The Winter 2015 edition of Upper Canada College’s Old Times alumni magazine featured an article on Old Boys involved in theatre and how they’ve maintained connections to the school and helped students. That tradition is continuing, as you’ll find out below.
Several Old Boys contributed to the recent UCC and The Bishop Strachan School production of Hamlet, clearly illustrating the strong bond that alumni feel for their alma mater and its theatre program.
Justis Danto-Clancy ’07 helped with design and technology implementation. Chris Tully ’15, who’s studying at the University of King’s College in Halifax, spent a day working with and training the tech team. Andrew Musselman ’99 sat in on a rehearsal. And James Graham ’07 ran workshops for the cast and worked one-on-one with Grade 11 student and aspiring actor Theo Iordache. Others also lent a hand and several theatre alumni returned to the school to watch the play.
Such involvement has been an important component of UCC’s co-curricular theatre program since Dale Churchward became its director in 2000.
“To a man, they speak of the value and satisfaction of returning to mentor young students,” Churchward says of the Old Boys who come back to share their knowledge. “Students feel a kind of kinship to alum with theatrical expertise beyond their obvious respect for guests who are experienced in their field.”
The International Baccalaureate theatre course includes a history component within an academic program of study, while the co-curricular program is focused on practical aspects of theatre, including tech as a major component of design. So while there’s overlap, there’s a clear difference between the academic program and the co-curricular program, the latter of which is available to all students interested in some aspect of performance or production.
Churchward encourages students to ask questions of Old Boys who’ve attended a variety of theatre programs in Canada and abroad, both through universities and conservatory programs. Since 2000, alumni have attended The National Theatre School, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, New York University, Julliard, the University of Chicago and many other institutions to pursue theatre.
Iordache is looking to follow in their footsteps.
“UCC is the place that introduced me to theatre, and my passion for it grew out of my involvement in drama classes and co-curricular shows,” he says.
Iordache started at UCC in Grade 7 and joined a production of Molière’s The Forced Marriage because he felt the need to be more involved in his new school. He appeared in the musical Tom Sawyer later that year and, after playing Horatio in Hamlet, is working on his eighth show at the College.
“We’ve got exceptional teachers at the College, as well as great facilities and resources to work with,” says Iordache. “The David Chu Theatre, for example, is better equipped than many professional theatres I’ve seen.
“Being able to work with that level of hardware under the supervision of the amazing faculty we’ve got is something other high school students would only dream of.”
The Old Boy network also plays an important role, and Iordache and Graham (who studied theatre at Northwestern University) hit it off quickly when they were introduced to each other late last year.
“We sat down at a coffee place and talked about his college experience and the reality of working as a theatre practitioner in Toronto,” says Iordache. “He’s given me a lot of great advice as well as practical information, and even offered to let me help out at his theatre company (The Howland Company) this coming summer.”
Graham says he jumped at the chance to help out with Hamlet.
“I remembered why these shows had been important to me when I was a UCC student, and what the guidance of Old Boys such as Andrew Musselman and Ravi Jain had meant to me at that time. Their passion and joy gave me a glimpse into what it was like to care about something so deeply.
“Back then, it gave me permission to find my voice, to be vulnerable and to think it might be possible to travel a road less taken. For my teenage self, that was what had meant the most to me.”
The conversations between Iordache and Graham helped lead the young thespian to decide that he’ll attend theatre school instead of a conservatory after graduating from UCC.
“I can get a double major and study something more practical as well, such as economics,” says Iordache. “Theatre will always take the number one spot for me, however.
“I’ve been eyeing a few schools in the U.S. that provide a great theatrical education coupled with strong academic programs — Brown, Yale, Northwestern and NYU chief among them. I’ll still apply to Juilliard, however. What actor can resist?”
While Graham hopes that “in some small way I did my part to carry the torch forward,” he’s also looking to the past by working with Phil McKee ’01 on a Howland Company production of The Glass Menagerie that will be performed in September at The Theatre Centre. McKee will direct, Graham will act and UCC theatre students will be in the audience.
“Alum know that UCC continues to support their work as they move on from the College,” says Churchward. “That is perhaps a small point, but it seems to me an important one.”