a new start
My first professional assistant directing job was for a production performing in Canada and then transferring to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. It was the first show I’d worked on where the cast and crew were primarily (almost entirely) female. It was refreshing to be surrounded by so much talent and by people who understand what it means to be a woman in this industry. I have noticed in my current degree that it has been invaluable learning from a strong and powerful female artist because, whether I like it or not, the reality for women in this industry is often very different from that of a man’s.
The lead actor was an old colleague of mine who was a stage manager at the time. The director had seen them at a workshop and saw the value of bringing their raw talent, particularly their experience in spoken word performance, to this gritty role. I was charged with helping this actor on their monologues, so we worked individually to create a deeper and more nuanced performance.
It reinforced for me the importance of theatrical education. Not because it ‘makes artists talented’, but because it puts in place a practice for maintaining physical and emotional health when diving into difficult roles. Talent is natural; training is crucial. I believe learning in an educational environment allows actors to develop strategies for handling difficult material and separating themselves from the work so that they can access the deeply troubling and sometimes scary places the characters they play go.
One of the most pivotal moments for me during the process was speaking to the director about her creative journey. One of Canada’s foremost playwrights, she is a mother to five and has continued to teach at universities and form a company dedicated to working with people with special needs. She spoke honestly about how working at universities allowed her to write; it provided a stable form of income and enabled her to have creatives outlets and a family. At a time in my career where I viewed the industry as binary (you either are only working in the arts or you aren’t a real artist), this conversation really shifted my perspective. I now see and value having other interests and creating opportunities that are not just creatively but financially fulfilling.
It never fails to surprise me how each project makes me grow and learn in ways I hadn’t anticipated. This was the beginning of my journey to becoming a director and wow have I learned a lot since. Yet, it remains a significant moment of shift: one that helped me see the power of teaching, the importance of balance and the beautiful and unexpected results of working with fresh, optimistic artists.