By Brylan Span
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Lethbridge’s New West Theatre ran its first in-school theatre residency last week at L.T. Westlake Fine Arts Elementary School, and received a resounding round of applause from all who were involved.
Four members of the New West Theatre, Ryan Reese, Stephanie Wickham, Alex Dodd, and Jessica Nguyen, spent the week at the school leading four different classes in creating a play of the students’ own invention. The plays were performed Thursday night at the school to a crowd of parents, members of the Horizon School Division, as well as some New West family. The students also performed for their peers and school staff Friday morning.
While the instructors from New West came with the theme of superheroes and literacy, the students got to decide where they wanted to take the plays from there. “Every single play that will be going up will be ideas from the students that we have kind of filtered and have given them theatrical ideas and method training a bit,” said Reese.
The students fully bought into the program and loved the agency in the creative process that they were given. “A lot of eagerness and willingness to just throw themselves into it and try different things,” said Dodd.
Instructors said that they were being overloaded with ideas, which of course meant that the students were excited about the opportunity to be involved in the program. “The only challenge has been trying to figure out which ideas to use,” said Reese.
All four of the New West instructors shared the feeling of how special it was to be able to share their passion for theatre with the students. To be able to see the progression from shy, new-to-theatrical-production-students to eager students asking for lines in the plays “feels like a real gift,” said Dodd. “It’s kind of just like seeing a little flower blossom open.”
To be a spark of inspiration for the young students was also something that stuck out for the instructors.
“The fact that we can share those things that were important to us with the next generation is just, it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling to be able to pass that on.” said Wickham. Nguyen, who didn’t have theatre growing up, added “if they love it, which I hope they do, they’ll start early and then have that love for it all throughout their life.”
Being able to provide an experience which is normally quite expensive was something that the instructors felt was a driving force of the in-school program.
“We want the kids to be experiencing this, whereas they might not be able to regularly afford to go to summer camps or those kind of things,” said Wickham.
While L.T. Westlake was the first school to welcome the program, they certainly won’t be the last.
“We’ve had lots of interest from schools all around southern Alberta,” said Reese. “We will be fully offering it in Lethbridge and southern Alberta as a local kind of theatrical residency experience.”