September 21, 2013

Spotlight on Alumni: Andy Cheng

Andy Cheng Andy Cheng

Andy Cheng (MFA Dramaturgy 2009) works as a dramaturg, playwright, actor and stand-up comic. We chased him down to get his take on life at York, and life beyond it.

Since graduating I have had the great pleasure to wear several hats in the world of theatre and television.  As a dramaturg I currently serve as associate dramaturg for fu-GEN Asian-Canadian Theatre Company, and from 2009-2012 I served as Resident Dramaturg for Sky Gilbert’s Cabaret Company.  Probably the most exciting thing that I have done since graduating is working with some of the extraordinary theatre artists who I studied in class and inspired me to do what i do.  It was very humbling to be allowed into the process of people I admire. I have also taught playwriting to new generations of theatre artists, which brings me a lot of joy. In addition to dramaturgy I am also an actor, writer, and stand up comedian.  Recently, I appeared as an actor in a CBC TV Special called Gavin Crawford’s Wild West.  I have also written and story edited for TV shows in development.

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

Attention to detail, and the ability to anticipate the needs of the project you are working on. You get this by being open and receptive to feedback.  York was an excellent environment for me because of the instructors who really took the time to give me a personalized education. The most important thing for me, though, is the ability to be a team player.  Everyone is an equal when you get into the world beyond school. Whenever you engage a project always ask yourself: What’s my role on this team?

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

Always remember why you are here. You love theatre. You have chosen to study it in a university setting and therefore its history and your desire to keep this art form evolving should drive you.  Try not to allow the stress and the negativity of competition to make you lose focus on your goals.  People win Oscars who have never taken an acting class in their life, design sets, produce millions with no formal education.  You are empowering yourself with an education — focus on how you can make yourself better, not whether everyone else is achieving or not achieving.  Be open and receptive to feedback.  There are so many amazing career possibilities in theatre or that are born from an education in theatre.  All of the successful people I know in the business are those who have mastered several disciplines.  Try not to define yourself as one thing or another — you may miss out on your passion because you were distracted.

Andy Cheng does Stand-up comedy at the Rivoli Andy Cheng does Stand-up comedy at the Rivoli

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

Make yourself invaluable.  Only part of your education is over.  Now your job is go out and get as much experience as you can.  Theatre is a tough business, there isn’t a lot of money so professionals will be grateful for your work in exchange for their mentorship. People want to work with good people.  Talent and drive are major components to success, but your ethics and professionalism are just as important.  You must have the desire to create your own work, and have the ability to articulate your vision of a project in order to generate resources.  Have a great support system of friends and family.  You’ll need them for advice, a time out, and a shoulder to cry on.  Plus, you need them to come to your show!

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

Absolutely.  In fact, 10 years later I have just begun a new dramaturgical project with two other York graduates I haven't had the pleasure of working with since school.  Remember to be supportive of your fellow theatre students always.  Everyone is unique and brings something interesting to the table.  It may not be to your taste at the time, but you should support their process in the way you want yours supported.  Everyone is learning.  You have to be able to work on a team to make it in this industry no matter what your role is.