April 20, 2017

Spotlight on Alumni: Alexandra (Clement) McNamara

Alexandra McNamara (photo: Lauren Vandenbrook)
Alexandra McNamara (photo: Lauren Vandenbrook)

Alexandra (Clement) McNamara is a graduate of York University’s Theatre Department (BFA Acting 2007). After university, she found herself drawn to event planning and design and now runs Blush + Bowties, launched in 2013. Today, the company is a team of 3 with over 50 events a year in its portfolio. Most recently, Alex designed and planned Toronto’s first Concierge Event for the well-respected Australian wedding dress company Grace Loves Lace, completed a course in interior design, and is running a styling and business development workshop, The Blush Creative, for entrepreneurs.

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

Follow your curiosity. Having spent most of my life acting and wanting to pursue acting as a career, I realized after graduating that the strategies required to promote myself as an actor weren’t compatible with my goals in life. This was tough to come to terms with, as I had just spent four years of my life dedicated to acting, not to mention that I had been acting since I was 5. After spending the first five years or so out of university feeling pretty lost, I became curious about event planning and running my own company. So I followed where my curiosity took me, and to my surprise, I was pretty darn good at building, branding, and running my own company. Every stage brought an incredible sense of meaning, freedom, and direction to my life. I could have talked myself out of following my curiosity, but thank goodness I didn’t. My advice is not to get wrapped up in what you think you should be, but follow what makes you feel engaged and discover where you can bring value to others’ lives.

Alexandra sets the stage for her Grace Loves Lace event. (Photo: Scarlet O'Neill)
Alexandra sets the stage for her Grace Loves Lace event. (Photo: Scarlet O’Neill)

What is your fondest memory of studying Theatre at York?

There really are so many to choose from. But the first to come to mind was while rehearsing for the play Unity (1918). Our director Mirek Polatynski, who is from Poland, kept giving us the direction to “find the cows!” Although confused, we were all trying just to go with it (heck, the play was set in the Prairies). Then one day, after getting this direction again, we realized that Mirek was saying “find the chaos!” Everyone (including Mirek) broke into uncontrollable laughter. It still makes me smile today.

If you had the chance to go back and visit your younger self as you were beginning at York, what advice would you give yourself?

I would tell university Alex not to be so hard on herself, to stop worrying what everyone thinks about her, and to cherish every moment in the studio and just getting to be in it every day. Future Alex will spend a lot of time in front of a computer. So cherish those device free days.

What are you doing now? In which ways has your education at York, and in Theatre in particular, helped you in work and life?

Having a background in acting and the arts has helped me so immensely in my work and life. I think it’s a big part of why my company has been successful. As an event designer (I am also now officially an interior designer and looking into integrating this into my business), I am still engaged in very creative projects. Having an artistic outlet was something I knew I needed in my life, and my education at York reinforced that for me. My job is also about telling my clients’ stories, so in some ways, I am still a storyteller, which again was something that was instilled in me during my years at York. Finally, I know how to communicate and connect with people. This is a skill that has been indispensable as a creative entrepreneur who is working closely with people during precious moments in their lives. Having the skill set of being an open and empathetic listener has served me greatly as a business owner.

(Photo: Scarlet O'Neill)
(Photo: Scarlet O’Neill)

What did you learn at York that has been of greatest value?

Work ethic and determination. At Theatre York, you need to come to every class, show up on time, and have done the work. I can’t tell you how invaluable that lesson is. Success and doing something meaningful, in my opinion, comes from sheer determination and unwillingness to quit. York taught me that some days will be hard, really hard, and some days you will fail, but you just get back up and keep going. It’s a bit of a contradiction, but York taught me have a thick skin but at the same time to celebrate my vulnerability. Now that’s an education!