Aaron Jan


I went to Ryerson for performance acting, got told to leave after a semester and then went to York University for devised theatre and playwriting. Theatre school was such a strange experience for me. My first experience was really abusive and terrifying (mostly because I was desperately trying to not get cut and I would listen to everything the faculty would tell me as scripture).

My second experience was a lot more chill, but I kind of became a huge asshole because I thought I was the best person in my year. I think I chilled out a lot after theatre school, but the transition from being in a very rigorous conservatory to a rather general studies program was something I never really felt I acclimated to. Playwriting at York, however, did give me the rigor and intensive training that I craved.

I’m thankful I don’t just do “one thing” in theatre. If I did, I don’t think I’d be able to survive in the arts.

Before Ryerson, I thought I was going to Stratford. I had no real understanding of what a professional gig was, and thought that Stratford was my only option. Between Ryerson and York, I spent six months seeing as many shows in Toronto as possible so I could get a greater understanding of what the community was.

At York, I really had no idea. I assumed I’d just get produced and then my career would take off and I’d be consistently working and never have to do a joe job ever. But in actuality, my time after theatre school was a lot of fringes and a wide variety of theatre jobs.

I never expected myself to write so many grants, or the majority of work outside of theatre school to be applying for and securing money. I think I also didn’t realize that the majority of my contracts would be from self generated work and I would be responsible for getting myself paid. I think 65% of my artistic time is spent making stuff, but 35% of it is applying for funding and figuring out ways to make sure my teams get paid.

I also think I’ve learned to trust my writing process more. When I was first out of school, there was such a determination to write drafts extremely quickly and then put them up immediately. I’ve learned that that is perhaps not the most helpful thing for the work. I’ve also learned that taking my time in creating a draft and sending it to my dramaturg is way better than rushing something out in a really crappy state.

Having also had a show travel from the fringe and get picked up by a professional theatre company, I was surprised that the experience wasn’t that different from a fringe. Yeah we had more money to pay people, but the process was almost identical. It kind of de-mystified what “professional” work meant to me.

I’m thankful I don’t just do “one thing” in theatre. If I did, I don’t think I’d be able to survive in the arts. It’s interesting to see which gigs pay the bills (and the percentages that they pay ’em in) and which one’s don’t. It’s interesting to see what skill sets producers value.

When I’m not gigging or writing, I cater.

Patience is the largest thing I take from theatre. You meet a lot of interesting characters on the job. Most people are really friendly, but some people look at you like you’re literal garbage (and treat you as such!). I think my theatre background gives me a sense of humour around all human interactions. No matter how angry someone gets at you, remembering that at the end of the day I have another life has given me a lot of comfort.

I’ve been lucky enough to be employed in a handful of facilitation/adjudicating/teaching jobs in the past year. Given my history at theatre schools, I have a kind of interesting relationship with pedagogy. That being said, I’m really careful in the way I hold space when I teach and really want to empower my students. There’s something incredibly rewarding about helping someone discover something, or when people leave a process feeling like they can do something they didn’t before. That’s not to say I don’t push folks I teach, nor that I’m not critical with them, but I think there’s a way to apply constructive rigor to the work in a way that doesn’t harm people (which can involve dismantling some shitty teacher/student hierarchies).

Gaining passions that aren’t theatre. If theatre is the only source of joy in my life, I’ll probably scream. It’s super comforting to find myself in communities of folks who are passionate and like the nerdy things I liked growing up. I cook, play video games a lot, watch terrible blockbusters and am starting to get into board games. It’s kind of cool re-discovering things that excited me when I was younger and being able to indulge in them when I have the time.

Also, I think the real unexpected result of pursuing my passion is that I’m making it work. I work in the arts! I am able to survive on my playwriting, directing, dramaturgy and teaching gigs. But with this virus, we’ll see how long that lasts lol.

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