September 17, 2018

4 Questions: Elissa Horscroft

50 Years of Disruption
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?

Elissa Horscroft (1988-1990, 1996-1999) Theatre Production. I am the daughter of two theatre parents, my mother a performer, singer and voice teacher, and my father a stage manager and lighting designer. I am a Technical Director and Production Manager, with a strong streak of the creative. I am a collaborator. I am a workaholic. I am a woman working in what is still a largely male dominated field. I suspect I am a bit of a force, but I hope directed in the right way. I like to laugh.

I did my first stint at York in the acting program until we mutually agreed that I wasn’t enjoying it. And it took me a few years to understand that though I wasn’t in my heart a performer, there was nothing I wanted to do apart from theatre. I returned to the York program, into Theatre Production and Design, with an eye to directing. But I think all my professors knew that Production was my real calling. They were proved correct!

After leaving York, I started in regional theatre and doing freelance in Toronto, and all my first jobs came from people I went to school with and contacts I had. I was a PM, TD and set designer and did all of it, working and driving around Ontario for 80 hours a week often. Just when I thought I couldn’t do it any more I was hired as a TD by the Stratford Festival in 2003, where I have been since. I started in the small Studio Theatre and have worked in all four theatres since being here. For the past eleven years I have been the TD of the Avon Theatre which is more my home than my actual home is.

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

I think my favourite moment at York was after being asked to be the student PM along with Ken Chan: we went to the Department Production Manager and told him we would do it, but only if the reins were handed over to us and we were truly in charge. Of course we were told no because that’s a bit insane as an ask. But it represented the moment I committed entirely to doing this work. I dreamt of the possibilities and envisioned how I wanted to see the job done. I saw the role as a member of the artistic team and not only a manager of spread sheets, budgets, and crew assignments. In the end, Ken and I were given a huge amount of space to succeed and fail on our own, and in fact were given as much of the reins as we could ever have wanted.

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

The greatest impact came from Professor Phil Silver. After being offered the student PM gig and turning it down more than once, I spoke to Phil and asked, “why should I do this?” I told him that I knew I could do it, and it didn’t feel like a learning stretch for me. I wanted to do something that felt far away from where my skill set lay.

He told me that the industry requires people as Production Managers who understand the art. He explained the partnership, that as a designer, he wanted from the position. And he explained what a challenge that would be, but that I had the right tools and mindset to do it. I was hooked. That conversation changed my entire life.

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

I believe the centre of what the York program does, is that it creates thinkers, and teaches frameworks for working in theatre. Being in Technical Theatre, there is a constant flow of the latest and greatest equipment and materials, and the specifics of what I learned in the eighties and nineties is barely applicable today. But York threw us into the deep end and then taught us how to swim out.
That knowledge and experience is what allows me to daily embrace change. To always look forward to the next new challenge. To spend every day learning new things.