by Phil Duchene
Teaching Drama Education in the Rockies,
How a Canadian community college and a local theatre society
combined to create a memorable drama education experience.
An excerpt from Duchene's published article of the same name, U.K. National Drama Magazine Vol.26.2 Summer of 2020
I’m not sure exactly how much flak the patient and creative manager of the teacher education program at the college actually took before she kindly asked me, ‘How would you like to teach your Drama courses in a 1910 heritage theatre?’ Now, I had run museum theatre workshops in a one room schoolhouse at a nearby working ghost town, the designated heritage and beautifully maintained Fort Steele (see National Drama Magazine issue 23.1) I so appreciated the magic and atmosphere that oozes out of these characterful, clapboard Victorian buildings and the unexpectedly bright, mountain light that flows in.
The Stage Door Theatre started life as a palladium masonic temple and is a happy rabbit warren of narrow, steep, even spiral staircases and sudden tour surprises; ‘Here’s the Green Room; this is costume; there’s the kitchen… Oh, you may have to go through the studio to get to the bathrooms - but we can put a curtain up across it.’ At first sight it seems more like a wooden medieval castle than a theatre. The snug auditorium seats just 83. The building had been partially renovated last year and with a loving regard for period wallpaper, paint colour and wood millwork. ‘New windows!’ enthused a theatre society member, ‘The old ones just filtered the cold air.’ This is Canada, remember; when it is cold enough blood actually bounces on the ice, and where sled dogs run best at -20C.
The Community Theatre Board is incredibly accommodating. During part of our tenure we will even be allowed to work on a set that has been dressed for a suffragette show, ‘The Fighting Days.’ They love the premise of our project; to bring in two new generations, teacher candidates and intermediate students to experience the magic of stagecraft through two classes; one of improvisation and theatre sports, and the other a social justice focused series of microplays from Toronto. I knew the money we would need to rent the space was a concern. The rental rates proved to be breath-taking - but in the nicest way; the equivalent of just sixty pounds a day…and, fortunately, the college stepped up.
I have chosen that we all enter the theatre together for the first time and take the tour from the manager. Ground zero. A levelling for us all. There are the usual strict community theatre rules that come from sharing and, of course, pointers about stage etiquette for sure - but we are here to create. For each course we have twelve classes of three hours, up to five of them with Elementary students with whom they would like to share their work.
My fourteen third year undergrads’ first job is to decide which of the nine plays in the anthology they’d like to lead. There are varying cast sizes and they will be working with nineteen grade six students (age eleven and twelve.) The first aim is to perform, in teaser parts, four or five plays. They will pitch them to the young students who then get to choose with whom and on what they would like to work. Choice is everything and remarkably quickly everyone is always accommodated, including the ones who choose a production rather than a performance part.
Our young students come from two city schools; one might be designated Inner City in a bigger population and the other is an independent faith-based school. Not that it makes any difference when you are happily marooned together in a theatre.
The full story can be purchased through National Drama Magazine HERE
Read local coverage of this story on e-KNOW March 2020
Fast forward to 2022 and the UVic/COTR Teacher Education Program, with instructor Phil Duchene, has returned to the Studio Stage Door and welcomed 2nd and 3rd year B.Ed. students. Cranbrook Community Theatre Society is pleased to collaborate and invest in drama education.