Ask Paul Moniz de Sá about the youth involved in Arts Umbrella, and his pride is palpable across the phone line.
“It’s really wonderful to see these young actors grow as professionals and as people,” he says. “I’m really proud of the work they’re doing.”
Moniz de Sá, a Burnaby resident, is the artistic director of theatre and music for Arts Umbrella, a not-for-profit arts education centre based on Granville Island. He’s getting his students ready for the annual Theatre and Music Expressions Festival, running May 11 to 22. (See sidebar below for program.)
The festival showcases the work of students in the pre-professional program and theatre intensive courses, ranging in age from nine to 19. The programs are designed for youth with a real interest in studying theatre, beyond what they can get in their own high schools.
Moniz de Sá notes that, for many of the kids who enter, it’s a case of the “big fish in a small pond” becoming a “small fish in a big pond” when they arrive in a place full of other top and talented students.
“They’re upping each other’s game,” he notes. “It’s a hub for young teens and young actors who want something more.”
Many of the youth involved stay with Arts Umbrella programs for years. In this year’s senior theatre troupe production of Julius Caesar, for instance, the teen girl playing Cassius started with Arts Umbrella when she was eight years old and is now graduating high school. (Yes, you read that right, the production does have a female Cassius – and a female Julius Caesar and Brutus to boot. Moniz de Sá is thrilled to give his young female actors a chance to try non-traditional roles, and it’s a trend he says is growing in the theatre world.)
Arts Umbrella gives kids a chance to learn from professionals – not only on the acting side, but on the technical and stagecraft side, exploring elements such as set, lighting and costume design.
Many will go on to pursue careers in theatre or stagecraft – graduates are currently working in Chicago, New York City, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver as working actors – while others will take their studies into a range of professions.
For all the youth, Moniz de Sá notes, the opportunities they got at Arts Umbrella are formative parts of their lives.
“It’s been an important part of them finding themselves and knowing who they are,” he says. “They really find that sense of home away from home. We create a safe place for them to explore the different aspects of theatre and also of themselves.”
He says theatre does a lot for youth on the road to self-discovery: it helps them see the world in new ways and to develop empathy for others. To work with young actors in those formative years is a privilege he doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s at a time in their lives when the art means a lot to them,” he says.
And he knows what of he speaks: Moniz de Sá himself started at Arts Umbrella as a teenager in 1990.
Theatre wasn’t exactly something that was expected in his family, he says – as the youngest of eight kids, he’s the only one involved in the world. His family is Portuguese, via the Azores, and his dad had always been interested in the arts.
“Dad used to bring instruments home and hope somebody would play them,” Moniz de Sá says. “I was the one who would play them.”
His father died when he was just seven, and it was only later than Moniz de Sá learned that his dad had always been interested in acting and performing but had never been allowed to pursue it.
Which makes it all the more special for him, as a father himself now, to see his love of the arts blossoming in his own eight-year-old son (who, by the way, just auditioned for a school talent show with a Puck monologue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
And it makes it a joy for him to go to work every day alongside his wife, Suzanne, who’s the coordinator of the theatre and music department for Arts Umbrella, and to bring the work of their students to the stage.
“These are the actors of tomorrow,” he says. “It’s very exciting to watch where they start off.”
You can catch the work of Arts Umbrella’s students at the Waterfront Theatre from May 11 to 22. See below for full schedule.
WHAT'S ON WHEN: EXPRESSIONS FESTIVAL OFFERINGS
Dangers of a Total War, performed by the Laboratory Theatre Troupe
An original creation by students, Dangers of a Total War explores the hardships of children evacuated from England to Canada during the Second World War. Onstage May 12 and 21.
The Drowsy Chaperone, performed by the Musical Theatre Troupe
This musical parodies musical comedies of the 1920s with its “musical within a comedy,” featuring music by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar. Onstage May 13, 15, 17, 18, 20, 21 and 22.
Julius Caesar, performed by the Senior Theatre Troupe
The theatre troupe offers up a modern perspective on Shakespeare’s classic. Onstage May 12, 14, 19, 21 and 22.
Story Stew: A Fairy Tale Revue, performed by the Junior Theatre Troupe
This playful take on fairy tales and nursery rhymes suggests that the children of the old woman who lived in a shoe were, in fact, all fairy-tale characters such as Jack, Jill, Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks.Onstage May 14, 19 and 22.
Theatre and Music Showcase, performed by Theatre Intensive Program students
Short musical and theatre performances across a range of genres highlight the talents of students in the theatre intensive program.Onstage May 14 and 15.
Expressions Festival runs May 11 to May 22 at the Waterfront Theatre, 1412 Cartwright St. Tickets are $10, $15 and $20, depending upon show. Full scheduling and ticket information can be found at www.artsumbrella.com/expressionstheatre.