Taking Flight takes off

By Jordyn Marcellus

The first year — there was a bit of a mutiny,” says Valerie Campbell, artistic director of the Taking Flight festival. “The students didn’t really realize this change was for them.”

Campbell refers to the first Taking Flight, which occurred in 2005. The festival was created to alleviate headaches that plagued the end-of-the-year projects students in the drama department showcased annually.

“We have four slots in our mainstage presentation season and this is the last slot and we would do all the final projects,” explains Campbell. “The grad directors would do their pre-thesis show, the undergrad directors would do their final showing and we had all these things squeezed in at the end of classes and everyone was maxed out. We decided to take all those final student projects and make them into a festival. That way, we could throw all our production support behind them, all our supervisory support behind these projects so they had more time and they could really flourish.”

Despite the somewhat tumultuous transition, Campbell says students have embraced the festival and for good reason. Undergrads and master’s students from the drama department work together to offer a smattering of different options for University of Calgary students. The festival’s only limitation is that all plays are one act, so it attracts a wide variety of material. Diversity isn’t the only plus though — the festival offers undergrads a vital opportunity to take ownership of the projects.

“Every single aspect has a student honing their craft,” says Campbell. “So, you get a third- or fourth-year design student and all of a sudden they are doing lights and costume for a whole show, they are having meetings with directors, they are meeting with the person in props, they are sourcing materials for costumes. They are doing the whole job, they aren’t just part of a crew . . . it’s the full deal.”

This experience is vital for preparing drama students for the “real world.” It’s tough to get hired as an actor if you have very little experience acting and in that sense, Taking Flight provides something for not just the audiences who get to enjoy the shows, but also to the students that work so hard to present them.

“A lot of times, a young artist is going out into the professional world,” says Campbell. “They’re going to be involved in festivals, they’re going to do the fringe circuit, they’re going to do the Ignite Festival, and it’s just a whole different set of parameters from a regular show. But even within those festival parameters, you’re really looking at every single aspect of it. We have student designers, we have student actors, we have dramaturges, we have playwrights.”

The festival also features work by Master’s students who focus in directing and playwriting. For them, the experience is a little different.

“It’s not necessarily a stepping stone for me, I call it a showcase,” says Mike Czuba, the only U of C playwright with material featured at this year’s Taking Flight. “I have the opportunity and a venue to present the work I’m doing, and I’ve invited all the theatres in town to come. I can talk to people all I want, but unless you know what I’m writing, it doesn’t make any sense. So it’s a real opportunity for people to come and check out my work.”

During Taking Flight, Czuba is presenting an original piece titled Satie et Cocteau: A Rehearsal of a Play of a Composer by a Poet. It differs from the other material being presented in two ways.

First, it’s not a short and quick one-act like many of the other pieces in the festival, and second, the play is not being presented in its full form, but instead as a staged reading “plus” — which means there is a live piano player, shadow puppets and someone reading stage directions. His play focuses around two members of the French avant-garde in the early 20th century.

“The idea is that Eric Satie was such an enigma as a composer and as an artist — that he would just follow whims and any ideas that he had, he would just go with,” says Czuba. “Cocteau, who he worked with, was always trying to control everything. He was accused of stealing everyone else’s ideas and trying to be popular — the opposite of Satie. Where Satie created because he wanted to, Cocteau always had a reason. Satie was someone that Cocteau could never really understand. The idea of the play is that Cocteau has written this play 15 years after Satie’s death to finally exorcize him — it’s this monument to Satie.”

Czuba’s work is only one of the 10 performances being presented for Taking Flight, with four shows running this weekend. There’s a ton to choose from, and best of all, U of C students get in for free.

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