October 22, 2012

Spotlight on Alumni: Michelle Jamieson

Patrolmen Masks Patrolmen masks from The Odyssey, designed by Katherine Lubienski at Stratford. 

My name is Michelle Jamieson and I was in the Theatre Production Program as well as Creative Ensemble ( back when that was still a program…); I graduated in 2005.

When I first graduated from York, I designed for several years and I also worked at the Blyth Festival as propmaker. I discovered that I loved making props and I have now been working at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival as a Propmaker for the past 7 seasons.  It is a very exciting place to work and propmaking is such a bizarre job. One day I am making a fake hand, the next a suit of armour. It's the kind of job where you are often asked to make things that are totally wacko and weird and you just have to roll with it. Then other times you have to do a LOT of one thing. I spent six weeks of a season beading a massive curtain for Cabaret. Oy.

The most exciting project for me right now is that I am about to embark on an adventure to teach propmaking and maskmaking in Suchitoto, El Salvador. When I was at York I had studied a lot about Theatre for Social Change and now I actually get to do it in a real visceral way.  The idea behind the project is that Stratford, much like Suchitoto, came upon some difficult financial times in the 1950's and they used the arts to stabilize their economy by creating a theatre that brought tourist dollars to the area as well as work for a lot of unemployed citizens.  This project in Suchitoto is giving students the chance to have skills and abilities that will allow them to find work, instead of turning to a lot of the gang violence and drug trafficking that are so prevelant among the youth in El Salvador.  The hope is that they too, will create theatre that will bring tourist dollars to the area and employ their newly trained theatre technicians.  If you would like to learn more about the project to either donate or potentially volunteer please check out this site.

What was the most valuable thing you learned while studying in Theatre at York?

I remember an “aha” moment when working with Teresa Przybylski in my fourth year set design class. I was floundering on a design for a set and had done several sketches and was about to move forward with an idea and Teresa looked at it and said ” I think you could do  more research”. She was very right, I went back and did more research and came up with a much more cohesive idea.  I find that I often think of that conversation when I get a little too ahead of myself on a project. I then force myself to push for a better idea and I always go back to the research.  

Big Love Big Love—Theatre @ York 2003, set design by Michelle Jamieson

What was the most challenging aspect or experience of training/studying at York?

I found the most challenging part was balancing myself.  I tended to take advantage of every opportunity while I was there, which left very little time for anything. I kind of had an attitude of getting as much as I could out of my experience so that meant a lot extra-curricular activities and some very time consuming classes. It was challenging but I wouldn't have done it any other way.

What is your fondest memory of studying Theatre at York?

To be honest, I had an amazing time at York so it would be impossible for me to narrow down my experience like that. I was very fortunate to have a lot of wonderful classmates to share my space and time with. Some of my best memories are staying up late trying to finish shows, covered in paint, listening to fantastic music, working together with amazing people.

What was your favourite place at York, and why?

I loved the design studios.  They were a sanctuary of support and just a lovely place to relax.

What was one thing you enjoyed about York that was outside of the Theatre?

By living at Winters residence, I was introduced to so many other talented artists of all sorts of genres and how I could bounce my own creative juices off of them. I was also fortunate enough to be a part of Wibi'jazzn' , one of York's acapella ensembles, where I was able to form some really deep bonds through  music.

What did you do for the first summer out of the program?

I was the resident designer for Smile Theatre. It is a theatre that brings small two person shows to senior's residences.  It was a challenge and I stumbled a lot.  A lot of the actors that I was costuming were people who had been in the business for a very long time and as a new designer with a lot of confidence but not a lot of experience to back it up there were a lot of lessons in humility that I learned!

Armour A suit of armour from King Lear at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival designed by Ann Curtis.

Do you have any advice or tips for York students just entering the dept.?

I would say to not let your expectations limit you.  I went into the Theatre Department knowing that I wanted to be a set designer. After the first year, I discovered that I loved performing, I really liked making costumes and that there was so much more to theatre than I had anticipated.  I think it's best to expose yourself to all aspects of theatre, because sometimes you will surprise yourself with where you end up.  I never thought when I went into school that I would be a propmaker.  I discovered it along the way.

Do you have any advice or tips for York students just about to graduate? about to join the job market?

Use your network of friends.   In the first two years after graduating, I worked a lot with fellow students.  I would design something and I would hire them to paint it, they would design something and they would hire me to create costumes.  We helped each other, and it worked out really well.

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?

Don't be afraid to ask for help.  York is full of a lot of wonderful programs to help you with a lot of problems whether it be social or academic. I discovered these programs later in my academic career and know that I could have really used the help in my first year. 

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

Absolutely, without a doubt.

What surprised you about York/Theatre Department during your first month?

I was amazed at how open everybody was.  My first year acting class was a bit of an eye opener for me, It was a really great group of people.  I guess when you don't know anybody going into a program it can be very intimidating, but I really felt part of something within the first week or two of that class.

What did you learn at York that has been of greatest value? 

Talent and your resume will get you a job, your attitude and behaviour will help keep it and allow your career to grow.