Kendall Savage (front, l), Mireck Mitelski (second row, r)
in Concordia's production of Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights
Theatre School students are leaving the nests now. What has it been like, what do they think the world waiting for them has to offer? CharPo's Valerie Cardinal spoke to several from Concordia.
I first became aware of Kendall Savage when I joined Concordia University’s choir. She’s the kind of actor you can spot a mile away. Before the class even started, she was sitting in the first row of the Oscar Peterson concert hall and spinning off fancy vocalizations while chatting with a friend.
Two years later, I sit across from the 28-year-old theatre performance student on the seventh floor of the John Molson School of Business, where the Concordia theatre department’s studios are located. The sofas by the large window offer us a grim view of a grey day as we chat.
“When I very first saw the Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was eight, I turned to my parents and said ‘I want to do that, I want to sing, I want to be that.’ That was a shocker to my parents.” As for her acting debut, “I don’t remember what grade it was, but I played the narrating Christmas tree in the Christmas pageant. I don’t remember what the show was called. And then I just became a nightmare theatre child after that. I think if I ever had to deal with me as a child…” she trails off, giggling.
"I filled my artistic hunger with acting enough and it’s time to explore new avenues."
|Laura Sosnow (exercise)|
Fellow mature theatre performance student Mireck Metelski followed a different path to the same program. “I guess I’m a late bloomer,” said the soft-spoken Francophone, admitting that he only got into the arts when he was in his early twenties because he was “bored to death” of sciences. “In my early twenties I went back to cegep in music. I was like, I want to do musical theatre. That was my idea,” he explained. Now in his mid-30s, Metelski has completed all his theatre courses at Concordia.
According to Metelski, studying theatre in university allows actors to explore not just more dimensions of theatre, but also styles of performance. “ It takes a university setting to study Chinese opera, for example,” he said.
"At first I was like, what’s that, theatre administration?"
Well-rounded artists is exactly what Concordia sets out to create, according to Savage. “[At a conservatory] it’s very hands-on straight-up acting and then this is hands-on theatre where they lean more towards the theory of what theatre is,” she explained.
Theatre major Laura Sosnow agrees that a university degree forces students to try new things. “If you’re a major in theatre you can kind of shape your degree,” she said, expanding enthusiastically that majors can pick courses in areas such as performance, design, playwriting and her personal favourite, theatre and development. “At first I was like, what’s that, theatre administration? I was really misinformed. It’s about community theatre and theatre as an element of social change which are two things I love,” she continued.
Not all theatre students at Concordia are as happy as Sosnow.
“So I had a class about working with young people and a class that talked about Congolese theatre and I got an internship with a theatre company last summer in Toronto. And then it was like okay, I really, really, really want this a lot,” she said, smiling.
Not all theatre students at Concordia are as happy as Sosnow. “I’m listening to other students talk and they’re coming into the school thinking they’re going to leave actors,” said Savage. “But I don’t necessarily think a lot of actors are graduating. This is just my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that.”
As Metelski stated, considering the pros and cons of conservatories versus universities is like “comparing apples and oranges.” At Concordia, “You have an advantage if you’re interested in doing independent theatre and creating your own work because you have to be self-reliant, but you’re at a disadvantage if you’re trying to get in the market of the established theatre companies and the film industry,” he said.
“I like the idea that the arts are accessible and can shift all around.”
Sosnow has known she wasn’t cut out for conservatories since her creative writing-focused high school years in Ottawa. “So it was very clear that I was not a drama student. That was one thing that I didn’t like, there wasn’t a whole lot of mixing in the arts,” she said. “I like the idea that the arts are accessible and can shift all around.”
Her favourite experience was completing a work study during a class which required her to help run an after-school program in Pointe-Saint-Charles. “ I think a practicum or internship should be mandatory,” she stated. “It was really, really great and gave me a sense that I can do this without Concordia holding my hand the whole way.”
Savage is also determined to pave her own career. “I want to get my masters. I want to teach university level acting.” However, financial issues have been getting in the way of her studies. “I was supposed to do four years and then I lost my student loans so I had to go extremely part time, one class. And now it’s looking like I’m going to have to take next year off,” she stated. “I can no longer afford to perform in any of the shows because there’s no time for a job. And in order to stay in school I have to have at least two jobs at all times.”
"...if you sit around waiting for work to show up, you’re not going to get any."
There’s ample opportunity to learn how to do this in a program that doesn’t include any student babysitting on the curriculum. “You need to be independent at Concordia. You need to rely on yourself because you could go through the program without working much. You get low grades and you’ll still pass, but at the end of three or four years what does it give you?” stated Metelski.
For those who do put in the effort, the reward is confidence. “I was always just like okay, I’m an actor now, so I’ll just wait for work,” explained Savage. “I’ll go audition here and there, and then I’ll sit around and wait and see if I get it. But I don’t have to! I can create my own,” she exclaimed. “Concordia has taught me that I’m creative enough and strong enough and gifted enough to do that.”
And although things are tough now, Savage is looking forward to what’s next. “I have a year left until I hit 30. They say everything gets better at 30, though.”