If you were on campus last term, you might recognize Emily Radcliffe from posters advertising the Theatre and Performance program’s production of Portia’s Julius Caesar. For herself, as strange as it was to see her own face posted around campus, it was even more unexpected to be cast in the lead role of Portia. “It was an experience that helped me to unlearn a lot of lessons I was taught over the years about who I am, who I can be, and what I'm capable of.”

Now a Distinguished Academic Achievement award winner, Emily is graduating this spring from the Honours Arts and Business program with a major in Theatre and Performance. She was initially drawn to the program because it gave her the flexibility to explore her creative interests while expanding job opportunities. “I was like, I like too many things, so I'm just not going to choose. I'm going to do all the things.” Reflecting back, she notes how versatile her education was and the support she had, specifically from her theatre professors.

“You’re never short of a job because they teach you everything. … The theatre and performance program at the University of Waterloo is truly a hidden gem in the Canadian theatre education scope.”

Growing as a professional

As a co-op student, Emily had the opportunity to gain real-world experience in both business and theatre environments – first as a program and recruitment associate with the Computing and Financial Management program and then as an artistic associate with Green Light Arts, a local theatre company. “It was interesting,” she notes, “because the things that I learned in [non-theatre] realms were still totally applicable when I would go back into theatre spaces.”

She adds that her time at Green Light Arts was one of her most formative undergraduate experiences. “My two supervisors [Matt White and Carin Lowerison] were so supportive in my own professional development that it wasn't just about me completing tasks, but they genuinely wanted to see me grow and flourish in my interests. It was a safe place for me to learn and fail and ask questions and grow as a person and also as a professional.”

Emily was also shoulder-tapped by Dr. Naila Keleta-Mae, CRC in Race, Gender and Performance, to work as an undergraduate research assistant for the Black And Free Project, exploring the question “What can Black theatre do in the 21st century?” Working alongside Keleta-Mae was nothing short of transformative for Emily – it sparked her passion for theatre creation and Black storytelling and developed her confidence as an individual. “On top of really important human and creative skills, she taught me to not apologize so much. She taught me to know what I'm bringing into a room and not shy away from it.”

Emily Radcliffe performing the role of Portia on stage.

Emily Radcliffe as Portia in this year's performance of Portia’s Julius Caesar.

Telling Black stories

Emily’s interest in telling Black stories through art expanded beyond her professional work to a variety of extracurriculars. “[With Black And Free,] I was presented with this power to comment on or add to the repertoire and representation of different types of Black stories, in thinking about what Black audiences need and want to hear and see. That was kind of the driving force through all of these projects.”

In her third year, she was chosen to take part in 21 Black Futures, a theatrical anthology responding to the question, “What is the future of Blackness?” With the exception of the movie Black Panther, Emily had never seen a project dedicated to Black futurism, and she was excited to contribute to the diversity of Black storytelling through her performance titled “The Boulder and I.”

Around the same time, she started the PIGMENTED podcast with her friend Kim. “[It] gave us a great outlet to process a lot of the stuff that we were absorbing over the course of the early part of the pandemic,” she says. From processing the second-hand trauma of publicized Black murders to talking about Black joy, Emily and Kim found an audience of fellow students and beyond that resonated with and responded to their conversations. “It was really cool to draw connections and find the power in our own stories.”

Looking ahead

When asked what she wants to explore next, Emily responds, “There are so many things, but I’ll recall what Matt White at Green Light Arts told me: that it's not a matter of having to choose which of your interests you're going to explore, but which one you’re going to do first.”

Right now, she says this looks like telling stories and creating soundscapes using the skills she gained from 21 Black Futures and her directing class project. “Exploring music and singing and sound and making sure that a story is conveyed through those things is what I'm excited to do next, and then I'll probably get to apply everything else I learned along the way as well. No closed doors.”