Backstage: Longtime showbiz writer’s walk on the bright side

Get to know us in our Backstage at CCPA blog. Contributors are students, faculty, and members of our community. 
Public Relations Liaison Michael D. Reid fills us in on his first few weeks at the College. 


When I decided to leave the Victoria Times Colonist recently to venture into the world of public relations, some of my former co-workers joked that I was going to “the dark side” — a not uncommon reaction in newsrooms when someone dares contemplate an alternative to the fourth estate.

What they didn’t realize was that in accepting a contract position as public relations liaison at the Canadian College of Performing Arts, a national treasure I have long admired, I would actually be going to the bright side.
This was abundantly obvious from the moment I first set foot in the office I now share with Development and Recruitment Manager Nicole Malcolm and Communications and Marketing Officer Emily Dobby at the College at 1701 Elgin Rd. in Oak Bay. Our small but comfortable space off the ground-level corridor in the building leased from St. Mary’s Anglican Church is sandwiched between the College’s bustling front office and the executive suite occupied by Caleb Marshall, the College’s new Managing Artistic Director.

While shards of autumn sunshine do help illuminate our compact communications centre, it was the arrival of this year’s 80 students – the Year One and Year Two contingent on Sept. 4, and then the members of the Company C Studio Ensemble a week later – that began to underscore the reality that I was about to take a walk on the “bright side,” not the dark side.

It was hard not to think of The Hills are Alive from The Sound of Music – this being a national training centre best known for its top-shelf musical theatre training, after all – when the first wave of students stampeded into the building that sunny September morning, filling the halls with music, dance and chatter.

The quiet efficiency of the College’s administrative team headed by Caleb, Director of Education and Programming Heather Burns and Theatre Operations and Outreach Manager Jackie Adamthwaite was soon upstaged by what could be described as showbiz thunder during the waning days of summer.

The most obvious example would become the recurring, decidedly uplifting sounds of dancers shuffling, tapping or doing kick steps and pivot turns en masse from floors above, and in studios down the hall.

While these dance routines dared you not to think of A Chorus Line – five, six, seven, eight! – another brand of beauty could be heard one afternoon after I dropped into the upstairs Performance Hall.

It was profoundly moving to hear the sound of young performers suddenly singing O Canada in unison, their choral brilliance echoing through the large adaptable theatre space where audiences will soon be able to see productions of shows from Twelve Angry Jurors to Sweet Charity.

It’s also where I got a palpable taste of how inquisitive the students can be during another drop-in while Caleb fielded questions from students paying rapt attention as he expounded upon the craft of acting.
On any given day at this unique College, a visitor can count on passing dozens of animated, hardworking and impressively talented young students from across Canada and as far away as Iran and Brazil.

Passing through the main floor hallway and lounge area enroute to the kitchen, washroom or stairs to studios above is always a thrill, populated as it is with aspiring performers in action, either perusing scripts, tapping laptops, chatting on leather couches, or singing or playing showtunes on piano or guitar.

There’s an infectious enthusiasm here that I hitherto had seen only during visits to the College for media coverage, or to attend performances. Indeed, it seems ironic that the cheerful greetings and smiling faces and general good-naturedness I’ve experienced during encounters with many of these bright young students is in such stark contrast to their signature black uniforms.

It’s a good thing I was so passionate about CCPA to begin with, and so consistently knocked out by the professional calibre of so many of its productions during my arts reviewing heyday, because passion is clearly part of the job description.

I see it everyday emanating from staff I work in close proximity with – including Production Manager R.J. Peters, Registrar Mark Riishede, Bookkeeper Mary Ann Ladroma, and Administrative Assistant Anna McAlpine – and from the College’s top-drawer faculty and an eclectic board whose dedication is as boundless as the students’ youthful vigor.

This became apparent at a welcome dinner during orientation week in the Performance Hall, transformed into a giant banquet hall, following onstage greetings. This was a first for me – the spectacle of seeing dozens of dinner guests — students, staff, faculty, board members and supporters such as St. Mary’s pastor Craig Hiebert – suddenly rising en masse, punctuating an address by Company C students Mackenzie Breeze and Joscelyne Tamburri with a colourful flurry of music and dance.

“We haven’t stood up for a long time. You know what I’m thinking? Dance party!” declared Joscelyne, triggering what seemed like a scene out of a movie (Footloose?) as the sounds of the 1970s disco hit Lady Bump reverberated through the room, sparking an eruption of creativity and smooth moves.

The dancing continued – at least by the more enthusiastic revellers – as participants then pitched in to “strike” this set — banquet tables, chairs, food, dishes and so on — in keeping with a College tradition.

That’s another aspect of CCPA that struck me as being very cool, and a practical, productive habit with everyday life potential as well – the spirit of collaboration , a “many hands make light work” attitude.

Welcome to the theatre, indeed. Can’t wait to see what happens after Act One.