The Alumnae Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to an alumna in recognition of her outstanding dedication and accomplishment toward her life’s work. The Crofton House School Alumnae Association is pleased to award Ann Farris ’55 the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in expanding the roles of women during her long career as a leader in arts management, developing programs and organizations in the performing arts.
After graduating from Crofton House in 1955, Ann received her BFA from UBC and MFA at the Yale School of Drama, a graduate professional school of Yale University. In 1963, Ann began her long career in arts management, providing leadership in program development for a number of theatres, operas and national arts organizations across the United States. Over the years, Ann has held positions of executive director, consultant and producer to organizations that included Opera America, Expo 82, Central City Opera House Association, the National Endowment for the Arts and San Francisco Opera. In 1984 Ann returned to Vancouver as producer of the Royal Bank Expo 86 World Festival, developing an acclaimed 6-month entertainment program of dance, theater and music from around the world. Following Expo, Ann returned to the US, consulting in organizational management and later working as a recruitment manager. Since 2009, Ann continues to volunteer as an archive associate for the San Francisco Opera. Amidst her accomplished career, Ann discovered she had dyslexia and became involved with Discover Dyslexia. Through writing a book and speaking at educational workshops and conferences, Ann has provided support and insight to many by sharing her personal story and struggles with dyslexia.
Setting the Stage
For Ann Farris it was a night out at the opera with her parents when she was 12 years old that set the stage for her life path. “I went to the opera for the first time and I fell in love” says Ann. Leaving the theatre that night, she knew there was a place for her in the world of opera.
While her time Crofton House and friends she made were special, Ann readily admits that school work was not her strength. She recalls that although both her parents and the School both knew she struggled with academics, no one could figure out why. She credits hard work, and support from her teachers and mother, for getting her through to graduation and on to the University of British Columbia.
If school work wasn’t Ann’s passion, music and the theatre certainly were. She vividly remembers Crofton House taking students to the Vancouver Symphony Children’s Concerts and her parents taking her to the Sunday concerts at the Symphony, continuing to grow her love of the arts.
Moving from Latin to Home Economics in Grade 10 turned out to be another important turning point in Ann’s life, providing skills that were invaluable in her career. “Our home economics teacher, Mrs. Gill was fantastic, she really cared about each one of us. She told me in Grade 10, we are going to teach you how to sew, how to cook and how to organize. By Grade 12, we were in charge of everything in the tea room at Christmas Bazaar – the decoration, the food, the organization. When I left Crofton House I was confident in my abilities.”
At the end of her first year at UBC, Ann put those skills to work as an apprentice at Theatre Under the Stars – sewing costumes and organizing props. After graduating from UBC, Ann knew the time had come to make her vision for a life in theatre a reality.
Ann applied to summer stock in New York, handwriting 20 letters to different theatre companies asking to apprentice with them. She was accepted by 12. “I chose the one that was run by a professor at the Yale School of Drama. I made that decision for the very reason that it was Yale, and my father and all his brothers had gone to Harvard.” Halfway through the summer, that professor approached Ann to apply to the drama school at Yale. In response, Ann pointed out “women didn’t go to Yale” but soon found out that they certainly did in the graduate theatre program. Ann is quick to credit that program for looking at more than just academics when accepting applicants.
After graduating, Ann became a stage manager for an opera at the Vancouver International Festival. It was the start of a wonderful career in opera, which took her to many different organizations around the world. It was in her position as the Director of the Opera and Musical Theatre Program at the National Endowment for the Arts, where Ann made a self-discovery that again would shift her path.
Struggling with her responsibility to review the many applications for funding, she sought support and was diagnosed with hyperlexia, meaning she had troubling imaging what she was seeing. She also learned she had a Grade 3 reading comprehension. Rather than be slowed down by this news, it began a new chapter for Ann. She focused on what could be done, taking classes and improving her reading comprehension. She also become involved with Discover Dyslexia, supporting others by sharing her story and struggles with dyslexia, and writing a book, The Other Side of Dyslexia, that provides approaches to managing dyslexia for adults and teenagers.
In Ann’s words “I was successful because of Crofton House, because the School gave me the confidence to be able to do what I wanted to do, and I never lost that. I am grateful that this School continues to offer so much to so many girls. We are all lucky to be a part of it.” In offering advice to today’s Crofton House girls, Ann reminds girls that “the most important thing is to find what makes your heart sing and then jump.”