The College of Arts and Science is publishing an online series called Women in Leadership featuring researchers who are making a difference at the University of Saskatchewan and beyond. The second interview in our series is with Carla Orosz, a faculty member and head of the Department of Drama. Orosz serves as the department’s production manager, set and lighting designer, and leader of the University of Saskatchewan Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours (Design) Program.
The Women in Leadership series is an initiative of the Office of the Vice-Dean Faculty Relations and the communications office in the College of Arts and Science.
College of Arts and Science: You’ve had many leadership roles in the theatre and university communities—from coordinating the SK Theatre Design Festival, to working as head of wardrobe for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan productions, to your new position as head of the Department of Drama. Why is it important to you to take on these roles?
Carla Orosz: Saskatoon is full of opportunities—I learnt this at a young age in my career. Taking on leadership seemed to happen naturally. It was never something that I strived for along the way. I was always the kid in group projects that became in charge of planning. So, I have always had this drive of ambition to be involved and to do it well. I am an “ideas” person. I like to suggest and envision possibilities, and this is what usually puts me in the leadership role.
The role of department head is a position that I was waiting for until the time was right. It was important to take on this role right now because we are in a time of change with new faculty and program revisioning. I am a graduate of the department so my investment in its success means even more to me. I know what we have to offer students can impact their future and set them up for a successful career, as it did for me.
One of your recent projects aims to develop theatre design practices that make the stage more inclusive of people with diverse skin colours. This project must have required you to identify and confront embedded biases in your industry and even in your own work. Do you have advice to others who want to learn to recognize implicit bias around them?
Carla Orosz: The best advice I can give is to practice deep listening, educate and inform yourself, and always work from a place of kindness. The partners I have on this research project are a part of this journey for me. We do all come to the table with biases, but the difference here is that we can inform each other when it is happening, and take steps to correct it. One needs to learn not only about the world around them but about themselves. I would encourage everyone to take classes or start reading about anti-racism and anti-oppression and really examine how you are viewing the world. It is important to learn that our intentions do not always meet our actions. And when that happens, what can you do to change that? Do not be afraid of making a mistake, but be proud to recognize it and correct the behaviour.
What barriers have you overcome as a leader? How did you overcome these obstacles?
Carla Orosz: At a younger age in leadership roles, I was often overlooked or not heard because it was assumed I lacked the knowledge or experience. I worked really hard to prove these people wrong. I would complete a task/job but put in 200 per cent. People started to learn that was how I worked. When I was in, I was all in. I still do this because the work I do is important to me.
I remember what it was like to get established in my career and how much effort it took. I was also doing this while raising a family. This could have been barrier, and some told me it would be, but I have a great family and partner who support me. I try my best to support students and emerging artists with the same kindness.
Who were your female academic role models? What did you learn from them?
Carla Orosz: There are many, but a few stand out. When I first started in Lethbridge Community College studying fashion design and merchandising, the courses were led by women instructors. They were all confident, outstanding artists that I looked up to. One of them, Julie Nolin, now an anchor for Global BC, was instrumental in helping me reach higher than I ever thought I could. She believed in me and was there to help me through difficult moments in my early career. She taught me to continue to reach for more and follow my ambitions. In fact, she is the one that led me into theatre.
At USask, my role model was Marie-Louise Wittlin, the drama department’s head of wardrobe and costume designer. She has so much talent and skill and I was able to work alongside her in the costume shop for four years. She taught me the importance of standing behind your choices and that if you believe in what you created, then others will too. She supported me throughout my degree and continues to support other students now through the Wittlin Scholarship, aimed at BFA design students.
In my graduate studies at the University of Victoria, I looked up to Dr. Jennifer Wise and Karla Stout. Dr. Wise was the theatre historian who had an amazing sense of style. The excitement she brought into her theatre history and research courses taught me to always let your joy in the work shine through because it can become contagious and engage those around you.
Karla Stout was the head of wardrobe whose prior career was a lawyer and it showed in how she ran the costume shop. She taught me how to use regulations, organizational skills, policies and apply them into the arts.
There are others throughout my career that I look up to and I know I bring them all with me when I engage in the work that I do.
What advice do you have for people of all genders who want to support women in the workplace and women in leadership positions?
Carla Orosz: I would advise all people to walk into the workplace with confidence and kindness. Take the time to talk to people in your workplace and find out what it is they need to succeed here. What kind of barriers are they facing? For myself it was childcare. I needed to adjust work hours so that I could pick my child up on time from daycare. It was small but allowed me to succeed in both work and life. We are all so busy doing our jobs that it can be easy to forget to connect or check in with those around us. Take that time to talk to colleagues. Build relationships with each other and truly do some deep listening.