by David C. Jones
(Photos: Jan Snarsky)
Studio 58 – the professional theatre training program at Langara College in Vancouver, BC - is one of the most respected acting schools in North America. They audition all across Canada and accept only 16 students twice a year for the six-term/three-year program.
Risky Nights is a part of their evolving opportunities and training for the students. Conceived by former Artistic Associate Jane Heyman (when it was called The 4th Term Project) it was designed to be a bridge between going from class studies and projects in terms in the first three terms to suddenly being thrust onto the main stage with professional directors and expectations.
The students not only act – they help create these original pieces and they learn how to produce a show and work in a team.
David Hudgins, current Artistic Associate, writes – “now in its 13th season, the Risky Nights Series is designed as a bridge between classroom work and main stage productions. At the midpoint of their training, (after 3rd term) students have an invaluable opportunity to create every aspect of an original theatre piece from start to finish with a professional director, and perform it for an intimate audience.
While the first projects were not 'collective creation' in style, but rather used an existing script, the project evolved to incorporate and then focus more on that creation-based aspect of theatre. Previous directors of the Risky Nights series have included: Stephane Kirkland, Craig Hall, Kim Collier, Carmen Aguirre, David Hudgins, Chris McGregor, Rachel Peake, Anita Rochon & Emmelia Symington Fedy, Kendra Fanconi, Jamie Long, Marcus Youssef, Cameron Mackenzie and Kevin Bennett.”
The students not only act – they help create these original pieces and they learn how to produce a show and work in a team. They are given a limited budget and are responsible for meeting deadlines around all aspects of production from set and costume to publicity. They also help the Director write it – fleshing out the characters and coming up with scenarios based on a concept that the Director(s) bring.
Their current production is “500 Days To Mars” done in association with Hardline Productions and directed by Genevieve Fleming and Sean Harris Oliver. Both are graduates and have experienced first hand their own Risky Nights. Ms. Fleming was part of a bouffon style piece called "Townsville" directed by Emmelia Seymington-Fedy and written by Anita Rochon. Mr. Oliver was in “Heptademic” directed by Rachel Peake.
“Sean read an article about a 500 day Russia space mission,” Ms. Fleming explained. “Every aspect of their astronaut's lives were controlled and monitored in the 2011 flight that was to simulate a trip to Mars.” The crew were supported and were in contact with their families throughout.
A previous mission in 1999 had been aborted when a fistfight broke out leaving walls blood-splattered and a female crew member who was sexually assaulted.
“We schemed an idea,” said Fleming.
What might happen if the astronauts had to contend with changing circumstances and social mores? “What is society? What is civilization? What happens when you remove the social construct?” she expanded.
“We pitched the idea to Kathryn Shaw (Artistic Director) in February and were confirmed in May. We did not know our cast and we sent them a list of books to read and sci-fi films to watch.”
“When we met the cast of seven students and one production student we were confined to a classroom – similar to the characters being confined to the ship. The students started fleshing out the characters with guidance and input from us” she said. “We had a premise based on real events; we expanded and then we weren’t sure how it was going to end. Would the crew survive or perish their ordeal?”
Hardline Productions shows often have raw choreographed movement passages and so - staying true to their signature - they added some to show the passage of time.
Ms. Fleming concluded, “As Directors we were the catalyst – the form. The students brought the content. In two weeks we had a full draft and then with part-time rehearsals over a six week period we hurried to create a production contending with rehearsal space and the student's schedules.”
Then it was time for the curtain to go up. Well, not a curtain – the performance space is much too intimate for that.
Critics are asked not to review the Risky Nights shows at the school. But sometimes the shows are so special they live on. The series has spawned works that have had a life beyond the school such as “Terrible Things” (Rumble), “Townsville” (The Chop), “What a Drag!” (Zee Zee) and “Heptademic” (Hardline).
Will these current students blast off on another mission to Mars in the near future? Time will tell – but at the very least they have had a journey that was both illuminating and rewarding. That is a significant opportunity and a great learning experience, not to mention an exciting night of theatre for the audience.
Not much risk in that.