After her schooling she returned to Toronto and immersed herself in the independent theatre scene. Through her early work, she was fortunate to meet Ravi Jain (Why Not Theatre), Dean Gilmour and Michele Smith (Theatre Smith-Gilmour), all graduates of the famed Paris theatre school, L’Ecole Jacques Lecoq. She also worked closely with actor Jenny Young and visionary director and dramaturge, Weyni Mengesha, who later developed one of the most successful plays in Canadian theatre history, da Kink In My Hair. All of these artists were influencers
who became friends and colleagues, forming the kind of artistic community that Calnan had imagined and desired since her youth in Weston.
To support her early career she had yet to land her first professional acting job Calnan took a part-time post as a relief worker in a group home for young women. She drew important insights from the experience that would affect the way she made theatre. Those young women were great storytellers and she began to explore the relationship between storytelling, theatre and the other work she was doing. That exploration gave rise to the AMY (Artists Mentoring Youth) Project, a barrier-free performing arts education program for young women and non-binary youth from the Greater Toronto Area. The partnerships and collaborations that she and AMY co-Directors Pasha McKenley and Weyni Mengesha formed with theatre companies and festivals are the architecture that holds the project together and a blueprint for Calnan’s own brand of community building.
Meantime, Calnan got her professional start, as many young actors continue to do, at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre. There she met yet another former Lecoq student, director
and producer, Leah Cherniak, who both mentored Calnan and taught her to mentor others. They share an enduring bond and Cherniak remains Calnan’s mentor in the collaborative Canadian theatre community.
Before moving to Hamilton in 2012, Calnan worked in Toronto as a professional performer, playwright, producer, director and educator. She still misses being in the thick of that theatre-making community, but is excited by the growing cultural scene in Hamilton. “When I first got here, people did not want to go downtown,” said Calnan, “Now, gentrification is beginning to parallel that of 1980s Toronto, with all the amazing and troubling repercussions that move alongside it. There is something about the time that we’re in and the changing nature of
the city. There is definitely more of an audience for art now.”
A month after buying a house in Hamilton, Calnan saw a posting for the position of Executive Director of the Hamilton Fringe Festival. She felt confident going in that her combination of artistic and producing skills would win her the role. Besides, the job would give her “a reason to connect, be professionally proactive and, theatre being a community art form, be part of a new community.”