will be an additional administration fee of $150 for those who are successful in gaining a place.

Rennie is keen for the selection process to be peer reviewed so is currently working to establish a series of advisory panels, who will choose a shortlist. He and the mentors will then decide on the successful candidates.

Rennie believes that Sparrow will benefit the mentors as well as the mentees. “Michael Cassel, for example, will meet with some of the most exciting young producers,” he says. “And it will give [all the mentors] a link into younger networks.”

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