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Theatre Collingwood summer student tickled by Leacock award win

People of Collingwood: Sylvie Potje, Theatre Collingwood summer student
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Sylvie Potje, 18, worked as a production assistant with Theatre Collingwood this summer, and was named the winner of the 2023 Stephen Leacock Student Humourous Short Story competition.

Theatre Collingwood's summer student spent the last few weeks helping to make sure performing arts productions ran smoothly and she also earned a spotlight for herself. 

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we spoke with Sylvie Potje, 18, Theatre Collingwood summer student and 2023 winner of the Stephen Leacock Student Humorous Short Story Competition.

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in Barrie. My grandparents have lived in Wasaga Beach for decades. In 2020, we inherited their place. Since then, we’ve been living there every weekend and basically the whole summer.

I didn’t really come to Collingwood very often although I’ve been going up there since I was little.

I graduated from Bear Creek Secondary School in June 2022, but I took an extra semester. I’ve been off since February, which is why I’ve had all these opportunities in the community, and got this summer job.

Until this job, I didn’t really get to see Collingwood.

When I came, it was beautiful. I loved it.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the job?

A: I did a lot of theatre in Barrie, mostly with Kempenfelt Community Players. I started doing shows with them when I was in Grade 7 both on and off-stage. I loved theatre.

This spring, I was looking for a summer job, and was looking to get involved in theatre. I was looking for things near Collingwood or Wasaga Beach.

I, miraculously, was able to find both. I was very excited about that.

The job was as a production assistant with Theatre Collingwood. It was mostly helping out at shows and a little bit of administration work.

I’m really proud of the Porchside Festival we had throughout July. I was front-of-house manager for most of those shows. I would co-ordinate the volunteers, check tickets, I would MC. It was a big project that took up most of July.

In August, I’ve been doing more office work. I wrote a 55-page report about the Porchside Festival with notes from every single show, and I’m proud of how that turned out.

Q: What makes you interested in theatre?

A: I love doing it. I always loved singing and performing in general. It’s about the team you’re with. I’ve made a lot of friends through theatre and had great experiences.

It’s not even about being on stage, it’s about the process leading up to it.

Q: Did you learn anything this summer during your work with Theatre Collingwood that you think will serve you moving forward in life?

A: I was never confident before answering the phone, but after doing it 20 times a day, I can now. Basic office skills, you can take for granted, but where is a generation like mine supposed to learn those things?

Beyond that, I also learned interpersonal skills like greeting customers.

Q: You were recently named the 2023 winner of the Stephen Leacock Student Humorous Short Story Competition. Can you tell me about your story?

A: I entered the contest three years ago in 2020. They cancelled it due to COVID-19. The next year, I submitted again and I got shortlisted. With that, I wasn’t invited to the gala but I ended up with tickets. I saw the students who won that year reading their stories.

It looked really fun. So I tried really hard this year.

My story is called The Elephant in the Room(ba). It’s about a smart vacuum my family owns and how it hates my dog with a passion. The story starts with the dog at the top of the stairs, and the vacuum at the bottom having just fallen down. You don’t know if the dog pushed the robot or if the robot fell on its own. It builds to that moment.

Q: How did you feel when you found out you won?

A: I was a little bit shocked. I knew I tried my best on it and I was very proud of my writing. I was really hoping for third or second so I would get the chance to go to the gala and read in front of the authors.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: I’m heading to the University of Waterloo in the fall in a program called knowledge integration. It’s a unique interdisciplinary program that combines art and science. I’ll be able to wet my feet in all the different departments.

It’s important to me that I find a job that I enjoy. I’ve been working hard to figure out what that would be. My volunteering and jobs have gravitated toward theatre and the arts and I really enjoy it.

This job has shown me how it’s possible to not be on the stage but still play a huge role in providing performances for audiences. I could see myself as a teacher, or going into theatre administration, or writing, or editing.

Q: Do you have other hobbies outside of theatre?

A: I do a lot of music. I played in band all through high school, playing trumpet and other brass instruments. I play piano. In my last year of high school, I worked with four friends to create an original musical we put on at the school. It was called The Show Won’t Go On and I directed it. It was spurred by our principal’s decision to suspend the school musical.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like people in Collingwood to know about you?

A: I have been invited to work with Theatre Collingwood again next summer. If everything lines up, I would love to come back.

I enjoyed my experiences here. I really hope I will be back in Collingwood next year.

For our feature People of Collingwood, we speak with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature runs on CollingwoodToday every weekend. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email [email protected].