Outside the Lines: Jenna Turk

From day jobs to evening gigs and volunteer duties, Outside the Lines, is a series of posts exploring MFA graduates' lives and literary work outside of their primary writing practice...


I recently had lunch with a friend from BC who now makes her home here in Calgary, and when she joked that she was raised to hate Alberta, I laughed along with her — because I’m from Ontario! I never dreamed that I would make my home in Cowtown, but last October that is just what I did. I moved from my tiny bachelor apartment in Toronto into a slightly bigger bachelor apartment in Calgary.

I took a job as the Artistic Associate at Theatre Calgary, one of the largest regional theatres in the country. When I saw the posting for the position, I realized that it looked a lot like what I was already doing in my numerous freelance gigs, but all in one place. I had been an indie artist in TO for almost ten years, and I had this immense urge to really, truly be useful. To genuinely be part of a team. Plus, I honestly wondered what it would be like to work for a large theatre company, in an “A” house, that made money (!).

A further reason to move west: at Theatre Calgary’s helm were two stellar powerhouse women: Executive Director Colleen Smith, and Interim Artistic Director Shari Wattling. With the lack of women in power positions across the theatre world, Theatre Calgary seemed like a dream.

The title “Artistic Associate” can mean many different things in many different places; for me, it mostly means I do many different things, but in one place. From writing our programme editorial (this month I’m focusing on the history of magic realism as we are set to premiere a brand new Sharon Pollock play that is oh-so-magical and oh-so-awesome!), to creating our radio ads for the upcoming season (writing the copy, directing the actors, and asking the producer for more kazoo, please) and adapting our summer Shakespeare production (As You Like It performed on the banks of the Bow River), most of my work involves some kind of writing.

What gives me the greatest pleasure, though, is the work I get to do in new play development. I read a lot of scripts and see as much theatre as I can, and together with the Artistic Director, I curate which plays we want to support financially and dramaturgically. This past season, I had the privilege of working with two kickass female playwrights, Meg Braem and Tara Beagan, providing dramaturgy on workshops of their respective projects, Vital Spirits and Honour Beat.

As a writer who is also an actor, I truly appreciate the collaborative process. Solo work is necessary, of course, but with live theatre, much can be learned when words are actually put on their feet. And as a writer who thinks in images, the more I work with other playwrights and directors, the larger my own vocabulary grows, which helps me communicate my own wants and needs in a rehearsal hall. It is also incredibly inspiring to work on a daily basis with artists who are so passionate and dedicated to their craft.

My job also reinforces my belief in honesty in artmaking. Whenever I am in the position of responding to a script submission, I try to think about how I would feel receiving the same feedback — I usually end up remembering that I prefer truthful commentary. There’s no need to be a jerk, of course, but it’s good to be a straight shooter. This is the wild west after all.

Jenna Turk (2012 cohort) is a writer/actor/collaborator who has recently relocated to Calgary, Alberta after being based in Toronto for 8 years. She is the Artistic Associate at Theatre Calgary. Jenna earned her BFA in Acting from the University of Windsor and completed her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her thesis project, The Diary of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, was a hybrid novel exploring the one-dimensional female archetype often featured in male coming-of-age films. Her writing has been a part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, the SummerWorks Performance Festival, and the Lab Cab Festival, among others. She is the co-creator of the romantic-comedy podcast, What She’s Having.