The Arts Club’s own Musical Theatre Intensive program (MTI) will be entering its 15th year this summer. This program provides youth, aged 12–19, with the opportunity to train with industry professionals to hone their singing, acting, and dancing skills. MTI has also started to see its alumni from both the Surrey and Vancouver programs utilizing these skills and branching out into the theatre community at-large. Arts Club’s Education Coordinator, Kevan Ellis had the pleasure of sitting down with one of these MTI alumni students, Courtney Shields to talk about her journey from aspiring student to a career in theatre: including her upcoming work with the Arts Club!
Students of the 2014/2015 Musical Theatre Intensive. Photo by Mark Halliday
Q – How were you first involved with the Arts Club?
In 2004, I was 16 and I applied to MTI.
Q – How was that experience for you?
It was fantastic. The program was still young then. I just met Peter at an audition and he was like, “you should do this thing.” And I didn’t know what it was, I had never heard about it. So, on a whim, it was like this chance thing and I ended up doing it. Literally it changed my life. It really set me on a different path. I’m really grateful that I did it.
Q – How did it change things for you?
Well, at the time musical theatre was my favourite thing that I was doing recreationally, but it was just a hobby. I never had even conceptualized the idea that it you could do this as your career. You can make a life in the theatre and support yourself. I thought, “No, people can’t really do that.” Peter Jorgensen (MTI Program Director) really taught us at a young age that if you are dedicated and you really apply yourself and seek out different kinds of opportunities, and make yourself really versatile, there are lots of different kinds of work you can do in theatre. You don’t just have to be an actor, as it’s hard to support yourself just as a performer, but if you find other ways to stay involved, you can make it your whole life.
Q – How did the MTI experience help you with your career?
I did the Musical Theatre Intensive three times and I was getting a little bit older and closer to graduation each time I did it. At the time when I started I was just 15, I was like “it’s just this fun thing that I do.” The next year Peter started asking me “What theatre schools are you applying to,” and I was like “Haha, Theatre Schools. I’m going to be a lawyer”. And Peter said, “OK. Just let me know when you want a reference letter.” He didn’t even say, “IF.” It was more, “WHEN you want a reference letter, you let me know.” And then, as graduation got closer I was feeling waffley about what I wanted to do and where I was going to go. I was studying musical theatre at a dance theatre at the time as well, and my voice teacher taught at Capilano and asked me if I had thought of applying there. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I talked to Peter about it and he said, “I think you should do it… And here’s your letter.”
That convinced me to audition for the musical theatre at Capilano University. I don’t think I would have been accepted had I not already had that next level of preparation that the Intensive gives you. MTI did mock auditions and they teach us how well-rounded you have to be in all three areas of dancing, acting, and singing and how to combine all those things to tell a story. So I think I wouldn’t have felt ready to audition had I not done MTI. At the time there was not a whole lot of training like that out there for teenagers and I don’t think is now, other than the Intensive. For young people wanting to take that next level, you can do high-school dramas or there are young programs that you can do for fun. But when you’re hungry for something more I think that’s when the Intensive can take you to that next level.
Q – What is your current involvement with the Arts Club?
I’m currently assisting Peter Jorgensen, who is directing the upcoming Arts Club production of Rock of Ages.
Q – How did your involvement with Rock of Ages start?
Peter asked me!! It was kind of fun. He sent me an email when they were about to go into the first round of call-backs and he wanted to do a dance call. Peter is also choreographing the show because he is a really well-rounded guy. He can do it all! He wanted someone who is female to demo the choreography because he thought it would make more sense on the female form. There is a big strip number in the show where there are pole dancers and he was looking for someone to assist with call-backs. He asked, “Would you be interested?” and I said “Of course! It sounds like a blast.” We worked on the choreography together a little bit and I was just coming to do the dance call and I thought it would be fun to be on the other side of the table for a change. As we got further along with the process it eventually became clear that I was going to get to stay onboard for the whole show!
Q – So what’s it like working with Peter as a colleague rather than as an instructor?
Peter has got such a great vision so it doesn’t matter in what capacity that you interact with him. It doesn’t change whether you’re his student or you are working with him and he’s directing you or now to be working on his team, it’s kind of the same. My responsibilities have changed but he has been very consistent in that he has such a great vision, he’s really excited and he just wants to get everyone involved.
Q – What else are you doing right now?
Since doing the program at Capilano, I also decided that I wanted a university education to go with my acting training, so I did the acting program at UBC and used that to get my undergrad so that I could apply for the education program. I got my teaching degree and I’m now working as a teacher-on-call in the Vancouver School District. Mostly teaching drama!
Q – What advice would you give people considering applying for MTI?
If you’re looking for similar-minded artists your age; people who are just as passionate as you are and really incredible instructors who are going to give you the summer of your life, and you want to have a serious professional experience at a young age, then this is the program for you. My advice for you would be: jump in and absorb everything that you can!
The deadline to apply to the Musical Theatre Intensive is April 15!
For application information, visit our website at artsclub.com/participate/musical-theatre-intensive.