December 30, 2013

Spotlight on Alumni: Claire Armstrong

Claire Armstrong Claire Armstrong

I am a graduate of the Creative Ensemble stream, which is now known as the Devised Theatre program.  Since graduating, some of the most exciting work I’ve done was with The Classical Theatre Project.  I was a company member for two years, playing lead roles in Shakespeare productions and performing for thousands of high school students.  It was invigorating to be a part of many students’ first live experience of Shakespeare.  Working with this company also helped me meet and work with a number of new artists and develop connections that are still very strong in my personal and artistic life.

I am currently working with the Red One Theatre Collective, a cutting-edge indie theatre company in Toronto.  The biggest project I’ve worked on since graduating would be my most recent one: I just finished producing and acting in a professional production of After Miss Julie, a play by Patrick Marber that I actually read in my final year at York.  When I read it, I told myself that one day I would produce it, and now 8 years later I finally did.  Self-producing is, I think, something that every artist should do at some point.  It is important to pick a project that you care about, and to work with artists that you respect and admire.  Self-producing requires an enormous amount of work, but it is also incredibly rewarding.  After your first time producing, you feel like you can take on anything.  It is also a great way to put yourself out there to the industry, and to show that you are serious about making theatre.

After Miss Julie, with Claire Armstrong Claire Armstrong in After Miss Julie

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

The most valuable skill I was taught was how to articulate my thoughts and critiques of theatre. As a student in the Devised Theatre stream, we were required to give feedback about our colleagues’ work.  Developing the skill of voicing concise, clear and useful criticism helped me to understand how I can continue to make my own work better and challenge myself to strive for more.

I would also say that a very important thing I learned was to play.  There is no such thing as perfection, and lots of the work you do will be a work-in-progress, constantly developing.  I enjoyed being able to try new things, some of which would be successful and some of which would fail.   I felt that I was in a safe, encouraging environment, and that was very valuable to me.

The company of After Miss Julie The company of After Miss Julie

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

Honestly, the most challenging thing was reminding myself to stay healthy and sleep enough.  This may sound like a no-brainer, but with the amount of creating, rehearsing, studying and writing papers that I was juggling, it is so important to treat my body well and sleep. 

What is your fondest memory of studying Theatre at York?

Spending time in the studios.  My friends and I loved to rent a studio for a couple of hours and just play around with things, whether it was movement, text, singing or physical theatre.  This is how we got a lot of our ideas for solo pieces or group projects, and where we had some of the most fun.

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

Allow yourself to be in development.  Try not to worry too much about what you will do when you get out, or how to get ahead of the game while you’re still in school.  Theatre school is a place to explore and grow without the pressures of auditions, agents, joe-jobs, and all the other things that will fill your plate later on.  Take advantage of free studio space and take every opportunity to try new things as an artist.  This is the place to try it, and it will help you understand more about what you’d like to explore when you graduate.  Enjoy this time!

Remember that you can always talk to your professors. They are here to help you and guide you, and they have a wealth of knowledge and experience.  Don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help.

Lastly: BE PROUD OF YOURSELF.  Sometimes the pressure of grades, evaluations, deadlines and meetings can be overwhelming, and while it’s important to always challenge yourself to do your very best, also take the time to recognize your hard work, and to be proud of it.

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

See theatre.  See as much of it as you can, both in the mainstream and indie scenes.  It will help you make connections and join a community.  It is about marketing and networking, but it’s just as much about having a community of artists that you respect and like spending time with.  People you want to create with.  This will help you feel confident about what you have to offer as an artist, and will also provide lots of opportunities to make your own work. Joining a studio or a workshop group is also a great way to become part of a community.

On a second note, remember that having other interests will help you continue to be the best artist you can be.  By that I mean: indulge your interests outside of theatre, learn about other things.  This will remind you of the other parts of yourself, and will make your work even more well-rounded.  Sometimes it can be easy to feel as if your whole life revolves around the industry.  Thinking constantly about your career can turn your life into a bit of a pressure-cooker, so allow yourself the space to decompress. 

A great way to do this is to travel.  Take trips, experience other cultures and places in the world.  Some of the most interesting work I have seen or created was inspired by experiences I’ve had outside of my life here in Toronto.

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

Yes! It is so useful to stay in touch with the people you went to school with—they are your strongest link when you first graduate, and it makes the transition less daunting if you have friends and colleagues around you that are going through the same things.  I have worked with a number of Yorkies since graduating, and it is exciting and fulfilling to be creating with the people who knew me in my early years as an artist.

After Miss Julie from Red One Theatre Collective on Vimeo.