If you know a teenager who is constantly humming showtunes or planning their next living room one-kid show, if they get called a theatre nerd, if they are in search of their peer group and have yet to find it, then Theatre Alberta’s Artstrek program may be the perfect place for them. The program has been running for nearly 60 years, and accepts participants from all over the province and of any skill level.
The students who attend Artstrek spend a full week taking five courses a day—taught by 10 instructors—with a particular production as their subject of study. Students don’t present the work in its entirety at the end of the camp, but they do have a Sharing Day, where they present a part of what they’ve learned.
This year they will be taking on Les Misérables.
“Every year there’s a different play chosen for the centre of the curriculum. It’s on a three-year cycle, so … one year there’s a musical, the next year there’s a classical play … and then there’s a contemporary play,” explains Jake Tkaczyk, the acting program director for Artstrek and a former student of the program.
The five courses are acting, voice and singing, movement and dance, design, and devising.
“Devising is learning about how to create your own work and learning how to make your own plays or your own pieces,” Tkaczyk explains. “So it’s all about creating something from nothing, or from a source.”
He talks about how he grew up on a farm and that there was no music, art or drama in his rural community. Artstrek, Tkaczyk says, was the only reason he really found theatre, and he found out about it through a student teacher. But it was the devising class that made him the artist he is today.
“Just the idea of being able to create your own work, I think, is really important,” he says. “Especially as a young artist, because as you graduate form theatre school, or you come out of high school—or you don’t want to go to post-secondary, but you want to do art—if you don’t know how to start your own projects, then it might not happen, because there’s not always a gig waiting.”
Tkaczyk loves Artstrek so much that he attended the program for a total of six summers, and he says he still keeps in touch with people he met there.
“I went to theatre school with four of the people who I was in Artstrek with—from like 2008, 2009—so it’s like those people keep showing up,” he says. “And I’ve worked professionally with some people that taught me at Artstrek or who I met through the program.”
Alyssa Short, another former student (2010 – 2014) and former program supervisor, says she also keeps in touch with people she met through the program.
“And it’s funny, because even if you don’t necessarily talk to the people all the time, you get to see what they’re doing with their lives and all these different areas that people have gone into, and you’re like ‘I know them from summer camp,’” she says.
Tkaczyk mentions that at least one of his peers went on to become an MLA in Calgary.
Bonds aren’t just formed in class. In the evenings students have some time to themselves, but the camp supervisors also plan some evening activities.
“Some nights it might be as simple as watching a movie, but other nights we’re doing like outrageous dances and silly obstacle courses and those sort of fun, camp-type activities,” Short says.
She says her favourite class was movement and dance, because it helped her come out of her shell.
“When I was that age, I was really self-conscious about every little thing that you do, and that was a class that was like ‘Just go out there and be crazy! Everyone can be a dancer and everyone can move their bodies!’ And, I don’t know, it was definitely one that was really confidence inspiring,” she says.
Short has not pursued a professional acting career, but she’s still involved as a volunteer, and she says that’s something for would-be students to consider.
“Even if you don’t think you want to be an actor, you can still learn so much at Artstrek, and you can still keep theatre in your life, even in the non-professional sense,” she says. “Artstrek is obviously awesome for kids who do want to become professional theatre artists, or artists of any kind, but even if you’re just like ‘I could see myself doing a community program’ or whatever, you can still go to Artstrek and learn a lot.”
For any families needing financial assistance there are scholarships available—Tkaczyk says there are usually 40 students who apply each year. Individuals and community organizations can also sponsor students.
“So sometimes like Rotary clubs, or local theatre companies, or sometimes even the school, provide students with money to offset the cost to go,” he says.
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