Amanda Lewis – Biography

Amanda West Lewis is dedicated to words. How words sound, how they look, what they mean. Words on the page, and words on the stage. She combines careers as a writer, theatre artist and calligrapher.

As a theatre artist, Amanda has worked as an actor, director, producer and dramaturg. She is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Ottawa Children’s Theatre, an organization dedicated to drama and arts education for young people ages 3 – 18. She leads a team of dedicated artist/instructors who believe in the power of drama to enrich and shape young lives.

Amanda’s eight books for children and youth range from non-fiction books to historical novels. Her 2014 novel September 17 was nominated for the Silver Birch Award, the Red Cedar Award, and the Violet Downey IODE Award. Her novel The Pact, was listed as a 2017 USBBY Outstanding International book. Previous books include Writing: A Fact & Fun Book; Lettering; Making Memory Books; The Jumbo Book of Paper Crafts; and Rosie Backstage (co-authored with Tim Wynne-Jones).

Amanda has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She has a particular interest in creating historically relevant stories for young people and is currently working on a new novel about youth activism in 1968.

In her calligraphy and book art, Amanda specializes in exploring the interface between words, letters, shapes, and thoughts. She has exhibited in numerous solo and group shows. Her work explores the sculptural possibilities of books and meaning.

Amanda shares her love of words by presenting workshops in theatre, writing and calligraphy to children, youth and adults. She lives and works in the woods outside of Perth, Ontario, with her husband, writer Tim Wynne-Jones.

The CDCC Artist Profile Series – Q&A

Q. Tell us how you came to create the Ottawa Children’s Theatre in 2013?
A. I had been the Artistic Director of the Ottawa School of Speech & Drama for many years but in 2013 I realized, for a number of reasons, that I needed to establish my own drama school for children and youth. I worked with some of my previous colleagues –– artist instructors with years of experience in arts education –– and together we created The Ottawa Children’s Theatre. Our mandate comes out of a deep and profound desire to enrich the lives of children and youth through theatre and the performing arts. We’re process-oriented, and our class sizes are small to ensure maximum attention on each student.

Q. How has drama benefitted the OCT student participants, and the Carleton students you have engaged as instructors over the years?
A. All of our students gain specific skills in learning how to use their voice and bodies to tell stories. They learn how to work with language and physical expression to communicate thoughts and feelings. But perhaps even more importantly, they learn how to work collaboratively in a supportive and empathetic environment. They learn self-confidence, how to problem-solve, and how to be responsible to a project and a team.
Over the years we have hired Carleton students as administrative and teaching assistants, and instructors. We’re proud to be able to give Carleton students mentorship in how to teach drama to children. Our Carleton students have brought their energy, ideas and passion to our studios and we’ve been able to give them a space to experiment and explore.

Q. What is it like to work and rehearse at Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre?
A. It is absolutely wonderful to be at CDCC! We love having our own, designated wing of the building on the weekends. It is a safe environment, as well as a stimulating one. Students are excited to see the building and what real studios are like. It is not like their school environment at all – it’s an enriched and enriching facility, where they can focus on the skills they are building. They also have a chance to see other people working in the arts. The days when there are concerts on are especially exciting – the sound drifts upstairs, and we feel part of something larger. A world of cultural energy.

Q. What advice would you offer to someone trying to pursue a career as a dramatic arts instructor or professional actor?
A. Try new things. Take risks. Embrace failure. Feel everything.

Q. How has your work been impacted during COVID-19?
A. Yes. Like everyone, we’ve had to make huge accommodations. We had just finished our Winter Semester of classes and were about to launch into spring when we had to shut down our onsite classes. We walked out of CDCC on March 8 and haven’t been back.

Q. How have you adapted the OCT classes in these extraordinary circumstances?
A. Within 2 weeks, we were offering some classes online, for free. We ran five weeks of classes to brainstorm and try to figure out what worked and what didn’t work. We met regularly (over Zoom) and came up with new curriculums for courses. It was essential that we work out interactive programs, where we still had the ability to connect with each child. After the initial five weeks, we offered 17 different courses. Then we launched 20 different summer camps. Not everyone wanted to try the online experience, but those who did loved it! Teaching online has been a wildly creative experience, and we are sharing that creativity journey with our students. They are helping us learn what works and what doesn’t. I never would have imagined that it would be so rewarding! We miss being live, but we are still connecting and enriching lives.

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