Vancouver Stage Manager Lois Dawson has a passion for baking. Photo by Laena Brown.
Vancouver Stage Manager Lois Dawson has a passion for baking. Photo by Laena Brown.

The first in our new series from Vancouver theatre artist Kaitlin Williams in which she will explore the creative talent of the actors, playwrights, designers, stage managers and directors in our city when they step off stage to play.

[pullquote]”There’s a look that people get in their eyes when they discover that not only are there treats in rehearsal but also that they’re homemade which is really rewarding”[/pullquote]Lois Dawson grew up in Vernon, BC and moved to the Lower Mainland a little over ten years ago to study communications with plans to go into marketing and PR for the music industry – plans that were derailed by her love of theatre. When she’s not busy working or baking she mentors emerging stage managers through Rumble and The Cultch and serves on the board of the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards.

The Facts

Name: Lois Dawson
Theatre Specialization: Stage Management
Training: Trinity Western University, BA, double major in Drama & Communications, certificate in media studies
You might know her from: Ride the Cyclone (Atomic Vaudeville), The Last Days of Judas Iscariot (Pound of Flesh, Rumble, Neworld, PT, The Cultch), or Re:Union (Horseshoes & Hand Grenades and Pacific Theatre)
Vancouver Hood: Mount Pleasant
Website: http://loisbackstage.com
Twitter: @SMLois
Instagram: @SMLois
Offstage Play: Baking

The Goods

Lois even manages to bake while camping. Photo by Esther Dawson.
Lois even manages to bake while camping. Photo by Esther Dawson. Click to enlarge photo.

Who taught you how to bake? How young were you when you first started?

I learned to bake when I was very young – somewhere there is a picture of me standing on a chair in the kitchen around the age of 3 or 4 to reach the bowl to stir some cookies with my mom and a family friend.  When I was growing up my mom’s rule was that I was welcome to bake whenever I wanted as long as she couldn’t tell I’d been there after, which mostly meant that I needed to do the dishes. There were some pretty disastrous batches of cookies when I was about 11 and didn’t realize that a brick of butter was two cups, not one.

How does this “offstage play” of baking inform/enhance/supplement your life in the theatre, if at all? 

A lot of what I do is very intangible and at the end of a long day I often find myself wanting to do something that produces an immediate result – something that I can hold in my hand and say, “Look! I made a thing today!” In this way, it’s a huge stress release for me. When I start to feel really tense or anxious, getting back into the kitchen is one of the best things I can do. It uses a different part of my brain than stage managing does and forces me to focus on really basic needs: cream together the sugar and butter, measure the flour, or make a perfect swirl of icing. This clears my brain and frees me up to focus on both tiny details and larger questions in the rehearsal room.

What does the art/hobby of baking do for you?

There’s something really delightful about working with my hands – especially working with yeast dough to make bread – that feels inherently creative. And that creativity can really help to replenish my soul. Of course, it is also financially helpful. Making a loaf of bread costs pennies and homemade cookies cost about $7 for five dozen (depending on the type). All of that said, it is also a way that I can bless other people. There’s a look that people get in their eyes when they discover that not only are there treats in rehearsal but also that they’re homemade which is really rewarding.

How often do you bake while you’re working on a theatre project vs. when you’re in between projects? Do you notice a difference in your ability to bake/create in the kitchen when you’re working on a play, than when you are not?

It varies a lot, show by show. In some ways, the shows that are the most stressful bring out the most baking from me. At the same time, when I’m in between projects it can be really easy to just sit on the couch and watch Netflix and surf Facebook all day and sometimes I need to get into the kitchen to remind myself that I am a capable and talented person – especially in those gaps where you wonder if the next job will ever come.

What is your favourite thing to bake?

I love experimenting with new recipes and trying to get them just right. In 2014 I promised myself that I’d get really good at cheesecake. I was mostly successful there – a really amazing white chocolate peach cheesecake for my birthday, but a not-solid-in-the-middle white chocolate cranberry cheesecake for Christmas. Right now I’m working on scones. For some reason butter pastries (scones, pies, etc) are what I find the hardest, so besting them is something I really want to do. I also love experimenting with flavours which is why I love making cupcakes: I get to play with mixing a flavour of cake, a flavour of filling (sometimes) and a flavour of icing. Plus they’re so each to make beautiful. I made rootbeer float cupcakes for a friends’ birthday a few years ago that were a mix of four or five recipes and turned out fantastic.

Lois' red, white & blue three tiered wedding cake was featured in The Only Animal's "Stupid is as Stupid Does". Photos by Lois Dawson.
Lois’ red, white & blue three tiered wedding cake was featured in The Only Animal’s “Stupid is as Stupid Does”. Photos by Lois Dawson. Click to enlarge photo.

Any theatre-baking stories? How much do casts love you?!

The only time that my baking has been a part of a show was for The Only Animal’s obstructions show Stupid is as Stupid Does – a play about America using the final scenes of Forest Gump. One of the things that Kendra Fanconi dreamed up was having a a giant wedding cake that could be cut with a chainsaw – because if you oil a chainsaw with canola oil or other cooking oils you can cut cake with it and still eat it after. So I baked and decorated this three tier cake covered in red, white and blue frosting roses which was cut with a chainsaw on stage and then exploded with fireworks. It was a pretty fun way to use some baking in a show. As for casts loving me, I think you’d have to ask them. Most of them claim I’m trying to make them too fat for their costumes!

Any favourite/ stand by recipe that you want to share?

Here’s my stand-by chocolate chip cookie recipe: http://www.loisbackstage.com/?p=1185

Anything else you want to say?

I think tonight I’m going to try making those scones again … maybe I’ll get them right this time.

The Extras

Up next, Lois is stage managing a Horseshoes and Hand Grenades production This Stays in the Room at the Waterfront Theatre from Feb 4-7.  This Stays in the Room is a bold exploration of what it requires to face ourselves and others as we grapple with shame, forgiveness, vulnerability and hope. A collaborative project, the play recruits from the true life stories of its cast and creative team.

Vancouver Presents

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