photography by Aspen Zettel, styling by Sandy Joe Karpetz, hair and makeup by Amber Prepchuk
Changing clothes quickly are chores that actors in live theatre are used to performing. But, as Jill Roszell knows, those quick changes are something the folks behind the scenes have to get used to, as well.
Roszell, 39, is the executive director of Fringe Theatre Adventures, which runs the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival, the largest and longest running festival of its kind in North America. Overseeing an event of that magnitude means Roszell has to be ready to go from a T-shirt and shorts to office casual to a more formal outfit at the drop of a hat, especially while the festival is on in August.
“There are times when I do pull out my suits and formal wear, because that’s the kind of event we’re going to. But most of the time, we need to be pretty casual but still representing the company,” she says. “But then, we do work in theatre. If we have a day when we’re working on the festival site, the last thing you want to be doing is wearing heels. There’s a joke around that you can tell exactly what I’m doing over the course of a day by how many outfits I’ve gone through.”
Raised in Saskatchewan, Roszell completed a degree in education in her home province, but discovered she didn’t enjoy teaching as much as she thought she would. She switched gears and came to Edmonton about 15 years ago to enrolin the arts and cultural management program at what was then Grant MacEwan College, and was recruited from that program to work in the local theatre sector.
This year will be her fourth year in charge of the Fringe festival, although she was previously involved in other ways.
“The whole theatre community is part of the [Fringe] festival. You’re part of the festival by default by being part of the community,” she says.
While that sense of community weighs heavily on her shoulders sometimes, Roszell says she feels “blessed” to take the reins of such an important Edmonton event.
“We hold [the Fringe] very dear; we’re very proud of it. To be a steward of that, it’s a lot of responsibility. You have a lot of people with a lot of opinions about this festival, and they love it so much that, to steward that, it’s a big responsibility.”
Tell me a little bit your sense of style. What are some of your influences when it comes to fashion?
I have two really big influences when it comes to style. I have a very practical Dutch mother and I have a very stylish executive-assistant-in-the-’60s grandmother. The mother and grandmother are from different sides of the family. My sense of style has really come from those two influences. I spent a ridiculous amount of time shopping with my grandmother as a child, loving every minute of it. We would find things she liked, and I would ask those questions: ‘Do you like this? What do you like about this?’ She taught me how to do it that way.
But my mother taught me how to have things fit my body. I’m a Dutch lady, so when I go to Holland, everything fits. But when I come here, I have, like, four stores where I can get pants that are long enough for me. I really did learn from both of them how to combine those different influences.
What kinds of challenges does your height pose when shopping for clothes?
I’m only five-foot-nine, so I’m short for a Dutch girl, but I am an awkward size. I’m literally an inch longer in the arms, legs and body than the average size. So I’m constantly looking for things that have a longer fit, and looking for different brands and different labels that cater to my frame. I can walk into a store and immediately dismiss half the clothing there because I know they’re going to hit me wrong on the arm or are going to be too short in the body.
So what are some of those stores, those brands and labels that are your go-tos?
In terms of stores, down here [on Whyte Avenue] , I really like the avenue clothing co., mostly because Jane [Harrick] , the owner, when she buys, she buys for a lot of variety. She buys clothes for real body types. C’est Sera is another one that does that. I have a body build that, people look at me and go, ‘Why are you concerned about that?’ And I’m going, ‘Well, because I’m actually bigger than I look like I am,’ so I need something that isn’t small-fitting because it won’t work on me. I was so excited when Simons opened here because their La Contemporaine line is perfect for me. I can walk in there and know that anything in there is a perfect fit.
During the festival, it sounds like you really have to be adaptable with your clothing choices.
Yes – and you have to be outside. As you know, in Edmonton, it can start at one temperature, and in two hours, it can be completely different! So I have a collection of rain gear, sweaters and hoodies – the casual versions and the dressy versions.
When you’re attending a fundraising event during the year and have to dress up, how big a step up do you take fashion-wise?
We don’t do a lot of formal-formal, because we’re the Fringe. So we’ll do one step up, for sure. I’m not going to be wearing my party dresses to work necessarily, but we don’t do formal-formal; it doesn’t quite fit. Even our VIP receptions at the festival, there’s still a casualness, a freedom in those events that is Fringe. That’s the attraction of the festival. The whole idea of the festival is that it’s a leveler – you don’t know who’s next to you. People literally come from all walks of life, all different age brackets, and they all come together and enjoy the festival. [I want to be] able to have different kinds of programming in the outdoor space that varies it. You can come down for day one; what’s going to bring you down for day two? For day three? We want to find different ways for the community to interact with the festival, to encourage people to come down for more than one night.