Home     Content     Articles      La Scena Musicale     Search   

La Scena Musicale - Vol. 16, No. 4 December 2010

Theatre Education News

by Crystal Chan / December 1, 2010

50 Years for the National Theatre School

Flash version here

It’s been 50 years since Michel Saint-Denis inaugurated a fledgling 26-student program with these words: “I declare the National Theatre School ouverte.”

Today, the NTS still adheres to the spirit behind that statement: it is a bilingual, open resource for emerging theatre artists, receiving almost 1,000 applicants from across the country each year. Students can study acting, playwriting, directing, set and costume design, or production.

"I think the reason why the school attracts so many applicants is that we offer something that is not just academic,” explained National Theatre School CEO Simon Brault. “When young artists are accepted they get training and they learn; but we also provide grounds for them to experiment and find their unique voices as artists.”

At the NTS, the frequent employ of working and often well-established professionals as lecturers or long-term teachers ensures a dialogue between the academic realm and the world outside. Students appreciate this opportunity for networking—it’s something not many university students are privy to.

This recipe for success has produced many notable alumni, among them Wajdi Mouawad, Colm Feore, and Roy Dupuis.

For the last five years Brault and the NTS have been gearing up for their 50th anniversary. It’s taken two years just to confirm the extremely prominent co-chairs of the fundraising campaign, which kicked off on the school’s official birthday of November 2, 2010: Louis Vachon, president and CEO of the National Bank, and Gerry McCaughey, president and CEO of CIBC.

With the money it hopes to raise, the campaign will first tackle some pressing goals. The creation of a fund for technology will allow the school to participate in the theatre world’s increasing interest in technological innovation as a tool for creativity. The ability to fund the Cultural and Artistic Leadership Program in-house will allow it to continue focusing on community-outreach projects as a permanent facet of the school—it’s currently funded by a J.W. McConnell Family Foundation grant. Brault also hopes to focus on having a diverse teaching staff and student population; strong budgetary support is key to attracting specialists as lecturers and retaining students through bursaries.

“When you leave the school,” said Brault, “you should already have a foot seriously in the door of the profession.”

If brought to fruition, these future plans will join a long line of NTS milestones that include new buildings, programs, bursaries, funds and projects. Over the last half-century, some of the most important achievements have included adding a theatre library in 1967, securing its main building on St-Denis and Laurier in 1970, and participating in the prestigious Prague Quadrennial for the first time in 1976. And since his arrival at the school in 1981, Brault has also seen the school through great financial and administrative change.

When the Canada Council suddenly dropped the NTS from its funding roster—after having been the major supporter of the school since its inception—a potentially fatal situation pushed the NTS to enact political change. This was pivotal to the creation of the Canada Arts Training Fund (formerly known as The National Arts Training Contribution Program), a federal plan to back arts education institutions in the country. It continues to lend a hand to many organizations each year.

Then there was the Monument National building on lower St-Laurent, which the NTS lovingly restored back to its former glory at the cost of $18 million. It is now a cultural hub and one of the city’s important artistic venues.

As for the continual question of Francophone-Anglophone relations, a reconfiguration of the school through the appointment of new artistic directors for both the French (Denise Guilbault) and English (Sherry Bie) departments allowed the school, in Brault’s own words, “to develop one institution with a shared vision and common concerns for the future of the institution and theatre. They were hired at the same time [in 2001] so that they had to collaborate from the start and create a synergy.”

Now a stakeholder in the federal, provincial and municipal political and linguistic terrain, the NTS is much more than a school: it’s become a mover and shaker in the nation’s very cultural landscape.

Erasing the Line Between Technician + Designer

Flash version here

It’s no mystery that technology plays an increasingly important role in the creative process. But in performing arts production, the technical and the creative teams traditionally work as separate departments. A technician, one might say, is seen as the antithesis of the designer, the right brain versus the left brain.

That kind of thinking will not carry on into the future, believe professors at Concordia University, who have put together a new program in hopes of erasing the line between the two professions. The new Graduate Certificate in Creative Practices in Technical Production will aim to train professionals to answer the ever growing industry demand for technically adept individuals who also have a fundamental knack for artistic vision.

Offered jointly by the departments of music, theatre, and dance, the program will also offer students the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary projects.

“I have spent years working as both a technical director and a designer. For me there has always been an artificial line between the two fields,” said Eric Mongerson, the program director.

“In recent times, the lines between [technical] directing and designing have become blurred, as have those between video and lighting. It is time to rethink our traditional ways of creating live performances. I have found that there are technical crafts persons but few technical artists.”

Those interested in applying for the program should have at least a basic knowledge of the technical aspects of live performance production. An interest in a specialization or specific concept should be well supported by theoretical knowledge.

(c) La Scena Musicale