June 1, 2018

4 Questions: James Roy

50 Years of Disruption
James Roy
James Roy

James Roy began his career in 1975 at the age of twenty-two when he founded the Blyth Festival.  This theatre in small town Ontario was one of the first to specialize in producing new Canadian works, and remains one of the most successful theatres in Canada today.  Between 1980 and 1986 James was Artistic Director of the Belfry Theatre in Victoria, British Columbia and the Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg.

James joined CBC Radio Arts and Entertainment in 1990 as the Executive Producer of Morningside Drama.  For much of the 90’s and following he was Area Executive Producer of Network Radio Drama, as well as producing his own drama series. His productions have won Gold Medals at the New York International Radio Festival and at the Gabriel Awards.

Following two years as Head of Radio Arts & Entertainment, he was seconded to lead the CBC team that launched Radio One on Sirius XM Satellite Radio.  He returned to A&E to develop and launch the first season of Afghanada, CBC’s most successful radio drama series.

Subsequently he returned to manage Radio One on Sirius XM as it expanded to include the Radio Promo Unit, producing all CBC Radio’s on air promotion.

After leaving the CBC in 2012 James served as the Executive Director of the National Reading Campaign for two years before becoming the President of Amazing Agency, a boutique video production company (www.amazingagency.ca).

This article is the second in our series 50 Years of Disruption, in celebration of the Department of Theatre’s 50th Anniversary. In it, we’ll ask each participant four questions about themselves and their time at York.

1. Who are you?

I am compelled to tell stories, and particularly stories about my culture and community.  Growing up I never liked feeling second to the Americans (who were the predominate culture in Canada, while Canadians bragged that we had no culture and no separate identity so being defined by the United States was just fine – or by Britain who treated us as not very sophisticated colonials). I wouldn’t say I had a chip on my shoulder but I did feel, as a Canadian, I had a lot to prove about the value of our stories and culture.

I saw my first stage play in Grade 9 at my high school, a production of The Glass Menagerie that moved me so much I walked out of the theatre determined to be a theatre artist.  In fact, I never wavered from that single focus, which is what brought me to York when the Theatre Department was brand new (its second year as I recall).  There was lots of “start up” energy and the department was small enough that we all had lots of practical opportunities to practice as we learned.

Shortly after I graduated I started the Blyth Festival.  The opportunity came unexpectedly as the result of a suggestion made to me by Paul Thompson, with whom I had been working (and hanging around) in the months since school.  And I was too young to know what I was getting into so I just did it.

Instinctively, and with no hesitation or consideration of its impracticality, I decided to produce new Canadian plays at Blyth.  Against all odds this succeeded, in fact, beyond my wildest dreams as its 43 years of success have proved, and my career has continued to focus on telling original Canadian stories.  Eventually at other theatres where other stories were included and then at CBC Radio Drama where my emphasis was, again, almost exclusively original Canadian material.

Our attitudes to our national culture and identity are markedly different now than when I was starting out. I like to think I have played a small part in achieving this maturity.

2. What was your favourite moment during your time in the Theatre Department, and why?

Of course there were many outstanding moments but the one that had the greatest impact on me was the very positive reaction from faculty and students I received for my final directing project, Beverley Simon’s Crabdance.   First of all, since I wanted to be stage director, succeeding with a production was an important affirmation.  But secondly, this was a little known Canadian play and seeing an audience react so strongly gave me the confidence to continue along this route – and really, I’ve never looked back.

3. What comment, quotation, statement, or action that a professor—or classmate—offered had the greatest impact on you?

In this case it was not a single thing and rather the relentless determination of my Directing teacher, David Calderisi, to get us to understand that theatre in performance was about action, so we would be able to recognize it and guide actors to make it happen on stage—basic perhaps, but having met lots of people in theatre who do not understand it, a crucial piece of knowledge.

4. Is there a way you incorporate a particular aspect of your theatre training in your current work?

My work is still based on story telling, albeit in the private sector and mostly for corporate clients, though my company has recently produced a factual series on golf and travel for TSN called Highways to Fairways, so most of my theatre training is part of what I do: developing scripts, directing actors, organizing productions.

This is what I like to do, what I am compelled to do, and I have been lucky enough in my career that my “single focus” on theatre has served me well. I have to thank the York University Theatre Department for the knowledge it passed along and the valuable nurturing it provided.