February 13, 2017

PlayGround Artistic Directors Kat Francis and Mackenzie Taylor

Artistic Directors Kat Francis and Mackenzie Taylor
Artistic Directors Kat Francis and Mackenzie Taylor

The 25th Annual PlayGround Festival took place from the 7th of February till the 10th. We wanted people to find out more about the behind the scenes of the festival, so we met up with the Artistic Directors Kat Francis and Mackenzie Taylor and asked them some questions about the shows.

What kind of shows were in PlayGround this year?

Kat: So we had 14 shows in total. We had 10 shows that are either concepts, devised, or script base or danced base and we have a couple of shows that are a little bit different in structure such as Flo, our host, who showed up throughout the festival. We also have a musical performance by ABBA DABBA Do and the we also have one playwright in both series. ABBA DABBA Do and Flo were in both series and then there were five shows in each series.

When you were selecting the plays, was there anything specific, genre-wise, that you were looking for? How did that work?

Mackenzie: I think humor was really important. We really like to explore serious topics from a comedic lens—I believe that sometimes this is easier for people to digest so pieces that had elements of humor in it were really important to us and people who were doing something kind of interesting and different along with people who were exploring different types of processes was really important when picking the piece. We closely looked at having different shows, for instance, we had like one women shows and then one drag queen shows and then we had big group shows and then two-people shows and all of those really brought a really different dynamic. We did actually direct one of the shows which was One Women Flo so we have been the most involved in that process, so for sure it does have a special place in our hearts because we worked on it.

What did add to the festival this year that made it different than last year’s?

Kat: Our charming personality, just kidding. I think we both added the Art Gallery this year which is really exciting—this was the first time we were able to welcome a different art form into PlayGround. In the past years, there has been dance invited in but this year we made it possible to extend it to visual artists as well so that was really exciting. I think personally we just brought a really large mutual respect for each other and each other’s artistic visions and that helped with pushing the entire festival and the vision of and each company. We were also really lucky to have some great logos from Derek Martin as well, which really enhanced our vision for the show.

Mackenzie: I think the other thing that we focused on this year was promo and being really involved in creating a PlayGround community: people who were not involved in PlayGround and were only coming to see the shows would send us pictures and Snapschats and could follow us on Instagram and Twitter—being able to have an interaction with them outside of just at the show has been really important to us. Tanner Wur-lucko did all of our promotional material, he photographed it so that was another thing. A lot of promo and having a lot of social media presence was really important this year.

Since the show was a fully student-run show, what was the most difficult thing you have faced?

Mackenzie: I think that any festival would have difficulties but because it’s fully student run we had to figure out where our role is in the Theatre @ York, as the festival is part of the Theatre @ York season so we needed to balance that. And then just doing a lot of things that we have not done before, such as the formal levels and tech times; figuring out what these kind of things mean was a challenge but it’s a challenge that we were both really excited for and are proud of. We learned so much, hence we are really proud about that.

Why is PlayGround so important to Theatre @ York?

Kat: Well, I think PlayGround is really important to Theatre @ York because it’s truly the students’ voices and it is the most honest and the most soul-baring way of really looking at what is important to not only students but also the younger generation of artists and giving them the opportunity to really say what they want with no restrictions. We do not limit their artistic bravery, we really encouraged them to step out of their comfort zones. By doing so, we think that is the most daring but also understanding way because we want the audience to come out of it thinking and questioning different things that are going on in society and also going on in the world. A lot of these pieces touch on these important issues so it’s an area to start an conversation in. Also, it creates such a sense of community to people as well from all different streams and not just undergraduates, but also Masters students, PhD students, teachers, and students from teacher’s college. We have a really wide variety of different students from different streams and just creating that very versatile community is so important too and it makes a nice little safe space for what can be a very scary situation. This also gives everyone involved a chance to get out of that theatre bubble, to get involved with people from different programs.

Mackenzie: I think that, as a person who has been in PlayGround for the past couple of years, as a performer, and an artist, it is so nice to create art that is not for a grade and I think that when you are in a Fine Arts degree you are always creating Art for a grade which can result in trying to shape it in a specific way for the grade. This can be really liberating and really important to your creative process and your building as an artist, to do a work just solely that you want to do, because you want to do it and for no other reason.

What have you both observed from visiting rehearsals?

Mackenzie & Kat at the same time: So much passion!

Kat: Especially during this time, there is a lot going on in the world which people could talk about and those things are mostly hard to understand and take to heart. Seeing how this conversation is growing in different rehearsals and seeing how people are tackling those issues. And how they are fighting those issues, along with how they are mending after these issues, since it is a very emotional experience and a very real experience. It is interesting that with those heated topics to really watch them go through the process of questioning, fighting, and healing.

Mackenzie: I think that if our PlayGround festival had taken place at any other point of time besides right now it would be a completely different conversation but because of everything that is happening in the world right now a lot of people are really struggling with that. This has been a chance for them to get together with a group of people in a safe place and explore what those political issues mean to them and to help them process it and deal with it. Even if it is just for our community, I think it makes people feel like they are doing something and not just sitting by and watching this happen. That has actually been phenomenal, just the passion and watching this happen. A lot of experimentation was brought into this, since people worry about expressing themselves when it comes to doing art for a class because they worry about their grades. Watching everyone involved being able to get out of their “it might not work out” bubble has been great and inspiring when they see that they can overcome their fears their excitement is so touching and heartwarming and I’m sure Kat felt that as well.

Kat Francis and Mackenzie Taylor
Mackenzie Taylor and Kat Francis