Category Archives: Shows

Director Rob Ursan on training future stars, and updating Peter Pan (Verb Magazine)

Director Rob Ursan on training future stars, and updating Peter Pan

by ADAM HAWBOLDT

PeterPanStoryID7439There’s no denying that the story of Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, is a classic — in all its incarnations. As a novel, it ranks as one of the greatest children’s books of all time, right up there with The Chronicles of Narnia, Treasure Island, and other books of that ilk. On stage, it’s been a hit ever since it debuted in London in 1904. And on film, well, it’s one of the most beloved movies that Disney has ever produced.

But here’s the thing about the story Peter Pan: while it is certainly a staple remembered from many people’s childhoods, it’s also wildly racist. That may come as a shock to some, but it’s true. Remember the “Piccaninny Indians” (as Peter and Wendy called them)? Remember how they were monolithic caricatures that were repeatedly described as savages who were hell bent on killing and scalping small white children? Or, better yet, do you remember the Disney version and the song “What makes the Red Man Red?” The one that tells kids that, a long time ago, an Indigenous male blushed red when he kissed a girl and that’s been their genetic racial make up ever since?

See? Wildly racist.

And that presents a conundrum to anyone wanting to adapt Peter Pan for a modern audience. A conundrum that Rob Ursan — artistic, music and production director at the Do It With Class theatre company — knows all too well.

At the tail-end of last year’s theatre season, Ursan and DIWC theatre company founder Andorlie Hillstrom needed to pick productions for this year. These couldn’t be any old productions, though. Because their theatre company performs their shows at the 2,000+ capacity Conexus Arts Centre in Regina, the pair needed something well known. Something that would put “bums in seats” and pay for the facility.

“We started looking quite late in the season,” says Ursan. “We settled on Peter Pan and we announced it — without ever looking at the varying productions that had already been written.”

When Ursan finally got around to looking at these, the inherent racism in the story stood out in sharp relief.

“All of the other productions were based on the original material, and they have very insensitive material about Aboriginals in them,” says Ursan. “Because of that, they’re not producible. You can’t portray people in the ways that are set out in these shows. It’s just not right.”

But the show must go on. And since it had already been announced, Ursan had to find a way around the racism without compromising the story.

On the wall above Ursan’s computer hangs a quote by Leonardo da Vinci. It reads: “Ancora Imparo,” which mean “I am still learning.”

It’s a saying that, in one way or another, has seemed to govern most of Ursan’s life. His education began in Regina, where he grew up studying to be a classical pianist. It continued at Oberlin College in Ohio, where he went to get an undergraduate degree in classical music. While there, Ursan’s focus slowly shifted away from piano to voice. So much so that after he left Ohio, he attended the University of Toronto for a graduate degree in Opera. Then came a post-graduate degree in Opera at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, Scotland.

Once his formal education was over, Ursan returned home to Canada. Here, he performed with several opera companies across the country, before returning to Regina to begin an entirely different kind of education.

“One of the things I always wanted to do was direct,” says Ursan. “When I was in my 20s, because I was back in Canada, I started being asked to direct some shows around the province. I ended up directing a show for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, and directing a few musicals in Regina. That’s where I met Andorlie Hillstrom, who founded Do It With Class.”

The two hit it off, and Ursan went to work with Hillstrom’s new theatre company. For the next two decades, the duo went about the business of molding young minds and bringing out the best in young performers from around Saskatchewan. Performers like Paul Nolan (currently starring in Once on Broadway), Tatiana Maslany (star of the hit series Orphan Black) and Amy Matysio (who plays Kenny on Single White Spenny).

“That’s the thing about Do It With Class,” says Ursan. “It attracts the most remarkable and remarkably talented group of young people. We have kids here between the ages of 10 and 18 or 19, and it’s never like I’m writing down to them. I’m writing material that’s complicated and up to a level that will challenge these incredible young artists. I’m not writing children’s shows. I’m writing shows that could be done in a professional setting with professional singers … we’re trying to turn these kids into theatrical animals. People who will grace stages around the world, be on screens large and small.”

And in the process of teaching them the skills needed to do that, Ursan has done as much learning as he has teaching.

“Find what you love to do and things will fall in place,” says Ursan. “And the whole falling in place thing means I get to work with these talented people all the time. I learn from them as much as I hope they’re learning from me. It may sound a bit pretentious, but like the da Vinci sign I have above my computer says, ‘I’m still learning.’”

