Festival helps student artists take flight

By Amanda Hu

A performance festival completely run by students. The notion, at first glance, could ring to some as the painful exercise of a rag-tag bunch of “future performers” taking the show out of their parents’ basements and onto the stage. The University of Calgary drama department’s fifth-annual Taking Flight festival proves otherwise, as artists from the program showcase their polished and hard-worked productions over the course of two weeks.

Directing student Anton deGroot took on the task of staging well-known Canadian playwrights Robert LePage and Marie Brassard’s Polygraph. The story, based partially on real events from LePage’s life, looks at murder and the morality of its portrayal within art. Polygraph is known for its highly cinematic feel and deGroot says he took an unconventional twist on that element.

“There’s a heightened surreality in this particular production, moments that really look like a B-movie,” deGroot explains. “It’s also grounded by a great sense of reality with some of the characters. With that, it was using the essence of it rather than the conventions, so it’s got more of a flavour of those filmic elements rather than exactly the word for word stage directions.”

DeGroot says one of the most amazing moments in the development process for his production was meeting Brassard in February when she stopped in Calgary to do a collaboration with Theatre Junction.

“She and our sound designer and collaborator [from Theatre Junction] just talked a lot about art and their own process,” he recalls. “Something that was really interesting to me about that was her real focus on the ‘why’ in regards to your art and the philosophy about it and your ideals about it and that’s really something I tried to bring to this production, specifically within the rehearsal portion.”

In addition to producing works by Canadian greats, Taking Flight showcases some original projects. This year, the festival worked with One Yellow Rabbit’s Denise Clarke on an unconventional project called RADIOHEADED 2: IT IS THE 21st CENTURY. Clarke choreographed a performance to Radiohead’s latest album, In Rainbows. She explains the work’s appeal.

“I actually am using all the tracks on In Rainbows plus one of the B-sides,” Clarke says. “One of the great things is that we’re all working on a project about music that we all really fucking dig, you know?”

Participating students say that, not only does the festival provide in an amazing opportunity to practice all the things they’ve learned during the year, it also is a testament to variable genres and some theatre rituals.

“Polygraph is quite political and The Shawl is dramatic and The Actor’s Nightmare is very comedic and Phaedra is artistic,” festival production stage manager Lindsay Ogden says. “The difference you get to experience in one night is very cool and almost speaks to the Greek tradition of doing a tragedy and a comedy together.”

That variability comes from the fresh perspectives and energy exuded by student artists who take a genuine enjoyment of the procedure.

“So far what I’ve heard from everyone else has been positive,” Polygraph’s Claire Boulton says. “Everyone is having a great time and enjoying the work they’re doing and very excited to get the festival going and perform our work in front of people.”

Ogden agrees, noting though the whole process is a lot of work, the lessons learned throughout the process will help all the artists once they get into the “real theatre world.”

“You get as much out of this program as you put into it, so the more you’re willing to work and the more you’re willing to put into something, the better it will be,” Ogden says.

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