Silver Season: Theatre and drama program celebrates 25th anniversary

actors sitting on a stage
Wednesday, November 4, 2015 - 1:37pm
Blake Eligh

The U of T Mississauga and Sheridan College Theatre and Drama Studies program took centre stage last week as alumni, students, staff and faculty celebrated the program’s 25th anniversary with a special reception at Deerfield Hall. The celebrations continue into the spring with Theatre Erindale’s “Silver Season” which includes both previously produced plays and the staging of new contemporary productions.

Unique in Canada, the joint theatre and drama program combines the intensive professional training of an acting school with the academic preparation of an honours-level drama degree. The joint program was founded by then-principal Desmond Morton, with support from Roger and Janet Beck, who have endowed The Beck Awards to recognize achievement by students in the program.

As the program has evolved, so has the space that houses it. Theatre Erindale, which launched in 1993, plays a starring role with the program as a ‘black box’ theatre space where third and fourth-year students put their studies into practice to produce an annual season of live theatre.

Patrick Young, program coordinator and artistic director of Theatre Erindale, has been with the theatre since its first production and remembers when rehearsals took place in a concrete room, formerly used for locksmithing, in the basement of Erindale College’s North Building. “My office was an actual broom closet that I shared with the stage managers,” he recalls with a laugh.

What was previously a bus garage has evolved into a well-equipped studio theatre that seats about 90 people. “It’s small, which makes it ideal to create a sense of intimacy,” says theatre and drama studies director and Theatre Erindale executive producer Nancy Copeland.

actor wearing a white french wig reclines on a stage

The 2014 opening of Deerfield Hall brought much-needed space for the growing program, including four new rehearsal spaces with dance floors, improved acoustics and enough space for large cast productions. “These new spaces have fostered and strengthened the opportunities for students to experiment more, and take risks,” says English and drama department chair Holger Syme.

Theatre Erindale’s ‘Silver Season’ playbill harkens back to the early days of the theatre and drama program, with remounting The Farm Show, a collaborative play first produced in the premiere season. Another first season play, the Shakespearean romance Pericles, Prince of Tyre, will also be staged this year, along with the first run of contemporary Canadian work, How to Make Love In A Canoe, along with Uncommon Women and Others, The Comedy of Errors and The Seagull.

“Our students are extremely academically adept, and they are also good actors. That unique combination means that people coming out of this program often end up with more creative control, writing plays or directing, in addition to acting,“ Syme says. “The collaboration between UTM and Sheridan makes that work. Sheridan’s forte is the training, while we focus on the historical and theoretical side. From rehearsals to studying texts to learning technical elements, a production at the theatre here unfolds as it would at any major theatre in Canada,” Syme adds.

a group of actors in Shakespearean dress

At the reception, James W. Smagata was recognized for his work as Theatre Erindale’s founding technical director. This year also marks the final season for Patrick Young, who has been with the program since the beginning. Sheridan professor David Matheson has been named to the role of artistic director for the 2016/17 season, and Young will stay for a year to ease the transition before the curtain closes on a long and storied theatre career.  “I feel tremendous pride,” says Young, looking back over 25 years.

See photos from Theatre Erindale productions >

Program alumni go on to work in theatres, film and television productions across Canada and around the world. Read on for a select select list of program alumni, and what they've been up to:

  • Zaib Shaikh: Actor starring in CBC sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie; director of Gemini award-winning production of Othello, The Tragedy of the Moor; and Film Commissioner & Director of Entertainment Industries with the City of Toronto.
  • Mark Crawford: actor and playwright. His first play, Stag and Doe, debuted at the Blyth Festival in 2014. He returns to Blyth in 2016 with a new play, The Birds and The Bees.
  • David Yee: Actor and playwright; artistic director of fu-GEN theatre company; won the 2015 Governor General’s Award for Drama for his play, carried away on the crest of a wave. Another of Yee’s works, lady in a red dress, was nominated in 2010.
  • Kelly Strong: Executive director of the Toronto Fringe Festival
  • Hailey Gillis: Actor with Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company. She was nominated for a 2015 Dora Award for her part in the ensemble cast of musical Spoon River. She also appeared in productions American Pie — A Songbook Investigation and The Dybbuk.
  • Paulo Santalucia: Actor with Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company. He won two Dora Awards for his work in ensemble casts. In 2015, he starred as Hamlet in The Bard’s Bus Tour with Driftwood Theatre Group.
  • Eric Rose: Award-winning director of Calgary’s Ghost River Theatre Company.
  • Andrea Scott: Actress, producer and playwright, Better Angels: A Parable which debuted at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace in 2015. Her award-winning play, Eating Pomegranates Naked, debuted at Toronto's SummerWorks festival in 2013.
  • Nicole Stamp: Actress and host with TVOKids.
  • Cory Doran: Voice actor appearing in Wild Kratts, George of the Jungle, Skatoony and Arthur.
  • Kathryn Alexandre: Actor and acting double for Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany. Read Alexandre’s interview in Variety about her experience as a double supporting multiple characters.
  • Rahnuma Panthaky: The producer, stage and film and television actor also works to broaden opportunities for women and South Asian actors.
  • James Cunningham: stand-up comedian, creator of award-winning touring show Funny Money, and host of Food Network Canada’s Eat St.
  • Neil Silcox: Artistic director of the Toronto Youth Theatre.
  • Melissa Jane Shaw: Director of Theatre Erindale productions and the 2014 musical theatre tribute to retiring Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, She Shoots! She Scores!
  • Sophia Fabiili: Actor and playwright. In 2015, she wrote and starred in The Philanderess, a modernized version of George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer. The prodction won raves at the 2015 Toronto Fringe Festival and was remounted as a Patron’s Pick.
  • Chiamaka G. Ugwu: Actor. She was nominated for a 2015 Dora Award (Independent Theatre Division) and appeared in the ensemble in a production of Lorca’s Blood Wedding with Modern Times Stage Company and Aluna Theatre.
  • Qasim Khan: Actor with Soulpepper Theatre Company and Toronto’s Factory Theatre. He was nominated for a 2015 Dora Award for Outstanding Individual Performance for his performance in Beneath the Banyan Tree with Theatre Direct.
  • Kate Conway, Lindsey Middleton and Elizabeth Stuart-Morris: The actors appeared in indie web soap opera Out With Dad.
  • Hallie Selin and Cameron Laurie: The actors starred in The Howland Company’s production of 52 Pick-Up.
  • Ben Hayward and Ali Richardson: Co-founded the Fail Better Theatre company. Their play, Andy Warhol Presents: Valerie, ran at the 2014 Toronto Fringe Festival and was directed by alumni Matt White and sound designer Nick Potter. The Dinner Table ran at the 2014 Fringe, and co-starred alumna Madeleine Brown.