Which is part of the reason why Ursan eventually figured out how to fix the Peter Pan problem. The other part has to do with the time he spent in Scotland.

The Picts were a confederation of tribes who lived in Northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods. Called “Picti” (Painted Ones) by the Romans, these people were fierce tattooed-and-painted warriors who took part in one of the most decisive battles in Scottish history — the Battle of Dun Nechtain. Had the Picts lost, Scotland as we know it may never have existed.

They won. But by the end of the first millennium the Picts had mysteriously vanished, swallowed by history or another group of people, existing only as a race of mythical fairies.

The Picts may be gone, but they’re not forgotten. Because when it came to fixing the racist Aboriginal stereotypes in Peter Pan, they gave Ursan the answer he needed: substitute the Aboriginal characters in Peter Pan with Picts, rewrite the script, and Ursan figured things would be good to go.

“I had a couple of months free in the summer, so I decided to write a brand new Peter Pan,” says Ursan. “I went back to the original, took as much as I could from it, then started making changes. Slight changes to plot and characters. And because it’s a musical, writing a brand new score.”

For the production Ursan wrote 20 new songs and did the complete orchestration. It was a process that was as challenging as it was fruitful.

“For me, sitting down and writing these songs was incredibly exciting,” says Ursan of Peter Pan, the seventh full musical he’s written. “It’s different than writing a song that exists on its own. Writing songs for musicals is an incredible puzzle. You’re trying to find a person’s voice in their ‘sung voice.’ Singing is very, very strange. Why do people break into song in musicals? The reasons vary, but for me, I look for things that are bigger than speech. Any emotional points, any comedy or any plot points which are bigger than just talking, and I turn those into songs or musical moments. It’s exciting to find a theatrical moment that can be filled with joyous expression of melody and rhyme.”

And this time, those songs will bring a brand-new experience of Peter Pan to the public. One we can all enjoy.

Director takes colourful approach to As You Like It (Leader Post)

Director takes colourful approach to As You Like It

 

Director takes colourful approach to As You Like It
 Top from left, Logan Weir and Jordyn Bosley along with Haley Tonita and Griffin Hewitt, sitting, present As You Like It, the latest production of Class Act Young People’s Theatre February 26 and 27 at the Conexus Arts Centre.
Photograph by: Michael Bell, Regina Leader-Post , The Leader-Post

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players,” Jacques de Boys says in Shakespeare’s As You Like it.

The speech discusses the stages of life as compared to a theatrical performance. Like most Shakespearean witticisms, the meaning is multi-faceted and enlightening – although a modern version might include a line about distracting cellular devices.

Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre presents As You Like It at the Conexus Arts Centre’s Jacqui Shumiatcher Room Feb. 25 to 27.

Artistic director Rob Ursan has been producing Shakespeare for about seven years with the senior company, which this year includes 21 performers ages 13 to 18. He said The Bard’s work is demanding for actors and audiences. “Shakespearean language is always challenging … It forces people into places they are not familiar with,” said Ursan.

As You Like It is a pastoral romance set in a French duchy and the Forest of Arden. The story opens with Frederick exiling his older brother, Duke Senior, from the duchy. Frederick’s daughter, Celia, is friends with the old duke’s daughter, Rosalind. Frederick eventually banishes Rosalind just after she falls in love with a young lord, Orlando.

Celia and the court fool, Touchstone, follow Rosalind into the forest, kicking off a comedy of errors, cross dressing and trickery in the pursuit of true love.Ursan said the company chose a colourful staging for the comedy.

He taught the actors about the Aristotelian concept of the four humours, a categorizing of emotions related to properties of the body. Ursan also taught them about the 18th century philosophy of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who applied personality types to the colour spectrum and certain elements.

Ursan depicted these modes of thinking on stage through a colourful mandala painted by designer Julio Salazar. Each colour in the wheel represents an emotion, and Ursan said the actors stand in those colours to heighten their performances.

“The kids know which colour to enter from based on how they are feeling. They might enter from fire because they are angry, earth because they are sad, water because they are having a philosophical conversation, or air – the element of lovers.”

The cast features Griffin Hewitt (Orlando), Haley Tonita (Rosalind), Jordyn Bosley (Celia), Logan Weir (Touchstone) and Kieran Kennedy (Jaques).

