Q&A with NAC theatre director Jillian Keiley

Jillian Keiley is an award-winning director from St. John’s, Newfoundland and founder of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland. She’s has directed and taught across Canada and has worked internationally in opera, musicals, new work and classics. She was appointed artistic director of NAC English Theatre in 2012. She took time out to answer our many questions.

OCS: Who are your style icons?

JK: There’s an actor in Newfoundland, Ruth Lawrence.  She’s the best dresser I know.

OCS: What’s on your bedside table?

JK: Horton Hears a Who. I used to read grown up books a lot, but now I’ve got a baby, so my reading time is not my own.

OCS: Best home accessory?

JK: I enjoy good lighting.

OCS: Best recent fashion find?

JK: I’m pretty unfashionable but I have friends trying to help. There is a beautiful store in Toronto called Ms. Emma’s Designs. I would buy every item there if I could. There’s also a lovely spot in the ByWard Market — Fanfreluche At Ms. Emma’s Designs.

OCS: Whom would you invite for dinner if you could choose anyone in the world?

JK: Julie Taymor, I think, maybe Robert Wilson, but probably Barack Obama would be more fun. But really, to be true, it wouldn’t be anyone famous. Famous people can be a drag  I knew a girl about 20 years ago when I scrubbed toilets in Banff for a summer job. She was from Ottawa — her name was Catherine Grey, I think, Gray maybe. I don’t know. We used to laugh till we got sick from laughing. I would like to have her over for dinner at my new place in Ottawa. If anyone knows her, let her know.

OCS: You can see the debut of any piece of music in history. What would it be?

JK: It would have been great to have been in the original audience for Philip Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach.” That was such an insane piece and an insane artistic risk and it played out as pure genius. To have been there, to have been part of the process when Philip Glass and Robert Wilson were deciding “does this thing actually work?!” must have been phenomenal.

OCS: What’s your earliest memory?

JK: I got a beautiful red dress as an incitement for my first trip to the dentist.  I remember the dress so well — a little Holly Hobby-looking thing, red and black with a lacy apron. But I did not dig the dentist at all and the whole day ended up being such a trauma that I remember it like it was yesterday.

OCS: Your biggest fashion faux-pas, when, where and how?

JK: I know this is a style magazine so perhaps this is the wrong answer, but it’s a truthful one, and that is that I don’t think about fashion faux-pas or embarrassments.  My judgment on myself and others style wise is pretty limited. I feel sorry for women who wear stilettos in snowstorms, and men who feel that they have to wear full suits and ties in sweltering heat. I guess for me, style is about an opportunity to present yourself for the occasion. Sometimes you underdress and sometimes you overdress — but generally neither is something to be embarrassed about. You’re what’s important. I confess, I did wear those big WHAM shirts in the ’80s that were off the shoulder and had big neon words spelled across them, but you know, it was the ’80s.  It’s not my fault.

OCS: Proudest moments?

JK: Many years ago we took a risk on a big show that needed a lot of people to believe in what we were doing.  We didn’t know what would happen right till opening night and then we saw the audience’s faces and it worked! It’s a funny job when you don’t really truly know if you’ve done your job till your job is over. I also directed and produced a film for the Olympics that involved us circumventing the world in 14 days. It was nuts. And excellent.

OCS: Favourite piece of furniture?

JK: I have a couch that looks civilized most of the time but then folds out into a double recliner with a pulldown table in the middle that holds a cup of tea. So good.

OCS: Qualities you most admire in a person?

JK: Honesty, good temperament, and an ability to have a laugh.

OCS: Whom would you most like to direct?

JK: I’d love to direct Gordon Pinsent — not just because I’m a Newfoundlander, he’s got a beautiful soul that would bring so much to a production.

OCS: Describe a perfect day off (it can be anywhere in the world).

JK: This is multi-city so it’s imaginary, but why not? It would start with breakfast at this excellent diner that I’ve grown quite fond of in Ottawa called Mellos, and then off to the east coast trail in Newfoundland for a hike on the ocean, and then we’d finish the day with a concert in Prague, which has the most incredible musicians playing in the most incredible venues.

OCS: Favourite visual artist, living or dead?

JK: Christopher Pratt

OCS: Favourite local artist (if different from above, and doesn’t have to be a visual artist)?

JK: That’s difficult to say as I’m so new to the community. I am working with actor Andy Massingham, who is pretty great in a production coming up. I loved the show that Odyssey did in the park this summer. I was amazed to hear that Measha Brueggergosman lives somewhere near here. I was so thrilled to hear her sing at the NAC. All in all, having only been here about two months, I’m too under-educated to answer; there seems to be amazing artistry happening everywhere.

OCS: Best book you read in the past year?

JK: I’ve just been so full up with What to Expect in the First Year and How to Raise Your Child to Not Become a Serial Killer books, that I literally have not read a book for pleasure in a year. Before that I have lots of favourites: my all time favourite is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. And also, Horton Hears a Who. Sometimes I read that for myself.

OCS: Favourite food?

JK: Tomato. It’s so versatile.

OCS: Most-oft-played song on your iPod or MP3 player?

JK: Bach’s Fugue in G Minor. I use it a lot when I’m teaching, and it’s so good (that) even when it comes up on shuffle, I don’t skip it.

OCS: Wine, beer or both?

JK: Both

OCS: Mac or PC?

JK: Mac. Though I don’t like where that whole thing is heading.

OCS: Fine dining or plain old diners?

JK: It depends. But for the most part, something in between, (such as) The Manx or a good sushi or Thai spot. I had a really, really good Indian buffet at The East India Company.

OCS: Best restaurant in Ottawa?

JK: Again I’m so new I can’t say, but there is a vegan place called Zen Kitchen that is exceptional. It’s the kind of place that you know someone actually really paid attention to how your meal was made and how it was presented to you. Almost like eating at someone’s house when they like you a lot.

OCS: Person, place or thing that makes you proudest/happiest that you live in Ottawa?

JK: I love love love the river. And I love where I work. And I love that a lot of decisions that have made Canada a pretty excellent place. Generally, in terms of fairness and democracy and a people who care about their neighbours state of wellbeing — those decisions, have been made here for a long time. I think that’s pretty great.

OCS: Fave blog or website?

JK: I don’t really have an answer for that. I read the Globe and Mail online a bit.

OCS: Twitter, Facebook or both?

JK: Facebook. Sometimes.

OCS: What’s your guilty pleasure?

JK: Keanu Reeves. It’s ok, my husband knows.

OCS: Favourite place to spend time?

JK: Walking, on a river, around a pond, by the ocean, wherever in the world but by the water.

OCS: How would you like the world to remember you? What would your eulogist ideally say?

JK: She did all she could with the information she had at the time.



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