July 30, 2018

4 Questions: Lucy Powis

50 Years of Disruption

Dramaturg Lucy Powis  joins us to talk about her path since leaving York, which has taken her to Columbia University and a number of important theatres in the US, plus what was most striking about her time at York. Lucy credits opportunities she had in the Devised Theatre series of courses, as well as what she learned as one of the co-artistic directors of playGround, that forced her to broaden her skill set.

This article is part of 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?

Lucy Powis
Lucy Powis (photo: Fiona Suliman)

I’m Lucy Powis (BA Theatre 2015), and I specialized in Devised Theatre, New Play Dramaturgy, and Directing in my time at York. 

During my time at York, I ended up forming close working relationships with many of my classmates, which led to several years at each of the Hamilton and Toronto Fringe Festivals, as well as some independent producing ventures. I’m particularly fond of The 10/10/10 Project, which was a massive, multidisciplinary experiment created and produced by myself, Aaron Jan (BA ’15) and Jordan Laffrenier (BA ’16), which had 10 writers, 10 composers, and 10 choreographers all creating a piece of theatre together without ever speaking to each other.

After graduation, I knew that I wanted to pursue dramaturgy more specifically and ended up at the MFA Dramaturgy program at Columbia University in New York City. In my first summer break, I came back to Toronto to work in Soulpepper’s Community Programming department, which felt like a true return home as I’d taken courses run by that department since I was 13. I did an Education Internship at Atlantic Theater Company in New York shortly after that, and working in the Education department of a theatre is still something that is absolutely on my mind.

In my third and final year at Columbia (2017-2018), I worked full-time at Roundabout Theatre Company as their Artistic Apprentice. This position had me reading and evaluating scripts, writing dramaturgical materials, booking Tony Voters, and more, and really confirmed for me that what I am most interested in is using my dramaturgy training to work in the Artistic/Literary Department of a theatre. This summer (2018), I am working as the Literary Assistant at Williamstown Theatre Festival, and am looking ahead to what I hope will be further jobs in the field.

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

In my fourth year at York, I was one of the Artistic Directors of the 23rd Annual playGround Festival, along with Bessie Cheng (BA ’16). Taking on this position was something that I’d been hoping to do since early in my time at York, and I was particularly interested in shifting the focus more towards developing work as opposed to aiming for polished products. Bessie and I took several steps in order to achieve this such adding peer feedback sessions, a playwrights’ group facilitated by another dramaturgy student, and audience feedback surveys as well as changing the format of the intermezzos (short pieces performed between longer ones) so that there was one recurring one every night, creating a spine for each evening.

I think some of these ideas were more successful than others, but I’m grateful for the process that it took to bring each one, and the entire Festival, to fruition. I don’t think I fully realized at the time what a privilege it was to have the experience of Artistic Directing under the protection of a school’s infrastructure. As an Artistic Director, it allows you to take creative risks without having to fear much about ticket sales or the longevity of your plan, since leadership changes every year and the nature of doing so many shows in a small space is that you’ll always sell out. I think playGround is an incredible, safe way for people to try on many different hats in the theatre world, and that absolutely extends to the Artistic Director world as well. I learned a lot about myself as a leader and collaborator, met and worked with fellow students that I hadn’t had the chance to before, and got a great crash course in producing. I’m particularly grateful for the opportunity it presented for students of each discipline within the theatre department (and beyond! We had some great dance majors involved) to come together to create something. I think about the lessons I learned in working on playGround constantly.

Lucy Powis
Lucy introduces a reading of her work at Write On Readings in the Junction. (Photo: Headshots by Andrew.)

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

It’s impossible to pick just one. I think about “flexible and hilarious,” one of Judith Rudakoff’s mottoes in our dramaturgy classroom. I also think about one of the first projects she had the dramaturgs do, where we had to do an extensive research project on the colour red—a great first lesson in dramaturgy as research for inspiration, not just fact-checking. I think about Michael Greyeyes always encouraging us to reconsider how we were using space and objects in devised theatre. I think about Mark Wilson encouraging our directing class to work from our hearts as much as our heads. I think about Aaron Jan, who was the first person who told me that I should consider being a dramaturg after I gave him feedback on something he wrote. I think about Luke Reece (BA ’15), Jordan Laffrenier, and Kano Wilkinson (BA ’15), who were the first people to sit me down outside class and propose doing a Fringe show together. 

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

What I loved about York’s program in general, and particularly the Devised Theatre classes, is that they forced you to broaden your skill set. The skills that I learned in lighting, carpentry, wardrobe, using QLab, how to properly mop a floor, how to balance a budget, and more have all come in handy at some point in time.

Something that was ingrained in me very early on in Judith’s dramaturgy classes is that your gut feeling about a piece is worth listening to—you just need to find the words to communicate that feeling in a clear and constructive way. If you got bored at the end of a play, why? That feeling is pointing to something, but “I got bored at the end” is not a useful note for anyone. Whenever I’m thinking about something I read or saw, I often find the moments when I’m getting stuck are the ones where I’ve gone down an analytical rabbit hole instead of thinking about my immediate emotional reactions and asking why they happened. It’s Mark’s concept too: you have to work with your heart, not just your head.

Lucy Powis
A moment in rehearsal for the first iteration of The 10/10/10 Project. (Photo: Jordan Laffrenier.)