Life of a Playwright and Actor: University of Toronto Mississauga Alumnus Mark Crawford Joins Cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
It was among much anticipation and excitement, when, in April of this year, Toronto’s CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre was finally able to raise the curtain on its first full season since 2020! Taking the stage as part of the ensemble cast for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, U of T Mississauga Theatre and Drama alumnus Mark Crawford, (HBA 2004) is thrilled that theatre spaces have reopened and for the opportunities this has presented.
Repercussions of the pandemic
The acclaimed actor and playwright who graduated from UTM’s joint program with Sheridan College in 2004 says he feels grateful to be in the cast of Harry Potter and the long-term stability this is granting him in an industry that is volatile and, currently, still not fully recovered.
“The thing about being a theatre artist is that you’re a gig worker,” Crawford says, “This means that, most of the time, you’re working in five- or six-week intervals, piecing together contracts as you go. Apart from the opportunity to work on a fantastic play and as part of a wonderful team, being in Harry Potter has granted me stability, which is something I've learned not to take for granted.” He adds that, while Harry Potter is sold out every night, audience numbers in other theatres are still down since pre-pandemic. This affects budgets and creates challenges for someone working in theatre arts. “Many people I used to know and work with have, sadly, left the industry;” Crawford says “so, that’s something that we can’t ignore in the aftermath of the pandemic.”
For theatre companies, things looked particularly bleak in the early days of the pandemic. A production of Crawford’s award-winning 2014 play was cancelled in early 2020 and future productions were tentative at best. And that was just one of many cancellations during this difficult time. But, despite the restrictions of the pandemic, the actor and playwright kept busy while theatres were closed.
In 2020, Crawford wrote and produced “”, a podcast production commissioned for CBC’s Pandemic Chronicles about a sourdough starter that gets out of hand. In March 2022, he debuted a short film , which centered around a picky eater with a unique gift.
And in 2021, Crawford staged Chase the Ace during a tour across Ontario that included numerous theatres and festivals. The actor played all the roles in the one-man comedy about a big-city DJ forced to take a job at a small-town radio station during the pandemic.
Lessons and people that stay with you
The son of farmers from Glencoe, Ontario, Crawford is well known for his observations of small-town life through themes of community connection and understanding, and the skillful blending of drama with humour. His plays have been featured in theatres across the country, as well as, internationally, in the United States, Poland, New Zealand, the UK, and Australia. As an actor, Crawford has performed at many theatres including Canadian Stage, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Theatre New Brunswick, Belfry Theatre, Young People’s Theatre and, his latest, the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre.
Being in the cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has brought back many memories from Crawford’s student days at UTM. “Harry Potter is a highly physical show with a lot of movement in it,” Crawford explains, “so, I've been reminded a lot of my movement classes from 18 years ago at UTM. It's amazing how long those lessons stay with you.”
But it is not just the classes that have stayed with him. Over the years, Crawford’s path has often crossed with connections he made at UTM, “Throughout my writing and acting career, I’ve run into classmates and professors many times,” Crawford says, “and even alumni from different cohorts, who were not at UTM at the same time as me. And, still, we laugh and commiserate together about our work and the industry; we have that immediate connection through our time at UTM.”
While classes and connections are invaluable, Crawford’s advice for current students in his field is to also cultivate other interests, hobbies, and even career prospects. “It’s important to be able to keep busy and be able to make a living when you are between gigs or when faced with something unpredictable like a pandemic,” Crawford says, “You must be able to do other things to support yourself at times; there's no stigma attached to that. In this industry, you can feel highly successful at times, but you can also feel the opposite. It is nothing short of a rollercoaster ride!”
When he is not staying in Toronto for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Crawford lives in Stratford, Ontario with his partner and fellow actor Paul Dunn. Together, they are enjoying renovating their newly purchased house. “I spent a lot of the pandemic in DIY mode,” Crawford laughs, “This has been a great way to keep busy and happy.”
Birds, bees, and drag queens
Since the spring of 2022, Crawford’s plays have returned to stages across North America, with productions across Canada and the U.S. His play, The Birds & The Bees, debuted with UK-based companies and will soon fill theatres in North America.
And there is more to look forward to! Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, where Crawford works with other U of T alumni, including fellow actor Sara Farb (HBA 2011 VIC) and stage manager Jessica Severin (BMusic 1996), runs at least through December 2022. But, preparations for his newest play are already well underway. In 2023, The Gig – a play about drag queens and conservatives – will debut in Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius.
“My new play, The Gig, is the biggest play I’ve written so far in terms of cast and theatre size,” Crawford is pleased to say, “It feels like a nice next step to have a new play premiere at a large theatre. The scale of this project is exciting! But, honestly,” he adds, “I just want to keep telling stories and entertain audiences, be able to practice my art and craft. That's what keeps me happy and motivated.”