4 Questions: Rachel Kennedy
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?
Well hey! I’m Rachel Kennedy (BFA Theatre 2014). I came to York University back in 2010 for their Devised Theatre program, which I took alongside two-year additional courses in both playwriting and directing—because at that point in my life I had apparently decided that sleep was optional. I explored my love for storytelling with every opportunity that I could find, whether it meant waxing poetic at EWAG’s Word Nights, devising new pieces for PlayGround, or doing nearly-nude performance art for a sociology course (and a follow-up essay justifying why we had thought it was a good idea). By graduation, I had stage managed my first Toronto Fringe production (Invisible City, 2013), stepped in as Volunteer Coordinator for World Stage Design & Scenofest 2013 in Cardiff, Wales and had the pleasure of acting in the inaugural Emerging Artists Project by Little Black Afro Productions (Veronica Appia’s Muse, 2014).
After completing my degree, I joined Playwrights Guild of Canada (PGC) as their Outreach and Development Coordinator. In my time at PGC we expanded the Tom Hendry Awards to include a new, national prize for emerging playwrights, re-vamped their paid mentorship programs, and launched the CASA Award; a prize honouring female-identifying playwrights in South Africa and providing them with financial support and mentorship opportunities. After PGC I jumped aboard the team at Theatre Ontario, where I am the Professional Theatre & Education Manager. In this role I lead workshops for early career actors and producers, run grants for professional mentorships and youth training initiatives, and spearhead annual events like our Next Generation Showcase. I am thrilled to be filling my days with work that excites and continually educates me. On top of this, I have had the pleasure of producing and directing for House of Rebels Theatre, Deadman’s Tale Podcast, Epigraph Collective, Filament Incubator, Breakin’ Ground Productions, Prairie Fire Please, and Truesight Collective as well as co-founding Unmarked Theatre and their Creme De La Femme Cabaret which recently held its third-edition event as part of Buddies in Bad Times’ Pride Programming.
2. What was your favourite moment during your time in the Theatre Department, and why?
One event that really changed things for me was when I was given the opportunity to assistant direct for Allyson McMackon on the Theatre@York mounted production of The Stronger Variations. Allyson’s process and vision was absolutely inspiring and showed me that it is possible to not only continue working in physical, devised theatre outside of school, but also for companies like this to thrive and build devoted audiences. I have continued to follow Theatre Rusticle (Allyson’s Toronto-based company) since graduation and they are consistently leaving me inspired and hopeful.
Apart from the directing itself, this show also gave me the opportunity to work more closely with the production and acting departments; something not available through the Devised Theatre courses. It was great to work with my peers in a new capacity, and I wound up making connections which I still keep very close to both my professional work and my heart today… Ok, ok too sentimental… sorry. But it really was an incredible experience and I’m very thankful!
3. What comment, quotation, statement, or action that a professor—or classmate—offered had the greatest impact on you?
Every week our small playwriting course would meet for class and have our work read aloud by peers around the table. It was an incredible experience to be able to not only hear your own writing through various other voices, but also to hear our classmates experiment and eventually firm up their work into consistent artistic voices. Over time both myself and our professor, Judith Rudakoff, started to notice my passion shifting from my own writing and onto the work of my classmates. Judith’s support and urging for me to follow what fulfills me is absolutely what has led me to a career in arts management and producing. I think that she saw this passion in me for helping others share their voices before I even did. I am so thankful for her encouragement, and it has motivated me to pass the same type of support on to every artist that I encounter in my professional work.
4. Is there a way you incorporate a particular aspect of your theatre training in your current work?
The most valuable thing that I learned in my time at York was the ability to craft shows from the ground up, without any pre-existing budget or materials. Through the Devised Theatre stream I developed strategies to take a production or an idea, identify its challenges, and work toward them head-on to find a solution. This lesson has shaped my approach to managing, directing, and producing theatre as well as just generally functioning as a human being. I bring this up in almost every job interview that I have when I am inevitably asked about my strengths. Not only does it help me to lay out a ground-plan for projects, but it also allows me to manage my own stress and internal to-do lists.
… I like to explain it like that movie The Martian... every producer is Matt Damon stranded on Mars. They know what needs to be done and they know that there will be challenges ahead, but if they approach each task head-on before it becomes an issue, there’s always a good chance that they will make it back in one piece.
… That makes sense…. right?