Print Edition: June 18, 2014
For UFV theatre students, the Fall and Winter semesters mean demanding rehearsal schedules, memorizing scripts, and putting on some of the most professional university theatre productions around.
But what do these students do once the curtain closes on UFV’s official theatre season? Where do students and alumni go to express themselves and continue practicing their art?
For students looking to stretch their acting skills and wet their feet locally, Vagabond Players, Gallery 7, and Bard in the Valley have proven to be three theatre companies that are beneficial to both student and alumni growth.
Branching out locally
For former student Casey Por, directing Fawlty Towers through Vagabond Players has allowed him not only the opportunity to grow as an artist himself, but also to help other actors learn about their craft.
“It’s really, really cool to be able to walk into a theatre and have ideas, sit down in rehearsal … and make a show start to come to life,” Por explains. “I also really liked the idea of helping a bunch of people, especially actors, develop … because I’ve been on the other side of that fence a lot.”
Shifting away from the backstage work and acting he did at UFV, Por’s decision to direct was a move that brought challenges. However, Por maintains that the experience was overall a rewarding one.
“It was a hell of a lot more challenging than I expected. I had some experience directing short films before this and I’ve done a lot of stage acting,” he notes, “but it’s vastly different from being an actor [or backstage].
“To know that everything sort of rides on you having this vision and answering everybody’s questions,” he continues. “It was very, very difficult and demanding but it was also a lot of fun and I’m glad that I did it.”
Similarly, recent graduate Danielle Warmenhoven, acting in the title role of Gallery 7’s production of Anne of Green Gables, also finds her local work beneficial. Complementing her four years spent learning at UFV, Warmenhoven’s return to the local stage means both getting the opportunity to put into practice her passion for acting and build personal awareness.
“It’s really fun to go back having changed and learned a lot at UFV in the last four years,” she explains. “I really love the energy of live theatre, especially because the show is so alive and you kind of hang on a wire — things can go wrong and the audience is right there with you, so there’s no retaking. It’s kind of thrilling and exciting.
“It’s also a really powerful thing to do as a person,” Warmenhoven continues. “You get to walk around in someone else’s shoes and learn about a different perspective, be it a different gender or time or role in society — it’s really quite a learning experience.”
Current student Dylan Coulter has found his time acting as Brutus in Bard in the Valley’s production of Julius Caesar as an opportunity to stretch his Shakespearean acting range outside the more comedic roles he has been prone to take at UFV.
“Before last year working on Romeo and Juliet, I had never worked on a tragedy with UFV Theatre,” Coulter notes. “In this show, it’s a significant departure for me and I’m grateful for that. I suppose I’m grateful for my previous experience and grateful that I get to see how a role like Brutus will be different than what I’ve done previously.”
UFV as an integral training ground
Despite acting in varying productions and with different theatre companies, Por, Warmenhoven, and Coulter all point to UFV’s theatre department as being a defining factor in their ability to find success and confidence within the local theatre world.
For Warmenhoven, it is UFV’s formal acting training that she has found indispensable, as it has allowed her to find more direction creating new characters.
“Having the formal training from the UFV theatre [department], I have learned a lot about how to work through the process of creating a character,” she notes. “I learned a more technical and formal version of the craft.
“As a younger artist I was just kind of figuring it out as I was going,” Warmenhoven continues, “but with [UFV] you just learn such valuable skills. UFV, in particular, stands out by really training its students to be well-rounded theatre practitioners.”
Similarly, Por credits UFV for both building his theatrical ability, as well as giving him the necessary personal confidence to be successful within the theatre industry outside of the school community.
“Everything that I did at UFV turned into [Fawlty Towers].When I first started doing theatre, I was a really, really introverted kind of person,” explains Por. “Being part of the UFV theatre department really helped me grow as a person in general.
“Everything that I learned there, even outside of the theatre context, informed the way that I’ve done this whole project,” he continues. “Almost all of my theatre knowledge … comes from UFV at this point and the people that taught me there — it was just completely and utterly indispensable.”
The opportunity to learn specialized skills, such as combat fighting technique, through UFV has also helped Coulter navigate the extensive battle scenes Julius Caesar demands from its actors. In fact, Coulter credits UFV for teaching him not only about combat, but rather how to enact stage violence with caution and care.
“In the fight scenes [we want] to try and make sure that everything stage violence is stage violence and not real violence — that no one is actually going to get hurt in any of the rehearsals. That’s something that our fight director [at UFV] … showed me,” says Coulter. “[I] can directly take that knowledge and start applying it here [in Julius Caesar] and the show is going to be better for it.”
A call to get involved
Reflecting on their theatre experiences at UFV, one thing that sticks out to all three actors is the importance of getting involved with many different theatre productions and maintaining their craft.
While some theatre students choose to only engage with UFV’s theatre community during scheduled class time, Warmenhoven asserts the importance of getting involved, if not locally then with the many production opportunities on campus.
“I really encourage students who are [currently] at UFV to get involved with the productions. There’s a handful of students that just go to the classes and that’s kind of it — they don’t really invest in the whole experience of the productions and the student life,” says Warmenhoven. “Those things have been some of the most valuable parts of my experience at UFV.”
While lacking involvement can hinder a student’s theatre experience, Coulter notes that being heavily involved can also lead to students feeling burned out and in need of a break when the regular theatre season ends. However, Coulter maintains the importance of pushing past the initial feelings of tiredness in order to pursue different acting opportunities during UFV’s off-season.
“I have a number of friends who get very busy with theatre during the school year and as soon as the summer comes I talk to them and ask, ‘hey, are you going to audition for this or that?’ and they say ‘no, I need a break,’” says Coulter. “In some ways I understand that … but for me it’s never draining or tiring to be working on a theatre show — it’s almost rejuvenating.”
Por shares Warmenhoven and Coulter’s sentiments, encouraging not only current theatre students but alumni to actively pursue their artistic passions, whether they choose to do it in a professional capacity or just for fun.
“A lot of people, when they graduate from university … their art drops. I want to encourage the UFV Theatre alumni to continue even if they’re not doing it in a professional capacity — continue doing your art,” Por concludes. “You, as a UFV Theatre grad, have some of the best theatre training that’s available to you in this province, if not the entire country. So take advantage of that and let it enrich your life.”