January 25, 2013

Spotlight on Alumni: Joanna Yu

Joanna Yu Joanna Yu

What am I doing now:

Spent this past fall designing costumes for Ryerson Theatre School’s production of Summerfolk which gave me the opportunity to mentor some of their production students, while getting a chance to work with director Dean Gilmour. I am currently working with the students of  Humber College  theatre program designing set and costumes for a devised piece of movement and puppetry about writer Jerzy Kosinski called Till Eulenspiegel. I’ll also be splitting my time at Humber with a remount of a Summerworks production opening at Factory Theatre in March and working on Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are Dead at Soulpepper as an Assistant Designer to Dana Osborne (another York Grad). Next up: designing my first show for the Blyth Festival.

Frequency Frequency, Tiger Princess Productions;
Photo Credit: David Hou

Since graduating York  (BFA Honours 2007) :

I spent my first summer out of school juggling work as a technician at York’s new (at the time) performance facilites and designing a few shows that Liz Asselstine and  Teresa Przybylski had so graciously passed on to me. My first big opportunity came in the fall when I was hired by the Canadian Opera Company to be their first Wally Russell lighting design intern. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to work with so many talented professionals so soon out of school. I would then go on to tour a muscial from South Africa around the US, Mexico, and France. Because after all, they were going to pay me to travel, who wouldn’t take that opportunity? After the tour I have spent four seasons with the Stratford Festival as an assistant designer, one season at the COC as an assistant lighting designer, while designing any shows that would come my way in theatre, film, and dance.

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

I think the most valuable thing I learned was the importance of the people around you. Crew calls were all about how to work in a team environment and the design studio was a place where we could all bounce ideas off one another. As a designer, I always try to remember that it takes a lot of people’s ideas, creativity, and hardwork to make a show amazing, not just a director, designer, or actor’s vision, but everyone. 

Tom's a cold Tom's A Cold,
The Next Stage Festival

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

The most challenging experience was first year acting. I had come to York knowing that I wanted to design, and having never felt the urge to be an actor, I was petrified. The idea of standing up in front of other people to talk, let alone act was not my idea of fun. So I tried to make the best of it, and at the end, I made some lasting friendships and had a new appreciation for actors.

What was your favourite place at York, and why?

My favourite place was the design studio. It felt like an amazing priviledge to have a room that the set and costume design students could call our own. It was a place I could go to work at whatever hour I needed to, a place where we all shared ideas, critiques, model building supplies, food, sleeping space. Everything.

Do You Turn Somersaults Do You Turn Somersaults,
Talk is Free Theatre

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

Without a doubt; my first design jobs where because of professors I had at York. I think that most of the first jobs I had after graduating were always from someone who knew me through someone else at York, or past York graduates. Eventually, as I’m starting to learn, the theatre community is really small, and the web of connections just gets bigger and bigger. And the friendships always keep coming. 

In which ways has your education at York, and in Theatre in particular, helped you in work and life?

I think the two main things I took from Theatre at York that help me the most is how to roll with the punches, and how to use my time. The program was demanding, and with a part-time job along with classes, homework, and working on shows, I really learned the craft of squeezing as much time out of a day as I could. As for rolling with the punches, I think that the ebb and flow of the Theatre department has taught me that in the real world, the world of theatre changes everyday. Everyday I go to work is always a different experience, there are always different problems to solve, and new challenges, and new ideas—you just have to be willing to jump in and enjoy it!


Kingfisher Days Kingfisher Days,
The Grand Theatre.
Photo Credit: Andrea Surich.