October 3, 2016

Spotlight on Alumni: Rachel Kennedy

Rachel Kennedy
Rachel Kennedy

Rachel Kennedy  graduated from York University (BA Hons Devised theatre) in 2014. During her time at York, she also took 2-year courses in    both Directing and Playwriting. In the summer after graduation, Rachel began volunteering for Playwrights Guild of Canada, where she has since been hired as their permanent Outreach & Development Coordinator and is working to help create new opportunities for playwrights across the country. She also recently accepted the position of Professional Theatre & Education Manager at Theatre Ontario, where she oversees their Summer Intensive, Next Generation Showcase, Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) and Youth Theatre Training Program (YTTP).

Outside of the office, Rachel has had the pleasure of working with many great local theatre companies including House of Rebels Theatre (producer/co-founder), Deadman’s Tale Productions (director), Little Black Afro (actor), Breakin’ Ground Productions (stage manager) and Theatre Direct (venue supervisor).

What attracted you to York in the first place ?

I was so jazzed when I first heard about York’s Devised theatre program, because of the wide range of skills that it offers training in. A degree that allows you to create, direct and perform new shows on a regular (sometimes weekly!) basis? It was a dream come true. An added bonus was the year of general studies that all students take in first year. I was very excited to try my hand at the production end of theatre, from stage carpentry and scenic painting to  wardrobe and costume creation. My high school drama teacher had mentioned the York Theatre Program to me and it immediately became my first choice of schools. Although I did quickly  realize how challenging collective creation/devised techniques can be, I can’t imagine a better fit for my skills and personality. Winters College and the York Theatre community became my home away from home, and I couldn’t have made a better decision.

orenda backstage
The Orenda company in 4th year Devised Theatre (2014): Kyra Ritchie, Christoph Ibrahim, Nadya Khoja, Ian Clail, Matt Carson, Victoria Stacey, Justyn Racco, Rachel Kennedy and Laura Commisso

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

I learned that every great show starts with 100 bad ideas. Sometimes 1000. But the more you create new theatre, the quicker you get at picking out the ideas that “work”. I think that the other most important skill that I picked up was how to make something out of nothing. In the Devised program we learned how to take an empty studio and fill it with our own design, text, movement and images to create unique, new performances and styles. We always started with 100 ideas and no budget, and slowly through the rehearsal process we would find ways to create our work and transform the studio into a gallery space, an ocean, a forest, a backstage dressing room—whatever we needed it to be! Lofty budgets are hard to come by in early-career theatre making, and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to approach “Theatre of the Thrifty” in such a safe, supportive environment.

Rachel Kennedy reading at one of Winters' College's poetry nights at EWAG (Eleanore Winters Art Gallery)
Rachel Kennedy reading at one of Winters’ College’s poetry nights at EWAG (Eleanore Winters Art Gallery)

What is your fondest memory of studying Theatre at York?

The production team for 2014's Stronger Variations (Blair Larmon, Dylan Bobier, Laura Sepulvida, Caitlin McKenzie, Ashley Panzarella, Glory Dearling and Rachel Kennedy). Photo taken by Alyssa Janzen.
The production team for 2014’s Stronger Variations (Blair Larmon, Dylan Bobier, Laura Sepulvida, Caitlin McKenzie, Ashley Panzarella, Glory Dearling and Rachel Kennedy). Photo taken by Alyssa Janzen.

The 3290 and 4290 Playwriting and New Dramaturgy classes with Judith Rudakoff were a real game-changer for me. Judith keeps the accepted number of students for these courses low, so that she can give full, hands-on instruction to each of her students and it was so incredible to watch that effort pay off. Over the 2 years of development we saw each playwright and dramaturg find their unique voice, style, and creative obsessions. One of my favourite events each year was a project where Judith had each of us pick a theatre professional who inspired us, interview them, and create a monologue inspired by their “essence”. We developed the works created each week in class and then held a public reading called “Telling Tales out of School” in the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre. I don’t come from a family of arts workers, but my mum and sister always jumped at the opportunity to come and see this event, which they affectionately nicknamed “storytime”. It was always an afternoon of fantastic storytelling, imagination, and exciting new characters. I am so thankful to have been a part of it.

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

Take chances, but don’t forget to take care of yourself. I bartended throughout University and for a year afterward to make enough money to support myself while I did shows and volunteered with Playwrights Guild. After that time I decided to try to spend the next year working only in the arts… and it was really tough. I spent a few weeks living off of rice and canned soup, but having the time away from serving meant that I could do gig work with some great companies and stage manage a fabulous Next Stages Theatre Festival Show (Urban Myth, Breakin’ Ground Productions). I knew where my limit was but I also wanted to push myself to see what I could get done if I focused on theatre work.

There are so many people in the community that are willing to help you, it just takes a bit of reaching out. Start by getting a rough idea of not only what you want to do, but what you like to do and who you’d like to work with. Then go out and start contacting people! If you are pleasant and show passion for your work, chances are that your employers will either try to keep you around or refer you to other companies. I run an initiative called the Professional Theatre Training Program at Theatre Ontario which pays you to be mentored by an artist/professional of your choosing, but I had no idea about opportunities like this when I graduated. Look into grant programs offered by the OAC, Canada Council for the Arts, and other funding bodies. If you get the funding, that’s great! If you don’t, at least you have started honing one of the most valued skills out there for Canadian artists… grant writing!

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

It is really incredible how often you run into fellow Yorkies in the Toronto arts community. I have had many times when I have gone out to a show expecting to see it alone, and wound up sitting with a group of York graduates. They are everywhere, and if you can’t find them in the audience it is likely because they (or their work) are on stage. The friends and relationships that I made at school have helped make the Toronto arts community feel like home for me. Whether it’s showing up at TIFF and seeing Shauna and Julia, catching Rochelle and Alyssa all over Makelab’s social media, hearing about Raeburn’s youth theatre work at the Harbourfront Centre, getting a tour of YPT’s wardrobe shop by Chloe, or watching Julia rock the burlesque scene, there is no shortage of York representation in this city. Every time that I go on social media I am bombarded by all the fantastic projects currently being put on by my peers. It is a great reminder that the theatre scene is a community, not a competition. I love it.

Ephemeral (pictured: Laura Commisso, Victoria Stacey, Matt Carson, Justyn Racco, and Rachel Kennedy)
Ephemeral (pictured: Laura Commisso, Victoria Stacey, Matt Carson, Justyn Racco, and Rachel Kennedy)