Learning through play at TRU
Choosing plays to perform can be a challenging task for the faculty in the theatre-arts program at Thompson Rivers University.
“It’s the students first,” said Robin Nichol.
“We don’t want to pick shows we can’t cast.”
There are many variables to consider from age ranges to experience to skill set.
Students just beginning their theatre education must be accommodated along with those who are in their final years or have experience from other areas.
The faculty also have to ensure they prepare a season that is diverse.
Nichol is confident the upcoming season at the TRU Actors Workshop Theatre will accomplish all those goals.
It opens with Village of Idiots by John Lazarus.
Drawn from Jewish folktales, it tells the story of an army deserter who ends up in a Polish village.
The play draws its name from the nickname the Polish village was given — an indicator of the nature of the inhabitants.
As the play progresses, the deserter discovers how similar life is in the village to his own upbringing.
“It’s a physical play,” Nichol said, “and it’s a farce, so that’s a challenge.”
It runs Oct. 11 to Oct. 13 and Oct. 18 to Oct. 20.
The second play is The Good Soul of Szechuan by Bertolt Brecht, directed by Heidi Verwey.
Brecht once wrote of the play that it had caused him more trouble writing it than any other he had created.
“It’s very in-your-face,” Nichol said of the morality story of a prostitute struggling to live a good life but taken advantage of by most everyone she meets.
It runs from Nov. 22 to Nov. 24 and Nov. 29 to Dec. 1.
The final contribution to be directed by faculty is Curse of the Starving Class by Sam Shepard and directed by Wes Eccleston.
Nichol said it’s a gritty play, an exploration of a dysfunctional family struggling to keep their farm while coping with their own issues.
It runs from Feb. 28 to March 2 and March 7 to March 9.
The season wraps up with the 14th annual Directors Festival, where senior students will choose, cast and direct one-act plays.
It runs from April 8 to April 13.
When the season begins, audience members will be greeted with a new look at the theatre in the Old Main Building.
The front has been painted, there’s a bit of a lounge area inside with couches and, where there used to be photos of past performances, there’s now a wall of honour.
Thanks to some creativity by Nichol’s son, Fin, plaques honouring achievements of students in the past are now hung on the wall, along with a trophy students won earlier in the year at a theatre festival in Chilliwack.
The Chilliwack event, a provincial directors’ festival, normally attracts just one submission from university theatre-arts programs “but the buzz was so huge with our students to do it that we took all seven shows” from the TRU festival, Nichol said.
The trophy, however, recognizes not a play but rather a minute spent before a judge at the Chilliwack event.
Nichol explained one of the traditions of the festival’s opening ceremonies is the 60 Seconds of Fame, where students have a minute to sell their show to the judge.
“It was very clear that people who have been there for a long while know how to play him,” Nichol said of the various minutes.
“But, a couple of our kids figured it
out and won the trophy.”
Beyond the esthetics of the theatre — including the light box where productions can be advertised — there are other changes involved with the program.
The box office remains but tickets to performances can now be bought through the Kamloops Live Box Office at its location at 1025 Lorne St. or online at wctlive.ca
Beyond the theatre, the program has increased its number of work-study positions to three.
It has always had one where a student would be in charge of keeping track of costumes and props.
The new positions involve publicity and technical details for the theatre.
Some new courses have been introduced, as well, including advanced technical theatre.
Acting for the camera, which was discontinued a decade ago, has been brought back into the curriculum.
Nichol said the program usually draws about 150 students.
Many take first-year acting as an option “and get the bug,” she said.
“We get few kids who walk in the door saying ‘I want to be a theatre major’.”
While finding a job in theatre isn’t guaranteed, Nichol said graduates have other choices.
Some become theatre teachers, she said, while some use the skills they acquire in theatre in other areas.
“They learn lifeskills, they learn to communicate, they learn to read people,” Nichol said.
“And they learn to think on their feet and work in a group.”