April 22, 2019

4 Questions: Mary Spyrakis

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.
Mary Spyrakis
Mary Spyrakis

1. Who are you?

Mary Spyrakis, (York BFA 1986)—Props
I make things, buy things, modify things, find things. Stuff, things, props. Some are tiny, like a pencil, some are huge like draperies or statues. And then there is everything in between.

I run the prop shop at Canadian Stage. I have been there for 22 years. Have also worked at YPT, Tarragon, TWP (way long ago!) and continue to work for Studio 180 and Musical Stage. And other companies. Have done some set and costume design over the years, when time permits. My work at Canadian Stage consists of budgeting, lots of meetings, buying, building, coordinating props for all of our productions and events, supervising staff, mentoring and training interns and students and maintaining the shop….it keeps me hopping. The shop is still my dream come true. Everyday that I am here is a gift. Some days are pretty stressful but for the most part, I love what I do and love the shop and the company I work for. Love communicating and collaborating with amazing technicians, designers, directors and stagemanagers.

I usually call myself ‘Mary Spyrakis-Props’.

I never wanted to do props when I was at York. I always felt it was way too much work. You had to do everything! So I always signed up for Stage Management, Set Design and Scenic Painting crews. Always got out of the prop crews.
I started designing sets in my final year at York and a few years after for Eclectic Theatre Productions, a company that was created by director Jordan Merkur, also a York student who I met while stage managing a show that he was acting in. We did shows at The Tarragon Extra Space, The Factory Theatre, The Adelaide Courthouse Theatre and The Alumnae Theatre. I helped build the sets, painted, bought materials and also bought and built all the props. I started enjoying doing props.

I got my first professional job at The Muskoka Festival as Head of Props—I really wanted to be a PA or an ASM or a scenic painter but Myles Warren, the Production Manager at the time thought I would be great at props because of my design experience with Eclectic. I was hooked. Been doing props ever since.

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

I had so many amazing experiences at York. I cannot pinpoint which was my favorite. I really enjoyed helping build and paint sets.

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

I especially enjoyed Anatol Schlosser’s classes and lectures: learning about the history of theatre, rituals, folk festivals from around the world really opened my eyes to what the possibilities of creating theatre could be. My training at York certainly prepared me for working in the arts, working in the props field.

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

At York, I had a combination of academic courses: History of Theatre, History of Theatre design, History of Art, Literature courses and practical courses like Stage Management, and Theatre Design. The academic courses involved a lot of reading, researching and writing essays…so many essays. The practical courses involved working on actual productions: building, scenery being a part of a lighting crew or the stage management crew. I incorporate both these aspects into my daily work life. I am constantly in motion as a props builder: building, purchasing materials, researching, writing grant proposals, supervising builders, conversing with directors and designers and production staff. My time at York taught me how to make things but also how to talk about the stuff I make and why I make it and how to collaborate with a whole team to create art.