4 Questions: Cameron Crookston
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?
Cameron Crookston (Honours BA Theatre Studies, 2012). I am currently in my final year of a PhD program at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies. I’ve been in graduate school at U of T, first as an MA student and then moving onto my PhD, since I graduated from York. My interest in pursuing a career in academia developed during my time at York. In my last two years as an undergrad, I worked as a research assistant for Professor Marlis Schweitzer and got my first taste of archival research methods. It was actually in Marlis’ office that I picked what would become my research focus. I was talking to Marlis about the overwhelming task of picking a research focus for a possible dissertation and pointed out, quite casually, that I often talked about drag performance, and she encouraged me to consider this as a scholarly focus for my graduate work. Today my doctoral thesis examines drag, LGBTQ+ historiography, and performance as cultural memory. I also look at the overlap between drag performance and trans identities in recent history. I’ve written articles on drag and queer performance for the journal, Queer Studies in Media & Popular Culture and Playwrights Canada Press’ Q2Q: Queer Theatre and Performance in Canada. I’ve also presented my work at conferences including the Canadian Association for Theatre Research (CATR), Performance Studies International (PSi), and the Popular Culture Association (PCA). Right now I’m working on an edited volume of essays on the Cultural Impact of RuPaul’s Drag Race with Intellect Books. I’ve also taught classes at both U of T’s Centre for Drama, Theatre, and Performance Studies and the Mark S. Bonham Centre in theatre history and the history of sexuality. I’m particularly proud of a course I designed and taught in the winter of 2017 called “Staging Gender: The History of Cross-Dressing in Theatre and Performance” which examined the history of gender performance in theatre from ancient Greece to modern-day drag.
2. What was your favourite moment during your time in the Theatre Department, and why?
In a second-year devised theatre class taught by Laura Levin, I collaborated with four other students on a short documentary play on different forms of addiction. It was a really fantastic group of people with really diverse and complementary skills. I’m very literary and intellectually based, so I latched on to the research and text-based aspects of working with documentary and verbatim theatre, but I was with some really talented friends who understood physical theatre, design, and collective creation in a way that created something really unique and rich. I really learned the value of collaborating with different kinds of artists and thinkers to balance out my own artistic skills. This project stayed with me, and I’ve since returned to documentary theatre both as a playwright and as an academic. I consider documentary theatre to be my quiet, secondary research interest and recently gave a lecture on verbatim theatre in a research methodology course at U of T.
3. What comment, quotation, statement, or action that a professor—or classmate—offered had the greatest impact on you?
Flexible and Hilarious. This was one of Judith Rudakoff’s central mantras. Basically, the idea that in the theatre, despite our best efforts to plan for every eventuality, things often go wrong and that the best way to deal with unforeseen mishaps is to maintain an attitude of flexibility and humour. Being organized should include the ability to roll with the punches and embrace surprises. Being well prepared does not mean being rigid. Accepting tiny disasters with a chuckle increases our ability to handle them exponentially.
4. Is there a way you incorporate a particular aspect of your theatre training in your current work?
The skills I use as a University Course Instructor, and TA are largely based on skills I learned as a dramaturgy student in Judith Rudakoff’s Playwriting and Dramaturgy classes at York. Working with writers to help develop their writing, offering suggestions and options while avoid perspective advice, encouraging a delicate balance between intuition and critical thinking in writing, maintaining an awareness of the boundaries between their work and my own, the relationship between research and original writing, these are some of the most important and complex aspects of working with undergraduate students and they were all touchstones of my training as a dramaturg at York.