Ali Joy Richardson
Degree: Theatre and Drama Studies
Year of graduation: 2013
Ali Joy Richardson’s diverse skill set extends to all aspects of the theatre
Ali Joy Richardson’s accustomed to wearing many different hats.
A 2013 graduate of Sheridan and the University of Toronto’s Theatre and Drama Studies Program, the Toronto-based director, writer and producer tackles theatre projects of all kinds, with productions spanning across the country.
Originally from Nova Scotia, Richardson’s theatrical reach has stretched to Edinburgh, Vancouver, Berlin, Halifax, Edmonton, and Toronto. She’s currently the Artistic Producer of Toronto's Paprika Festival, which provides year-round theatre training and professional mentorship to young artists and presents a festival of their original work each spring.
Richardson trained at Sheridan as an actor, but she tackles writing, producing and directing with ease. “The writing focus is newer in the last few years,” she says. “I’ve gained confidence as a director, and now feel like I understand plays on a really technical level. Developing my abilities as a writer helped complete my theatre toolkit.”
Being able to stretch her creative muscles in all aspects of theatre is an opportunity Richardson does not take for granted. She recalls that after graduating from Sheridan, there was an internalized pressure to focus on one skill set in order to be taken seriously in the industry. “There was a misconception that if I was a director, writer, and sometimes performer, that it would dilute my credibility” she says. “I’m happy to say that throughout my career I’ve had mentors who helped dissolve that barrier.”
Richardson also had to overcome her own insecurities about directing and writing her own work. While she was interested in having full, creative oversight on her projects, there can sometimes be a stigma attached to a young woman asserting her full vision. “It’s been joyful to break through that barrier and overturn those expectations.”
Richardson says her education helped her prepare to overcome these hurdles. She remembers a project during her third year that required every student to create and perform their own 20-minute solo piece. “It was an acting program, but it gave us the chance to work as creators,” she says. “While I was training as an actor, I was also getting to try my hand at directing and writing within our courses and student festivals.”
Also integral to Richardson’s learning experience was an ambitious project she decided to take on as a student. In her third year, her class created a play about the Halifax explosion, that Richardson felt should also be put on in her hometown of Dartmouth.
“Sometimes there’s a pressure to simplify yourself an artist. Defy that pressure.”
“I got it in my ambitious third-year head to produce a remount of that show with twenty-two actors on the site of the explosion,” she says. “I began having meetings with my class and sending emails and finding a venue.” Eventually, CMTP producing artistic director Michael Rubinoff invited Richardson into his office, providing producing and fundraising advice.
“He really empowered me to take on a leadership role, and it was the first thing I’d ever produced,” she says.
Following graduation, Richardson spent some time hustling and creating her own productions, but now that the industry is more familiar with her work, more projects are coming her way.
In 2018, Richardson had the chance to work with Rubinoff again as the director of a new musical as part of Sheridan’s Canadian Music Theatre Project, titled In Real Life by Nick Green and Kevin Wong— a dystopian coming-of-age story about a young woman and man on opposite sides of the world trying to find a true connection in an increasingly technological world.
“It’s wonderful that through [the CMTP program], students are getting a chance to watch a creative team work in the room,” she says. “They’re seeing collaboration live in front of them. It’s like pulling back the curtain so these students are able to prepare for what it will be like in the industry.”
Richardson has teamed up again with In Real Life collaborator Kevin Wong to write a new musical that is being workshopped this summer.
When it comes to advice for breaking into the theatre, Richardson advises students to not close off parts of yourself because you’re afraid something might not be immediately celebrated.
“If you have interests beyond acting or performing, keep fuelling those parts of your soul. They will eventually feed into your happiness and your sustainability as an artist,” she says. “Sometimes there’s a pressure to simplify yourself an artist. Defy that pressure.”