Jessica Ruano Q & A with Jessica Ruano

Interview by Ren Tomovcik
(Photo by Garett Gunderson)

Jessica Ruano's online bio will tell you that she's a publicist, publicity consultant, arts journalist, photographer, drama coach, director, spoken word performer, and general arts enthusiast - but she's so much more than the sum of her (numerous) activities. 

The University of Ottawa graduate student has become known as a tireless advocate for the performing arts scene in Ottawa, keeping the capital's inhabitants informed about what's going on with the Ottawa Arts Newsletter and promoting upcoming events on her website. 

Jessica's work is thoroughly imbued with her love of the stage, and her enthusiastic endorsements have likely enticed countless audience members into their seats at Ottawa's many theatres.  

Lately, Jessica has been embracing the role of performer.  She was a headlining reader in the Voices of Venus series this past summer, and next month she'll take the stage at Cafe Nostalgica, the "belonging place" where her passion for spoken word performance began.

Jessica chats with Ottawafocus about theatre, inspiration, and the arts scene in our city that's alive and kicking!


Jessica, what first got you into theatre?
I has this wonderful teacher in grade four who would read books like Watership Down and Voyage of the Dawn Treader to the class and do all the voices. He also wrote his own adaptation of Treasure Island that we performed in front of the school. I played Captain Smolett (the third biggest role -- I know because I counted all the lines of all the characters in the play). It was a thrilling experience, so I decided to take classes at Orleans Young Players, followed by the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama, and I also had the privilege of attending Canterbury High School for theatre. I did my undergraduate in English and Theatre at the University of Ottawa, and right now I'm working on my Master's thesis in Dramaturgy. Theatre, in one form or another, has stuck with me all these years!

Jessica Ruano
(Photo by Paul Kohler)

You started your blog and website, the Ottawa Arts Newsletter, in 2006.  What motivated you to start the Ottawa Arts Newsletter?One day in May 2006 I was chatting with this woman on the bus. She had just moved to Ottawa from Montreal. When I asked her what she thought of Ottawa, she told me she found it to be a "dead city." After a bit more interrogation, I found out she was interested in dance, so I told her about Le Groupe Danse Lab (no longer in existence, unfortunately) and the National Arts Centre dance programming and whatever else came to mind at the time.

It occurred to me at that point that people living in Ottawa are not familiar with their own city. This is partly the fault of mainstream media that are drawing their readers away from local talent by filling the arts sections with celebrity gossip and out-of-town entertainment, and it is partly the fault of people who don't bother to do their own research.

Anyway, I did two things: I wrote a letter to the Ottawa Citizen about my concerns and it was subsequently published, and I started the Ottawa Arts Newsletter. I thought, "if people have trouble doing their own research, then I'll do it for them." The newsletter and its sister-website have become reasonably successful for something so small-scale. It's really just text: no pictures, no graphics, nothing. Just a few descriptions of upcoming events and my own personal thoughts on the arts scene. But people like it. They tell me it's well-written and accessible and straightforward. Sometimes I write more in-depth articles on my website or post interviews.

(Photo by Ron Deschenes)
Jessica Ruano You've recently become more active as a spoken word performer, including a headlining appearance at Voices of Venus. Is performing live something you hope to do more of?
Voices of Venus has been my best performing experience to date. For one thing, I was wearing a truly fabulous dress. For another, I felt confident onstage: many of my friends were present and they were incredibly supportive, I was proud of the work I had prepared, and I spoke slowly for once! 

I would love to perform my own work more often. But first I need more material. I am a very self-conscious writer, so it is very rare for me to write a poem that I like and that works in performance. Maybe I just need to have my heart broken again... If I have dated you, I have probably written something about you. But don't worry, I never mention names!

At the Voices of Venus show, I shared a romantic email that I wrote to someone I consider truly inspirational. That felt wonderful. And that's what I like to do: share the things that I consider most personal, offer audiences an opportunity for "emotional voyeurism."

  Who are some local creative types who inspire you day-to-day?  I just posted an interview with actor Richard Gelinas on my website; I think he is pretty awesome. I'm really thrilled that Alix Sideris, Andy Massingham and Peter Ryan have opened up Guerilla Heart Juice in a quaint studio right on the edge of the Byward Market. This is a physical theatre training company that works with elements of mask, clown, dance and mime. I took a week-long intensive with them in the summer and loved it. This collective won't quite replace Le Groupe Danse Lab in terms of dance creation, but I think they are surely going to bring something new to the community.

You recently created a haiku blog where you post a tiny poem nearly every day.  What attracted you to the haiku?  Do you really write one every day, or do you stockpile them as they come to you? For awhile I was stockpiling, but I've since run out of material. So these days, yes, I am writing one every day. By Halloween I will have posted 100 haikus. As a journalist I have learned to write very concisely, and it suits me. I'm not one for epic poems. Often I can say everything I need to say in the 5-7-5 structure; of course, I rely on the power of suggestion.

Take this one for example:
She smoothes the shapes with / Her fingertips to commit / Them to memory

You can learn a lot about about the character 'she' from those few words. She is a careful, cautious person, intent on making things beautiful, as she is smoothing the shapes rather than 'pressing' or 'pushing' them; and she uses only her 'fingertips,' rather than her whole hand. She is dedicated to this other person, as evidenced by the word commit, and lives very much in her thoughts and in the past with memory. It is possible that the other person is leaving, or she is afraid that the person (he? she?) may leave one day. Something like that.

(Photo by Jesse Hildebrand)
Jessica Ruano Tell us about your upcoming live performances!Local writer Sean Moreland was sweet enough to invite me to feature at the New Stalgica series in October. This meant a lot to me because I attended the "Thursday Heroes" open mic night at Cafe Nostalgica religiously through my last year of high school. I called it my "belonging place." My friends and I would meet there, and often I would share my angsty teen poetry. I believe I wrote one of my first haikus there: Candlelight flickers / Inexorably waning / Through my tangled hair.

I'll be performing at New Stalgica on Monday, October 19th along with Poem de Terre, a music-poetry group.  I'll also be doing backup on one piece for Danielle K. L. Gregoire in the October 3rd Capital Slam Show, where she'll be launching her first album.  She is fantastic and I encourage everyone to check her out!

What do you plan to do after you finish your MA?  Who knows?  I am contemplating several different things right now. I would like to get back into directing, perhaps producing, perhaps performing. I might run away with the circus, or some incredible theatre company. Canada has plenty to offer, and so does the rest of the world. The possibilities are endless.

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming more involved in local theatre?Create new work! We need more of that in Ottawa. Plenty of it happens at the Fringe Festival, and it is starting to happen elsewhere, but we still need much more. And it would help if you are filthy rich, because new work rarely makes you any money, unless it gets picked up by the right people. Oh, and volunteer. It's a good way to meet people.

You might also want to check out the newly created Ottawa Theatre Network. You can join up and share information with all sorts of people in the theatre community. I think once this thing gets started it will eventually become the one-stop-shop for everything theatre in Ottawa. I'm really proud of the folks who are taking this initiative, and I sincerely hope it helps us build a stronger artistic community.

Jessica Ruano will perform at Cafe Nostalgica, 603 Cumberland Street, on October 19th.  Performance begins with open mic at 8:30 pm; featured readers at 9:30. The evening will also showcase Poem de Terre, a multi-disciplinary ensemble melding live folk music and spoken word.  Hosted by Devin Zane Shaw and J.F. Lafleche.


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