Editor’s Note ~ This month’s guest blog post is by our Head of Properties Janet Bickford who is retiring this spring after 19 seasons with Theatre at UBC.
“I got interested in theatre during high school, inspired by a charismatic teacher called Maurice Gibbons. My other love was writing. So at UBC in the sixties I did a BA in Theatre and Creative Writing. Perhaps I’d become a playwright. Afterward I needed some experience in the business to get me going. Mustering all my nerve, I applied for the costume job at Holiday Theatre, a children’s theatre group that ran out of the old Metro Shop.”
“There I met Cameron Porteous, a set and costume designer who was to become a big influence on my career. He convinced me to apply to Wimbledon College of Art in London England for their costume-cutting program. I was accepted and soon found myself sharing a cramped flat in Camden Town with my boyfriend David, his sister and her boyfriend. David was also going to Art School in London but he decided his program was rubbish and headed to Morocco with a friend from Vancouver. They didn’t want a woman with them in a Muslim country, so I was left in London where I freaked out. My course hadn’t started yet, so I took what money I had left and returned to Vancouver.”
“Broke, I called up Allan Wallis, then production manager at the Vancouver Playhouse, and asked for a job. He told me he had no openings in the costume department but if I’d work as a props apprentice, he could hire me. This was a turning point for me. I was working under the late Jack Simon and the designer was my old mentor, Carmeron Porteous.”
“I fell in love with prop making. Jack was an amazing teacher. Cameron’s designs were always an inspiration. When Jack became a fully-fledged designer, I took over as Head of Props at the Vancouver Playhouse. I have fond memories of my years as a member of the Playhouse team.”
“In 1979, I did the summer Opera Festival at the National Arts Centre and, in 1983, I joined the Playhouse migration to the Shaw Festival, again working with Cameron. But I missed Vancouver and so I returned. From my base in Kitsilano, I branched out into film work as a sculptor in the Construction Department of IATSE and joined All Set Design for the big push toward Expo 86. Here I learned model making skills and some of the tricks of the display trade.”
“After a few years of free-lancing, I found my way to the Freddy Wood in 1992 working with Sherry Milne. I’ve been here ever since. It seems fitting to retire after giving something back to my Alma Mater.”
“I’ll never forget being called into Professor John Brockington’s office upon my graduation from the UBC Theatre Program. ‘You haven’t really distinguished yourself during your time here,’ he said. ‘ I wouldn’t suggest you go knocking on the door at the Playhouse asking for work.’ Little did he know.”