February 6, 2015

Meet the Playground Artistic Directors

As you may have heard, the 23rd Annual playground Festival is coming to the Joseph G. Green Theatre this week from Tuesday, February 10th to Friday February 13th, 2015. If you haven`t heard about it (are you living under a rock?!) please click HERE for more information about the shows!

Great! Now that you’re all caught up, we have some more behind the scenes information for you.  We sat down with Lucy Powis and Bessie Cheng, the Artistic Directors for this year’s playGround Festival, to ask them a few questions about the shows.










What makes this year’s festival different than the last?

Bessie: In playGround 2015, we are focusing on development. We’re interested in not only the state of the show that will be shown during the festival, but also the potential of how to further its development beyond. This year, we are introducing audience feedback forms as well as peer showings between the artists of playGround before the show dates. We are strong believers of providing avenues and opportunities for the artists to receive feedback on their work and continue evolving.

Lucy: In previous years I found that each show operated in its own bubble, with members of each show only coming together at the very end to perform in the festival. We introduced peer showings, where each piece showed what they were working on to each other, so that we could put all of the talented people working on each show in the same room and have them help each other push their work even further.

We also introduced a Playwright’s Unit. We have two playwrights working with EmmaRose MacDonald, a dramaturgy student here, who is helping them facilitate the development of two monodramas which will be read at the festival. We thought this would be a great opportunity for playwrights to develop their work without the pressure of writing a full play or doing a full production.

What were you looking for when selecting the plays for playGround this year?

Bessie: When selecting the plays for playGround this year, we were very mindful of the potentials of the pieces. We were not particular about the content of the piece as much as we were what the piece can offer to the festival and what the festival can offer it. We were looking for artists who are committed, passionate, and showed a willingness to continue working on their craft. We valued the scripts and show concepts as much as the development plan and how they planned to pursue that.

Lucy: Because our focus this year was on fostering a collaborative environment conducive to feedback and growth, we were looking people who had the same kind of attitude. Like Bessie said, the content of a piece was not as important to me as the artist’s willingness to experiment, challenge themselves, and take risks.

Why is playGround important to Theatre@York?

Bessie: I think playGround is important to Theatre@York because it is completely student-run. It’s a chance for first years to create their own work much like what they would have done in The Sears Drama Festival before university. For upper years, it gives a chance for students to not only feel comfortable trying new works in a safe environment, but also to demonstrate the skills that we are learning to practical use without the help of the faculty. It’s like riding a bike without the training wheels for the first time; it’s exhilarating, and you will learn as you go, but it is endlessly valuable.

Lucy: I think playGround is important because of the opportunity that it presents too present new work in the comfort of the York community, and to get feedback on it there so that you can hopefully continue to work on the piece and present it more publicly. I also think that it’s a great place to try out something that you never have before. If you’ve always wanted to design a set, but have never gotten the chance to, playGround is a great place to start.

This year, there is an emphasis on “progress”. What have you observed from visiting the rehearsals?

Bessie: From what I’ve observed from visiting rehearsals, the directors are really fostering this idea of progress. They seem to be very open to new ideas that are brought to the table by the performers. The open communication is really advancing the piece not only by the directors’ visions, but also the contribution of the performers’.

Lucy: The attitudes that I’ve been met with, whether it’s in production meetings, visiting rehearsals, or just interacting with people involved in the festival around campus, have been fantastic. We’re trying a lot of new stuff this year, including having shows that run during transitions between others, and everyone has been so on board to try something new and join us in our crazy experiments.

The festival is fully student-run. What would be the biggest challenge of that?

Bessie: What I believe to be the biggest challenge of the festival being fully student-run is exactly the idea of running the festival by ourselves! Having never artistic directed anything prior to this, I was learning skills like how to organize a team, schedule deadlines, and make myself the most resourceful for the playGround artists all as we go. What really helped me were our meetings with Phil and Milana, the Artistic Directors of playGround last year. Their advice were greatly helpful and I really appreciated the idea of the previous ADs passing on something to us. Being in charge of how the festival runs has quite the broad range of responsibilities, and at the end of the day it comes down to whether everything runs smoothly and well. It can be very stressful sometimes! The challenge does have its perks though: we get to share our vision of how we want run a festival with our peers and colleagues. At the end of the day, I could not be more grateful to have this opportunity to co-artistic direct playGround this year.

Lucy: As artistic director, there’s definitely a fine balance between experimenting with something new and honouring the traditions built into playGround. The festival is in its 23rd year, so there are certain things that people expect from it that we don’t want to mess with, but it would also be no fun if we didn’t shake things up a bit.

Balancing the workload of running the festival along with school, work, life, etc. is definitely challenging. Artistic directing has been a very unique and rewarding experience though, so I couldn’t be happier and more grateful that I got to work with Bessie and everyone else involved.