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The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards

2019 Nominee Spotlight: Kaitlin Williams

GVPTA's Communications & Special Events Assistant, Rick Chung, spent some time getting to know some of this year's nominees. 

Kaitlin Williams is an accomplished Vancouver theatre artist nominated this year for both her work acting (Jesus Freak) and directing (Kim’s Convenience), both for Pacific Theatre, at the 37th annual Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards taking place July 15th at Bard on the Beach’s BMO Mainstage in Vanier Park. 

Kaitlin grew up in Ladner where she first developed her love of theatre and performed in various stage plays and musicals at Delta Secondary. She went on to study theatre at UVic before returning to the Lower Mainland to develop her career in the Vancouver theatre industry.

Interview conducted by Rick Chung on behalf of GVPTA.

GVPTA: Hi Kaitlin. How are you feeling today?

KW: I'm doing really well. Thanks. I have a lot of beautiful things going on in my life.

GVPTA: Congratulations on your multiple nominations. How does it feel to be nominated for artistic awards?

KW: I'm in a season of transition and renewal and these nominations are a sweet reminder that I'm in the right place and doing the right work. 

GVPTA: You're nominated for both acting and directing in different shows. You also do costume design (most recently for The Cake). How do you describe yourself or your work?

KW: For a few years now I've claimed the title of "theatre artist" as it more appropriately captures the many hats I wear while pursuing this profession.

GVPTA: How does it feel to be recognized for multiple disciplines within your profession?

KW: To be nominated as an actor and director feels very affirming. I love doing it all — acting, directing, and designing — the different practices offer me opportunities to flex different creative muscles.

GVPTA: How do these different roles in the theatre inform each other in your work?

KW: All the different roles definitely influence and play off each other. For example, knowing the ins and outs of costume design makes me a better director as I know what designers are going through, how to speak their language and I feel I have a good eye for the whole aesthetic picture.  

GVPTA: As mentioned, you've been involved in all sorts of productions in various capacities throughout your theatre career. Do you enjoy that kind of variety?

KW: I love the variety. My life motto is: "At least I'm never bored" and it's really true! 

When I juggle many creative ventures it means that many different stories and visions live inside my head at one time. I love this part of the work.

GVPTA: What would you like to do in the future (that you haven't done)?

KW: I've dabbled in playwriting in the past but haven't given myself the time and space to actively pursue it. Maybe I'll try that next.

GVPTA: What kind of preparation did you do for directing the now well-known Korean-Canadian story of Kim’s Convenience?

KW: The work to prepare for directing any show begins with careful studying of the script - the text is everything. But apart from that, I was also lucky to speak at length with playwright and creator Ins Choi. This is a rare opportunity and I was lucky to do this.

Since I'm not Korean myself, I tried to learn and soak up as much as I could about Korean culture through books, films, music, and I even went to the Korean food festival in Vancouver. I learned about Toronto and Regent Park where the play is set. I became slightly obsessed with convenience stores in our city — I studied them, their beauty, and their stories.

And, of course, I watched the CBC show and became a true "Kimbit" (what fans call themselves!).

GVPTA: Jesus Freak has a fairly straightforward premise about family and religion but is very provocatively titled. Did you experience initial, knee-jerk reactions or judgments when the play was first introduced to others?

KW: Hmmm, I'm not sure. There may have been knee jerk reactions that I wasn't privy to. The play was produced by Pacific Theatre and their mandate is to do work that vigorously explores the spiritual aspects of human life, so I think audiences know what to expect when they attend. I hope it didn't turn people off! 

GVPTA: Religion is often a very highly-charged topic of discussion, especially for families. What was it like to dramatize those kinds of difficult conversations nightly?

KW: Honestly, it was pretty emotionally exhausting. My character was beat up on a lot by her family as they struggled with her new-found faith and so, in turn, I found myself a bit worn out. Self-care was important during that run.

GVPTA: Are there any kinds of characters or performances you tend to gravitate to as an actor or director?

