4 Questions: Jillian Keiley
1. Who are you?
Jillian Keiley (BFA Directing 1994): I’m lucky. And I’m exhausted. I’m a mom and an artistic director, a wife and friend, sister and daughter, a director and sometimes a producer and sometimes a writer. I have only ever been out of work once, and I was only fired once. It wasn’t a theatre gig. I used to have a puppy and now I don’t have time to have a puppy but I really miss having a puppy. I’m the founder of a company called Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland because Chris Tolley (BFA ’94) thought it would be funny for our York company (Artistic Fraud) to have an Atlantic subsidiary. I make shows because I think they’re important and make the world a bit better and I select shows that other people make for my National Arts Centre (NAC) programming because they make me cry. Even the comedies. I had a baby when I was fully forty and I thought it was finally time to ambition down and accept my piece-it-together-life-as-a-gigging-director-and-producer out of Newfoundland with Artistic Fraud; and then a few months postpartum I was the Artistic Director of the NAC English Theatre and a few months after that I started spending my vacation directing at the Stratford Festival. My baby learned to walk in room 808 of the hotel we were living in. You could not have convinced me of the trajectory my life took under any circumstances.
2. What was your favourite moment during your time in the Theatre Department, and why?
There are so many. I simply adored my time at York, I gobbled it up all of it, I loved the intensity of our production schedules, and how we would put together extra shows on the side for this festival, “Underground” or something… no that was the bar… I can’t remember—anyway, it was at Stong in the basement and it was a cool festival. There was a show that a bunch of students put together… Tom Wilson—could that be right?, Alex Ganotakas (Theatre Production, 1994) was involved—Anyway, it was called “Go to Hell Faust” and I thought WOW this is where the heart of the theatre is—in creation—I just was so thrilled by this work—I was in first year and they were all in fourth year I think. Chris Tolley and I then used to make each other laugh so much in classes and in between classes, so we made a show too: In Your Dreams Freud I think it had 45 actors and singers—it was a musical. It was absolutely crazy and everyone was so funny. As a production it was huge and we were just kids—we were in second year or third year—somehow, somehow, we pulled it off. Thank God for all of our amazing trusting friends who played the parts and made the costumes and ran the band and played the instruments—it was absolutely huge. I don’t know if I’ve ever been prouder than the opening night of that insane ride.
3. What comment, quotation, statement, or action that a professor—or classmate—offered had the greatest impact on you?
Anatol Schlosser taught us a course called Non-European Theatre. It was more than eye-opening, it was philosophy changing. Up until that point, I understood that classic theatre was the people I could name: Ibsen, Shakespeare, Moliere. It hadn’t occurred to me that there were whole cultures who were experiencing theatre in a way that was different than the way I did – that there were rightful ‘classics’ that weren’t ever performed in English. He showed us that the world, in fact, didn’t revolve around Shakespeare or Ibsen or Moliere. That there was more to see and more to learn than we could ever learn. It was thrilling.
4. Is there a way you incorporate a particular aspect of your theatre training in your current work?
I’ve always liked to do things a little bit larger or a little bit more untried. Getting through In Your Dreams Freud the first time was a testament of faith and a testing of perseverance of a level that you do get good at – once you endure one hugely ambitious project, you take on another and another. You always know that you’ve got at least one success in your pocket, and you build on that.