St. Albert actor-director-playwright Alexandra Dawkins is fully aware theatre is a potent force for change. A bold artist, her stagings hold up a mirror to society’s shortcomings while using it as a wonderful tool for empathy.
As a young, professional artist, her fresh vision caught the eye of John Hudson, artistic director of Shadow Theatre. The company had announced, in mid-2020, the launch of three one-year fellowships for aspiring artistic directors who identify as women or other marginalized gender communities.
Its goal was to address the leadership imbalance in Canadian theatre, and Dawkins was the first candidate selected. The fellowship, which runs from September 2021 to June 2022, will immerse Dawkins in both the administrative and creative roles of assistant artistic director.
“This is a big step for me. This fellowship opens doors for action and gives opportunities to people that may not receive them otherwise. To the applicant, it says, ‘We want new people. We want new skills. We want you to come in,’” said Dawkins.
Hudson, who is out of province on vacation, emailed a note of praise for his new protégé.
“Shadow Theatre is thrilled to have Alexandra as our first candidate,” said Hudson. “She will be learning and working along with me and will be assistant directing on all of our 2022 productions and directing her own show in the 2022-2023 season.”
For Dawkins, theatre is more than writing a play, handing out scripts, and having actors rehearse lines. It’s about designing and physically building the performance. It's about exploring a vision or multiple visions with all its inherent risks. In Hudson, she sees a theatre champion who creates safe spaces to shape a production.
“Most artistic directors in Canada are older white men. John is very forward thinking. He is making an effort to facilitate new changes that are needed. I have a huge respect for John. He is a smart, kind individual and he wants to portray diversity and that’s very clear in the 2021-2022 season,” Dawkins said.
The new season starts Jan. 19 to Feb. 6, 2022 with The Mountaintop by Katori Hall, an American playwright. It is a fictional depiction of Martin Luther King’s last night on the eve of his assassination.
Following on March 9 to 27 is Canadian Indigenous playwright Drew Hayden Taylor’s Cottages and Indians, a play that tackles property rights, water rights, racism, contract law, and Indigenous poverty.
For the final play of the season, Dawkins steps back onstage in Bloomsday, running April 27 to May 15. This Steven Dietz play is an Irish romance that uses a James Joyce literary tour as its springboard.
“It’s about relationships, regret, risk-taking, honesty, romance and missed opportunities. I’m even learning a Dublin accent. It’s hard,” laughed Dawkins.
From September until Christmas, she will be working behind a desk tackling administrative details, such as finances, grant applications, box office, and marketing. In January, she will shift into the creative process, assisting Hudson as director.
“It’s basically learning how to run a company and juggle 40,000 glowing balls in the air. In traditional theatre there’s just not enough time and resources. It’s all about, ‘I have X amount of dollars and X amount of time. How do I get to opening night?'”
Dawkins graduated from the University of Alberta with a four-year BFA and captivated audiences in Colleen Murphy’s world premiere of Bright Burning as well as Nicole Moeller’s Workshop West production of The Ballad of Peachtree Rose.
As a director, she plans to focus on being an anchor for actors.
“It’s about letting others know they can go somewhere if they have a problem. You just have to float and roll with the punches. If you get stuck, which I have experience in, it’s stagnating,” Dawkins said.
“Collaboration is my jam. The best work, I find, is when you open up to someone else’s perspective. Being open and being able to engage is a beautiful balance, and I look forward to honing in on one.”