KW: I love narrative driven stories that investigate humanity and what life is about, and I suppose I also love plays and characters that have humour embedded in them. I think those are the qualities I love and search for whether I'm acting, directing or designing - or if I'm an audience member, for that matter!

GVPTA: Vancouver has such a diverse and talented arts and culture community. How do you feel about the local theatre industry today?

KW: I think the theatre industry in Vancouver is thriving and vital. I saw well over 60 productions this past season. There is a diverse swath of work being created from all types of theatrical forms.

GVPTA: What's particularly exciting about the work being done?

KW: I suppose I'm particularly excited that there is an emphasis right now on more diversity in our stories — that more voices are being heard. We have a long way to go in this respect, but I'm hopeful. 

GVPTA: As an artist and performer, I'm sure you've had all sorts of random performance related jobs or gigs to pay the bills. Can you tell us about one?

KW: Oh my gosh, so many. Once, I worked a gig on Halloween where I was hired to be in a hotel room, re-enacting The Blair Witch Project. In the "scene" I hid in a tent and a guy came out of the bathroom with an axe and terrorized me — it involved a lot of screaming!

Drunk attendees would come into the room and watch, I guess? Some guys threw candy at me. It was brutal. At one point the fire alarm went off and I thought "I'm going to die here". As I said, the life of an actor is never boring, haha. I made $100 that night but couldn't get a cab and walked home from downtown. 

GVPTA: Do you have any practical advice for other young professional artists trying to make a living?

KW: Diversify! We all enter theatre school as the stars of our high school drama program and dreaming of greatness as an actor. This won't actually end up working out for the majority of theatre artists, so I would encourage anyone starting out to loosen their grip on that singular dream and explore what else they love.

Do you write? Could you design? Are you organized? Could you work front of house or in the box office or in the theatre's administrative office? Some of the most inspiring people I know work in theatre admin. You're going to have to be flexible and creative to make it, so you might as well start early. 

GVPTA: I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that we went to high school and performed in theatre together as teenagers. Does anything from that time standout after all these years and having done theatre professionally now for so long?

KW: My lasting memory of the fabulous drama program at Delta Secondary is that it instilled in me the love for this art and the inherent community that forms around putting on a show.

GVPTA: What did you bring from that time as a young aspiring performer to your professional theatre career today?

KW: We were all so bonded after putting on plays together in high school and that hasn't changed in my professional life either. Yes, theatre is ephemeral and we all move on after the gig, but we form deep relationships with each other and there is a radical kinship among theatre artists.

When I was young and in high school I loved performing and it was pure and simply for the joy of it - I try and carry that forward. I'm certainly not in this career for the money, so I must hang on to the joy. 

GVPTA: What keeps you performing and creating theatre?

KW: I'm inspired by my peers and fellow theatre artists who make work happen usually with very little money for little money. We do it because we believe in it and the transformative nature of witnessing live bodies telling stories on stage in front of us.

The theatre is one of the last places on earth we are encouraged to turn off our devices and sit in communion with other humans — I think it's absolutely necessary and vital and that keeps me going. 

GVPTA: Thank you so much for sharing and good luck at the Jessies!

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Kaitlin Williams

Jesus Freak, Pacific Theatre. Photo credit Jalen Saip

Jesus Freak, Pacific Theatre. Photo credit Jalen Saip

Jesus Freak, Pacific Theatre. Photo credit Jalen Saip

James Yi, Kim's Convenience, Pacific Theatre.
Photo credit Jalen Saip

The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards

The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards show will be held at the beautiful Bard on the Beach BMO Mainstage tent at Vanier Park on Monday July 15, 2019. 

VIP tickets (front and centre) - $50
Regular tickets - $35
Nominee tickets (limited quantity) - $20​

Call the Bard on the Beach box office at 604.739.0559 to purchase, or get your tickets here

The Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance (GVPTA) strives to strengthen the local theatre industry. We do this through providing services, promotion of member news and community events, opportunities to connect and network, and our annual theatre conference. Together with our members we are raising the profile of local theatre and building community.

At GVPTA, we acknowledge that our organization is located on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

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