“They have turned this show into something that feels personal,” said the director.

The costumes by Brenda Shenher are another unique feature. Ursan explained the costumes shift colours throughout the play and are “gender neutral,” since gender confusion is a major theme.

“All of the costuming is indicative of (the characters’ journeys).”

Ursan hoped the show would be accessible, given the visual cues and actors’ talents.

“It’s a funny story with characters who are doing things ever so slightly unbelievable, which is when Shakespeare is at his best.”

Tickets for As You Like It can be purchased at conexus. com or the Conexus Arts Centre box office by calling 306-525-9999.

As You Like It

Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre 12:30 p.m., Feb. 25 12:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.,

Feb. 26 and 27 Conexus Arts Centre

Talent is on display in DIWC’s Dear Edwina (Leader Post)

 Talent is on display in DIWC’s Dear Edwina

Luke Lumbard, Alice Willett, Lorenzo Salazar, Ronin Durey, Meika Sonntag, Declan Hewitt (top, from left) and Alexandra Baird (center bottom) pose during a photoshoot being held at Do It With Class Studio in Regina on Sunday Oct. 12, 2014. The group will appear in an upcoming production of Dear Edwina.
 Luke Lumbard, Alice Willett, Lorenzo Salazar, Ronin Durey, Meika Sonntag, Declan Hewitt (top, from left) and Alexandra Baird (center bottom) pose during a photoshoot being held at Do It With Class Studio in Regina on Sunday Oct. 12, 2014. The group will appear in an upcoming production of Dear Edwina.
Photograph by: Michael Bell, Regina Leader-Post

 

Dear Edwina

Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre

12:30 p.m., Oct. 22

12:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m., Oct. 23

7:30 p.m., Oct. 24

Riddell Theatre, U of R

Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre is busy fine tuning its season-opening musical, Dear Edwina, under the tutelage of Robert Ursan, its new artistic director.

Ursan, who took over the role of Andorlie Hillstrom in June, has been with the company for 18 years. The new director said he has a packed season ahead.

“This is the first time I’ll be directing all of the shows,” Ursan said, “I like to be involved in every aspect.”

Dear Edwina features 26 young performers between the ages of nine and 16,

The musical, by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler, is an off-Broadway production about 13-year-old Edwina Spoonapple. She wants to be the next Dear Abby or Miss Manners. Every summer, Edwina writes musicals performed by her friends. Her shows are based on letters neighbourhood kids send to her about different topics, like how to behave in difficult social situations.

“It’s adorable and perfect for children,” Ursan said, “And even though it’s for children and performed by children, there’s a lot in there for parents. It’s a family show with a beautiful moral.”

Audiences can expect mostly modern pop, Broadway-style music and a few pastiche numbers. As for this year’s talent level, Ursan said he’s impressed by the up-and-comers in the junior program.

“Do It With Class has always attracted incredibly talented young people,” said Ursan. “They have so much energy.”

For all the excitement, a major part of Ursan’s enjoyment comes from watching kids “blossom” into “performing machines.”

“We always have some kids who come in and you can see they have the ability to be professional performers,” explained Ursan. “There are also the ‘slow-boil’ kids; they go from being the shy ones in the back, and then they throw themselves into it.”

Building confidence in fledgling artists is part of the company’s mission. Ursan called Do It With Class an “incredibly safe place for young people.”

“It’s a place where kids can explore their talents and not feel embarrassed to be insane.”

The artistic director described the moment when new performers connect with their craft.

“Sometimes we get kids who, just for a split second, get this flicker in their eyes when they finally understand something. You have an 11-year-old who understands concepts that confound 20-year-olds. They realize they are part of something bigger.”

Ursan said the poise that comes with those realizations “helps kids down the road.”

“One of the greatest things in theatre is that there are no consequences. These young people learn that they don’t have to be embarrassed.”

Excited by the new season, Ursan said he can’t wait to share the company’s hard work.

“I’m always proud of the kids, and audiences are always invariably astounded by the talent level.”

Tickets for Dear Edina can be purchased at doitwithclass.com and conexusticket.com. The show runs from October 22 to 24 at the University of Regina’s Riddell Theatre.

