October 22, 2012

Spotlight on Alumni: Joanna Barrotta

Joanna Barrotta Joanna Barrotta

Joanna Barrotta is a York University alumni who graduated in 2004 with a BFA in Theatre Production.  She is a stage manager in both theatre and opera, and has been fortunate to have been building this career since even before she graduated.  Her very first paid “Assistant Stage Manager” position actually meant being cast as “The Bear” while she was still in school (find her on Facebook, or buy her a beer and ask her about it sometime).  Things have changed quite dramatically since.

Upon graduating, Joanna landed a production assistant position at the Canadian Opera Company.  She has worked her way up the ladder, starting with her first real professional assistant stage manager job on Götterdämmerung, part of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle, which opened the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in 2006.  Joanna has been assistant stage managing at the Canadian Opera Company every season since, working with world-class directors, singers, designers, crew and staff, not to mention superb fellow stage managers.

Joanna has also developed her opera stage management career with other prestigious opera companies such as Opera Atelier, Opéra de Québec and Opera Lyra.  One of her favourite experiences was traveling to Seoul, Korea with Opera Atelier in 2007.  At Opera Atelier, Joanna has assistant stage managed many productions, and has acted as tour manager as well. 

Queen of Puddings Music Theatre  and Joanna have been collaborating for their past 4 productions, including the upcoming tour of a Serbian a capella opera called Svadba which had its European concert debut this fall.  Joanna is absolutely in love with the Queens and their incredible contribution to contemporary, edgy, rich opera and chamber music, and feels honoured to be their resident stage manager.

Theatre, being her training and her first love, is still a staple in Joanna’s professional life.  To balance the grandness and opulence of the opera, Joanna gravitates towards working in independent and smaller theatre with such companies as Cahoots Theatre CompanyVolcano Theatre, Factory Theatre, Blyth Theatre Festival, Absit Omen.  Most of her work in theatre has been on new plays, which is highly rewarding, particularly with playwrights such as Anusree Roy (BA 2006) and Hannah Moscovitch

This season, Joanna finds herself working in larger theatre companies, including her first stage management position at Canadian Stage on The Arsonists  with director Morris Panych, and her Tarragon debut on David Yee’s carried away on the crest of a wave with director Nina Lee Aquino. 

In addition to her career in stage management, Joanna was the first General Manager for the SummerWorks Theatre Festival  in 2011. 

Joanna returns to York University almost every year to as a guest lecturer for the Stage Management class.

Yes, things have changed quite a bit since putting on a black bear costume every day, under the guise of being an assistant stage manager.  But it’s still a great story.

“If you had the chance to go back and visit your younger self as you were beginning at York, what advice would you give yourself?”

I would tell my younger self that I would actually go back and do the readings for my non-theatre classes after I graduated so stop sweating it now. 

I would also remind myself that each experience is as valuable as the one before it.  There are so many lessons that can be absorbed even in the most seemingly impossible situations.  Never stop being curious and hungry to learn, and never give up on trying to be better every single day.  That applies to your career but it should apply to everything else in your life.  It’s really easy to get bogged down in the immediate set of tasks but knowing that the rest of the world is chugging along with or without your Vis portfolio so do it, enjoy it, absorb it, learn from it, then move on.

“Do you have any advice or tips for York students?”

It can get hard to see past theatre school.  Students have to do readings, go to non-theatre classes, write papers – all of these things that seem like they get in the way of really feeling like you’re pursuing your dream in theatre.  Just breathe – you’ll graduate and then you’ll have all this time to focus on those dreams.  IT GETS BETTER.  And if you get burnt out, take a step away.  Go for walks, listen to music.  Maintain your hobbies, even if it’s just for a half hour a week.  Try to have a conversation with one non-theatre person a day about something other than theatre to get outside of it all.  The pressure will always be there but school is the heaviest part.  You’re learning exceptional time-management skills even though you are so exhausted that you don’t even care.  Trust me.  This is the hardest it will be because later on, you won’t have your nat/sci readings nagging at your soul while you’re trying to finish that draft or are about to go into tech.

“Did connections, friendships, relationships you made at York help you afterward?”

I still work with York profs and grads to this day.  Sometimes we knew each other at York, sometimes we meet and after a conversation we realize that we both went to York.  There are tons of York alumni out there.  I’m currently working with a dear friend who was a year behind me at York.  We’ve been friends for ten years and this is the first time we’re working together.  It’s incredible to see how many people the York program influences. 

“What was your favourite place at York, and why?”

The Ab ☺