Q&A with Jovanni Sy
Gateway Theatre’s new Artistic Director Jovanni Sy has been in the office for a week. We’ve had lots of questions about who he is and what he’s like, so here briefly, are a few words from Jovanni. Read more about him here:
How did you get into theatre?
I took a very unlikely route to become a theatre artist. I studied engineering at the University of Toronto, graduated, and then worked for a cellular telephone company for four years before I embarked on the shortest career on Bay Street ever (that’s a story for another time). In 1992, I suddenly decided that I wanted to be an actor. I had danced and sung in musical revues at the engineering faculty and, after graduating, acted in community theatre, mostly in musicals. I knew that I loved theatre and was blissfully unaware of how hard a life it could be.
So when you decided you wanted to do this professionally, how did you get started, where did you get your training?
Mostly I trained on the job. I was extremely fortunate to get work pretty well right away. I learned so much from watching senior actors. That’s advice I always give to emerging actors: keep your eyes and ears open. Whenever I wasn’t working, I took any class I could. In fact, I met my wife at a class taught by R.H. Thomson.
What made you want to come to Richmond?
First, the reputation of the Gateway. Simon Johnston built a strong national profile for this company. Both Simon and the Gateway are held in great esteem across the country. Richmond is very lucky to have had such a wonderful leader for twelve years and I’m lucky to inherit the company he helped build.
Second, I was drawn to this community. It’s growing and dynamic and so diverse. I relish the opportunity to create theatre that speaks to such a wide range of constituents.
So will we see many changes under your tenure?
There’s bound to be some change simply because Simon and I are different artists with different sensibilities. But what won’t change is the Gateway’s commitment to artistic excellence. What won’t change is our core belief that the Gateway is an inclusive space that welcomes all the people of Richmond and the Lower Mainland.
You mentioned your artistic sensibility. How would describe that sensibility?
Eclectic. I mentioned that musicals were and are my first love. At the same time, much of my career has been devoted to developing and producing new Canadian drama, especially multicultural drama. I also love classical theatre, dance theatre, and opera. There’s nothing I like more than a really funny comedy. All this is to say that I think the Gateway is the perfect place for me to be right now. What a privilege it is to be able to dream up seasons that offer a little bit of something for everyone.
Final question. In this digital age with so many entertainment options, why theatre?
The more we isolate ourselves through technology and social media, the more important theatre becomes precisely because it is a communal activity. Theatre literally reminds us we are not alone. There is nothing quite like the experience of sharing a play with others in a live setting. When we laugh together, gasp together, cry together, our personal emotion response is amplified in a magical way unlike any other. You just don’t get that renting through Netflix or playing Halo from your living room. Coming to live theatre, you not only get to experience joy, sorrow, laughter, outrage, you get to share that with your neighbour.