Titanic Talent (Leader Post)

DIWC celebrating 20 years of artistry and creativity

Joe Couture, The Leader-Post

Published: Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Titanic

Do It With Class

12:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday Conexus Arts Centre

As part of its 20th anniversary season, Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre Company is presenting a “massive” production of the musical Titanic, at the Conexus Arts Centre this week.

The show involves the young people in the company as well as numerous alumni who have agreed to participate, says Andorlie Hillstrom, DIWC founder and artistic director.

“Knowing it was our 20th anniversary year, I really wanted to do something that would be special and significant for this season,” Hillstrom continued.

“The show itself is massive and the only way that we ever could have done it was by inviting alumni and other individuals from the community to be participants.”

Included are alumni performers who have gone on to professional careers in other communities.

“There are 110 characters in the show. I’ve added in additional characters who are actually based on real children who travelled on the boat so that the youngest members of our company would actually have named roles,” Hillstrom noted.

“It’s a family production. It’s all Do It With Class families so that’s kind of cool,” she added.

In choosing shows for the 20th anniversary season, Hillstrom says she wanted to pick ones like Titanic that were favourites during the company’s past two decades.

“It’s the kind of music that sends chills up and down your back and the story alone, the fact that it’s based in reality, it’s something that has a kind of grand scope that is wonderful for theatre and certainly for presenting at the main stage at the Conexus,” Hillstrom said.

To read the rest of the article click here.

Do It With Class Youth theatre group turns back the clock to celebrate the best of its 20 years( Leader- Post)

Do it with class

Youth theatre group turns back the clock to celebrate the best of its 20 years

Gord Brock, The Leader-Post

Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre

When: 7:30 p.m., Oct. 11 & 12

Where: Shumiatcher Room, Conexus Arts Centre

As the saying goes, you can’t turn back the clock but the Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre company is doing just that, in a few different ways, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.

The Regina amateur group is helping to mark its second decade by performing favourites from past seasons according to founder and artistic director Andorlie Hillstrom.

“We’re kicking off the season with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. All of the productions that have been chosen for the company this year were chosen as past favourites of mine. So this will be the third time that Midsummer has been performed by the company. It’s always been popular and well-received, and it’s a wonderful connect for the students who are involved with it,” said Hillstrom.

William Shakespeare’s comedic tale of young lovers who are manipulated by fairies dwelling in the forest includes a lesson about seeing the best in a person. Sarah Bester, a 17-year-old student at Campbell Collegiate plays Helena, who says of her beloved Demetrius: “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.”

Theatre-goers interested in seeing the production, which includes original music written by Robert Ursan and choreography created by Chancz Perry, can take in one of two evening shows. They’re at the Conexus Arts Centre, in the Schumiatcher Theatre, on Oct. 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m.

Do It With Class (DIWC) provides theatre training and experience for youngsters mostly aged 10-18. Hillstrom cites former members who’ve gone on to performing arts degrees or careers, including Tatiana Maslany, star of the television series Orphan Black.

“Wherever they are, we try to go and see what they’re doing. This is family and they are an extension of our family, so we really try to keep in touch with them,” Hillstrom said.

To read the rest of the article click here.

Young performers on stage – and they Do It With Class (Regina Leader Post )

Young performers on stage – and they Do It With Class Gord Brock

For The Leader-Post

Published: Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A story of a young man’s rise above a bitter sibling rivalry is being brought to life by a group that helps young performers raise their talent level.

Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre (DIWC) is rolling out Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber with sung-through lyrics by Tim Rice.

The popular musical, once made into a film, is based on the “coat of many colours” tale of Joseph in the book of Genesis in the Bible. It follows a young man who is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, taken away to Egypt, then rises to power thanks to his ability to interpret dreams.

The musical features a family-friendly message and promises to inspire the audience and the performers alike, said Andorlie Hillstrom, founder and artistic director of DIWC.

Joseph will run Thursday and Friday at Conexus Arts Centre on the main stage. Showtime for the evening performances is 7: 30 p.m. Hillstrom added matinee performances at 12: 30 p.m. each day, for the convenience of schools, but are also open to general attendance. Tickets are available through the Conexus box office.

Hillstrom said she chooses for performance on the Conexus main stage plays that can involve the younger members of the company, “as well as provide incentives for young families to bring out their children, to see other children performing in a high-calibre theatrical experience.”

To read the rest of this article click here.

