One of Ryerson’s most hands-on programs is the Faculty of Communication and Design’s Performance: Production program, which is one of the three programs in the School of Performance. Olivia Seward is a third-year Performance: Production student who gave me her insight on the program and her experience in it so far.
Olivia had been interested in theatre since her high school years at the Etobicoke School of the Arts. Ryerson’s program caught her attention because “it’s one of the most notable theatre programs in Canada.” Earning a bachelor of fine arts degree was important to her, but so was getting hands-on experience in the field. She describes the program as a “really collaborative physical experience with a lot of practical work involved”. Over her years in the program, she has had experience working with teams, developing leadership skills and learning from industry professionals through workshops. The staff and faculty of the program also work in theatre production, giving students a direct relationship with the industry. In the program, Olivia has found her calling with stage and production management, and has held the roles of assistant production manager, assistant stage manager and a front of house manager in school productions.
Before she was admitted to the program, Olivia participated in an interview where she was asked to bring two letters of recommendation along with a portfolio as her non-academic requirements. She was also asked to be prepared to talk about her future career. In the interview, she also discussed her goals as a student and theatre creative. When she was accepted into the program a few weeks later, she chose Ryerson solely based on the School of Performance, stating that she thinks it’s such a different type of university experience. She describes the program as “a perfect balance between giving me valuable lecture-based learning and hands-on experience in a show and with teachers”.
The hands-on experience in the Performance: Production program starts during the very first semester. The Performance: Acting, Performance: Dance and Performance: Production students all work together in a course which covers the process of working on a show. Olivia explains that the students are put in groups and everyone has a role, such as a director or costume designer. They have to work together to create a mock-up show where they make budgets, scripts and a design concept based on a fairytale. Olivia has also worked on productions outside of Ryerson with her peers, already putting their skills to work in the real world with a supportive and like-minded community.
Alongside classes like these are also theoretical classes, like history classes “because you can’t go forward without knowing what happened in the past”. Dance history classes help her communicate with dance students when they work together on productions. The first two years focus on a more general curriculum, then third and fourth year is when you’re able to dive into your interests. While doing this interview, I learned that Ryerson has classes all about corsets and pyrotechnics.
Obviously, the Performance: Production program has gone through some changes since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Olivia tells me it has adapted well and that having the “experience has been really wonderful”. During the Fall 2020 semester, she was the production stage manager for the third-year acting “Clown” show. While working on the project, the team realized they needed human interaction for this particular production and created three interactive live shows over Zoom with a closed audience.
After graduation, Olivia plans to stay in the theatre industry, but tells me that after the program “the opportunities are limitless, you can customize your experiences so intensely at the school”. Some graduates have gone into theatre as stage managers and stage directors, or have gone into film and marketing. Olivia says that “the school teaches you how to work with others and how to be efficient, and I feel like working with others and being efficient is a skill that can be used in every single job” and that “the sky’s the limit”.