Alison Crosby’s current artistic desire to “do everything” has deep roots in her beginnings with theatre.
“I was a very talkative, very attention-seeking child and eventually one of my cousins said to my mother, ‘Dear God, Diane, put her in theatre,’ ” Crosby told me over the phone. Her mother promptly enrolled her in Cape Breton’s Class Acts Drama School.
“I was taking acting classes, I was taking musical theatre classes even though I refused to sing, I was taking playwriting classes and stagecraft classes and just everything that they offered because I just could not get enough of it,” she said.
When it came time to pick a university to learn more, Crosby was torn between Acadia and St. Thomas. After an impromptu stop at the midpoint, Mount Allison, she changed her mind completely. “I could kind of make the program fit what I wanted to do,” she said. Crosby immediately got involved with Mt. A’s theatre scene.
“I went to Paul Del Motte and said, ‘I have experience with lights! Put me in with the lights!’ ” she said. “I realized I knew nothing about lights but Paul was super helpful. From there I just did every single show that Mt. A put on in my four years there.”
Crosby continued her early habit of learning as much as possible, branching out into acting, designing lights and stepping up as a stage manager. She also co-founded the “mini-theatre company” AXE Productions.
“I started it with Erik [Garf] and Xavier [Gould] and we put on Kat Sandler’s Punch Up,” she said, “I probably wouldn’t have done that at another school.” All of this work led to her final project as a drama student.
“I think the highlight for me is when I directed Little One by Hannah Moscovitch,” Crosby said. “Everything that I did at Mt. A kind of led to that show.” She found herself drawn to the play’s depiction of “a humanity that is kind of dirty and messy.” The rehearsal process reinforced Mt. A’s most important lesson: “Learn everything that you possibly can.”
“Nothing is ever irrelevant. You know? Your English class is going to help you direct your next show,” she said. “You have to obsessively learn.”
Since graduating, Crosby has been Ship’s Company Theatre’s apprentice stage manager and filled a multitude of roles and needs at Highland Arts Theatre. She’s apprenticed at Festival Antigonish’s Summer Theatre and is currently Matchstick Theatre’s resident lighting designer. She was also recently Matchstick’s first guest director, exploring more “messy humanity” in Peter Fechter: 59 Minutes. The play focuses on the true story of a teenage boy dying while trying to cross the Berlin Wall.
“What [playwright] Jordan Tannahill did is he took that last hour of Peter’s life and conceptualized what would go through an 18-year-old’s head after you’ve been shot,” Crosby said. “What do you think about for an hour while you die?”
Though she’s found success in Halifax as a director and designer, Crosby admits she misses the Motyer-Fancy theatre’s technical tools and flexibility as a space. This is reflected in her two-pronged advice to current students.
“Number one: appreciate the amazing and unique space you have to work with. Not everyone has that at their fingertips,” she said. “Number two: try everything you possibly can. If you’re serious about doing theatre after university, you should be doing as many shows as you can in as many capacities as you can.”
Unsurprisingly, this mindset is seen in Crosby’s current and upcoming work. She is currently writing a play to be performed at Halifax’s Atlantic Fringe Festival. In the coming months she will be working as a stage manager at Eastern Front Theatre and Ship’s Company Theatre, and continuing as Matchstick Theatre’s resident lighting designer.