Jessica Ruano; Ottawa;
Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?
I would probably identify as an Ottawa-based theatre director, producer, and writer. Though I’ve also worked as a publicist, a journalist, an academic, a spoken word performer, an activist, a teacher, a support worker, and an event organizer. I suppose I could say I let my passions guide me, and often that dictates which projects I choose to pursue.
I could also say that I’m the creator of The Ghomeshi Effect, a verbatim dance-theatre performance on sexual violence and the justice system. That usually kicks off a good conversation.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I grew up in Ottawa and attended Canterbury High School’s drama program. Then I studied at the University of Ottawa: I did a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Masters of Arts in theatre theory and dramaturgy. Recently, I taught a course on festivals and marketing at that same university!
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
I was lucky enough to work in the arts throughout my university years, and I really enjoyed working in marketing and communications for a number of local theatre companies (Third Wall Theatre Company was the first one to hire me, bless them) and festivals.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
When I moved to London, England in 2011, I told everyone I was a theatre director—even though I had only ever directed one show, years before. I was invited to join Second Skin Theatre as their creative producer, and with the support of the company, I directed the London premiere of Sappho…in 9 Fragments. The show was well-received in London, so we toured it across Canada and to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I quickly garnered a reputation as a bold theatre director who takes risks.
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
Interestingly, I don’t know if I’ve had that moment yet. Assuming “this” means “my career,” I feel I’m still figuring out what to do with my life. For the next few months I’m making plans to tour The Ghomeshi Effect to high schools, universities, and theatres across Canada. But in 2018? No idea. Maybe I’ll write and direct another play. Maybe I’ll score a full-time job doing something I love. Maybe I’ll live in Paris for a year. I think, like most people, I’m still a work-in-progress.
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
Right after I finished university, I had the misfortune of working for an abusive employer while struggling with an unhealthy partnership, both of which utterly wrecked my self-esteem. While it took me a long time to recover from those experiences, I did learn a great deal about what I will put up with in my professional and personal relationships, and for that I am grateful.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
Do what makes you happy and makes the world a better place . Does it need to be much more complicated than that?
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
People have told me I should do a PhD. But I haven’t yet followed that advice, so I have no idea if it’s misdirected or not.
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
You know how I mentioned having worked for an abusive employer? Well, he wasn’t the only one. I’ve left several positions because I’ve refused to put up with bad behaviour (sexual harassment, emotional manipulation, financial mismanagement) from employers. But that doesn’t stop them from being abusive; it just means that I have to start over again—often after putting a heck of a lot of time and effort into making their businesses successful. And I know I’m not the only woman to have had this experience. This is worth talking about. How many women have had to choose between their jobs and their emotional well-being? How many people reading this are thinking that I’m probably just “difficult to work with?” We make a lot of assumptions about women and their motives for speaking out, because we don’t want to believe that this type of abuse happens with such frequency in the workplace.
So while theatre venues and festivals today are making concentrated efforts to program and highlight women artists, it is nonetheless important to consider the systemic reasons why many women don’t “make it” in the arts.
Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?
I think the phrase “side hustle” is only applicable to people who have full-time jobs. I work in the arts; I’m usually doing five different things! However, I can say that outside my work in theatre, I do feel an enormous amount of joy working as a life model for art schools and studios around the city. Practicing stillness while being drawn/painted/sculpted by artists is incredibly soothing, and provides me with time for quiet reflection amid the bustle of pencils and paintbrushes. And it’s helped me to become more comfortable in my own body, too.
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?
Most people I work with are smart enough not to make ageist remarks around me #sorryfornotansweringthisquestion.