Theatre carpenter has vision and McGibbon prize

Ryan Wilson has just won the Pauline McGibbon Award for his work in theatre.
Ryan Wilson has just won the Pauline McGibbon Award for his work in theatre. (Ryan Wilson)

Ryan Wilson had been working all day at Aki Studio Theatre on Dundas Street East on a difficult set piece. The design required that he transform a real shipping container into a house. The container had to be cut apart and the heavy pieces brought into the theatre by hand where Wilson reassembled it.

“I was tired and frustrated with what I was doing,” Wilson remembered.

As he was trying to bolt all the moving parts on stage, he got a telephone call. He had been nominated for the Pauline McGibbon Award.

“(That) gave me a good reason to go back to work and finish the set,” he said.

On Monday, June 3, Wilson learned that he’d won the award for his work as a production craftsperson in the Ontario theatre community. He received $7,000 and a medal at the news conference for the Dora Mavor Moore Awards.

In a press release, the Ontario Arts Council jury, described Wilson as “an excellent embodiment of the spirit of the Pauline McGibbon Award … He exudes passion for his work in theatre. His dedication to any project and his careful consideration of all aspects of the design make a strong contribution to a fully realized artistic vision. Ryan’s work is integral to the process.”

Wilson began contributing to the theatre world professionally five years ago at Soulpepper Theatre Company. It was there that Wilson worked with head carpenter Andy DeVries who agreed with the jury’s choice.

“There’s a small number of people that I know who can take whatever you’re throwing at them, run with the ball and get the project done. That’s definitely one of Ryan’s biggest strengths,” DeVries said. “He works quickly; he works well and typically always with a smile.”

In spite of the support from both the industry and his co-workers, Wilson was surprised he won.

“I don’t know (why I won),” he said. “I guess I’ve been working really hard and trying to be positive and collaborative all the time which I think is a big part of it.”

Wilson’s team-minded approach led him to a number of other theatre companies over his career, including Factory Theatre and fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company where he completed the shipping container set.

“It was a pretty non-traditional way of staging the show and it was really fun and really challenging,” he said. “Definitely my favourite thing I’ve done recently.”

DeVries said that’s typical of Wilson’s positive attitude.

“(For) taking care of a project and seeing it through to completion, Ryan’s pretty high on the list of who’d you like to call,” he said.

The Pauline McGibbon Award was initiated in 1981 in memory of the former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.