Shakespeare Given Youthful Boost (Leader Post)

Shakespeare given youthful boost

Theatre group trains future stars

Bryn Levy, Leader Post

Published: Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Chelsea Woodard, Seanna Knudsen, Natasha Mueller, Sarah Bester, and Kayden Tonita, left to right, are among the cast members of Twelfth Night, produced by Do It With Class Young People's Theatre in Regina.

You never know who you might be seeing at a production put on by Regina’s Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre company.

The local youth theatre group has become an incubator for world-class talent nearly 20 years after its founding by artistic director Andorlie Hillstrom.

“We have three individuals from Do It With Class on stage in New York right now in Jesus Christ Superstar. We’re just terribly proud,” said Hillstrom.

Other performers from the company have gone on to work at Stratford and the Shaw Festival Theatre, with still more working in regional theatre companies across the country.

“I know that at the pro colleges where our students decide to continue after high school, we are already identified as a nurturing place for young performers. We’re very proud,” said Hillstrom.

This year will mark the fourth consecutive year that Do It With Class has put on a Shakespeare-in-the-round production as part of its season. The senior members of the troupe, ages 14 to 19, are performing the comedy Twelfth Night.

“The Shakespeare’s have been very successful in the past, and we’ve continued using it because it helps young people in the company gain skills they might not otherwise: language skills, articulation, and working with complex characters,” Hillstrom explained.

To read the rest of this article click here.

 

Snow Queen is a timeless Story

Joe Couture, Leader-Post

Published: Thursday, October 06, 2011

THE SNOW QUEEN

Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre 12: 30 p.m., & 7: 30 p.m., Oct. 12-14 Shumiatcher Room, Conexus Arts Centre

The first show of the season for Regina’s Do It With Class (DIWC) Young People’s Theatre has a long history, explained its director, Andorlie Hillstrom.

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, DIWC’s musical director Robert Ursan wrote The Snow Queen into a production for an opera group in the fall of 1995. It toured for three weeks throughout southern Saskatchewan that year. In 1998, it was rewritten for children’s voices and presented by DIWC. The company did it again in 2004.

This is the third time The Snow Queen has been presented by DIWC, Hillstrom said. “It has quite a long history. Although originally it was an opera piece, over the years what Rob has done is added dialogue and dance sections. Now he actually refers to it as more of a musical.

“We’re still able to recycle the piece and audiences love it and the kids love performing it.”

To read the rest of this article click here.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Ready to Take Flight (Leader Post)

Kelly-Anne Riess, For The Leader-Post

Published: Thursday, March 10, 2011

Despite a fire that destroyed their rehearsal space, actors in Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre are ready to take to the stage with their latest musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, making Regina the first Canadian city to host the production.

The fire cost the performers, who range in age from eight to 19, only a day of rehearsal time, because the Conexus Arts Centre was quick to donate a new space where the cast has been spending its weekends polishing scenes.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” said Andorlie Hillstrom, DIWC artistic director.

Most of the props for the production were stored in a shed that wasn’t touched by the fire, which destroyed Class Act Studios on Feb. 21.

The 142 costumes were also spared.

“The show will feature all of the company’s 52 actors, singers and dancers.

“They are a very talented group,” said Hillstrom. “It’s truly amazing to see how accomplished they are.”

Characters include tightrope walkers and a strong man from the 1900s.

“There’s a lot of detail in the show,” said Hillstrom.

To read the rest of the article click here.

New Take on an Old Classic (Leader Post)

Joe Couture, Leader-Post

Published: Thursday, October 28, 2010

ALICE IN WONDERLAND

Do It With Class Young People’s Theatre

Regina youth theatrical production company Do It With Class is presenting its own spin on Alice in Wonderland in a show running at the Conexus Arts Centre on Friday and Saturday.

“Now this is a musical version of the Alice in Wonderland story,” said Andorlie Hillstrom, DIWC artistic director. “It’s also a version that is unique because, though it’s based on Lewis Carroll’s original story, the ideas for some of what’s in the story are (DIWC music director) Rob Ursan’s, because Rob wrote this originally for Do It With Class about 10 years ago. He’s remapped it, written some new songs for it — hence we have a new Alice in Wonderland that we’re doing.”

Ursan created a narrator character for the play that Hillstrom said bears a great resemblance to the music director himself.

To read the rest of the article click here.