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Jenna Turk directs Lara Schmitz and Praneet Akilla during rehearsals for Iceland
A conversation with Iceland Director, Jenna Turk
Artistic Associate Jenna Turk talks Iceland and making her directorial debut.
"What I learned in Toronto as an emerging artist is that you have to dive in. It’s a hustle trying to make a living as an artist there.”
Jenna Turk, an Ontario native, earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting at the University of Windsor, but moved to Toronto to realize her dreams as an artist, seizing any opportunity she could to learn and grow as a theatremaker. While taking a directing workshop with Tarragon Theatre’s Artistic Director Richard Rose, she accepted a role as script coordinator for a new play there called, A Brimful of Asha. Little did she know, its creator was someone who would become important in her career: Ravi Jain. Observing him in the theatre, Jenna says it became clear why he was so successful at such a young age.
“He’s smart and kind. He showed genuine interest in the people he worked with. There was no façade.”
It was during this time that Ravi saw Jenna’s talent and drive, and asked her to be the Assistant Director on a new work by playwright Nicolas Billon at Toronto’s 2012 SummerWorks Performance Festival. That play was Iceland. For Jenna, this was a real introduction to Canadian theatre and what it means to make new plays in Canada.
“It was so inspiring working with Ravi. His energy is extraordinary. He is a real force,” said Jenna. “It was also really eye-opening working with Nic. He was incredibly generous in his writing process, everyone had a voice and he welcomed our ideas.”
It was after the experience of working with Ravi and Nicolas that Jenna wanted to focus on creating her own work, and she decided to further expand her knowledge and pursue a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Guelph. After completing her Masters and having lived in Toronto for eight years, she decided it was time for a change, so she moved out west for her position as the Artistic Associate at Theatre Calgary.
Calgary’s artistic community was a refreshing change for Jenna. Her experience living in Toronto was that everyone was labelled – be it an actor, director or playwright – but it was rare to make a living as more than one thing. “In Calgary, quite often an actor is also a designer/director/etc. And not just as a side hustle. But they are seen as a respected artist in both fields. Like, Mark Bellamy who directed Noises Off for TC and who will be onstage next in the new A Christmas Carol adaptation.”
After working with Theatre Calgary’s Artistic Director, Stafford Arima, and being embraced by the team, Jenna’s contract became permanent. And an opportunity presented itself that she never thought would come about.
“I had put directing out of my mind as a possibility within my role at Theatre Calgary. So, when Stafford and the artistic team here offered me the chance to direct Iceland, it was a surprise. But a really wonderful one. It felt like Stafford trusted and believed in me. It was exciting.”
Jenna hopes Iceland will appeal to a Calgary audience. “Iceland is a beautiful script; fiercely funny, and whip-smart. And, this is a business-minded city with a big heart, but it can be difficult to balance the two.
"Capitalism is a huge part of our lives, navigating booms and busts; I think people will be able to relate to this story.”
As Jenna reflects on her journey of getting to this point and making her Theatre Calgary directorial debut, she is thankful for the people who have supported her and cheered her on along the way. Mentorship is important to Jenna who as Artistic Associate facilitates Theatre Calgary’s mentorship program, TC Mentors. “It’s not always easy to find mentors though. It takes a lot of work and patience to be one! I have actually started considering people around my age, colleagues and friends in theatre, as my mentors. In Calgary, there are some powerful women I admire and who make me excited about the future. Like, Jamie Dunsdon and Jenna Rodgers. Tara Beagan, Clare Preuss, Pam Tzeng. There are many! And that is thrilling.”
“I’m so grateful to Stafford for giving me this opportunity and entrusting me to bring this show to our stage. In a way, it’s really walking the walk, not just supporting emerging artist through programs like TC Mentors, but taking a risk on me and allowing me to continue to grow as well. I am very lucky to be where I am.”
Iceland is a beautiful script; fiercely funny and whip-smart.”