“If you can get talented youth together and say ‘this is what you have to do,’ what they come up with is amazing.”
So says Wendy Bollard, artistic director of Peninsula Productions, speaking about the theatre and concert company’s latest venture, NextGen.
The four members of the company – Kirsten Kwong, Anthony Goncharov, Mackenzie Claus and Connor Briggs – are all keen and dynamic performers in the 15 to 20 age range.
And they’ve been proving their mettle this summer in bringing live theatre to a number of events around the Peninsula, including historical character reenactments on White Rock’s waterfront.
The group will be showcased Aug. 19 at 8 p.m. at Coast Capital Playhouse (1532 Johnston Rd.) in NextGen Cabaret, an evening of different theatre and musical theatre acts also featuring guest youth performers including singers Ava Carich (Roadhouse Live 2016 winner) and Mireille Perez.
“There’ll be improv, a scene from an Oscar Wilde play, a tap number, singer-songwriters – it’s an evening to celebrate young people being creative,” Bollard said, noting that the evening is being directed by Julia Siedlanowska, the young actress who appeared as the title character in Peninsula’s production of Mary’s Wedding in 2014.
“I wanted there to be a youth director,” she said, adding that NextGen is a project that she has long wanted to bring to fruition.
“For a long time, I was wondering why anyone hadn’t used the Canada Summer Jobs Program to provide an opportunity for young actors,” she said.
“We had two students last year who weren’t acting, and I thought what if we could give them a chance to act in the community and then have a big showcase they can create themselves – wouldn’t that be a fantastic thing to do?”
Seeing the project come together has been an upbeat way for Bollard to return to Peninsula Productions after almost a year abroad, she said.
That included an eight-month sojourn in London while she studied directing in the East 15 degree program established by famed theatre director Joan Littlewood at the University of Essex.
She’s come back reinvigorated and ready to launch into a raft of projects – among them a series of staged readings, including the classic Medea; and staging Sea of Stories, a new play commissioned for White Rock’s celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.
She’ll also be producing and directing Belfast Girls, a recent play by Irish playwright Jaki McCarrick about young women shipped from Ireland to Australia during the famine of the 1850s, which she discovered, and fell in love with, in London.
“It was an amazing learning experience,” Bollard said of her time in England.
“If somebody had said make a wish-list of the things you could do, I couldn’t have come up with everything that happened.”
That included being asked to do several shows at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and work on devising a new theatre piece for a professional company – Improbable Theatre – considered one of the most creative forces in theatre in Britain today.
And seeing some 40 different shows in London – not all of which she liked, or agreed with the choices taken – was also a liberating experience, she said.
“When you’re in a country that takes an art-form from somewhere else, you tend to put it on a pedestal. But over there, there were all these people trying things and making mistakes and not caring.
“The feedback I got from the people at RADA on my work was always positive. It instilled in me more confidence as a director, encouraged me to go bigger and bolder and not second-guess myself as an artist.”
That has already come into play in supervising one of NextGen’s historic re-enactment scenes, she said.
Her young actors – charged with researching recreating the townhall meeting at which White Rock pioneer H.T. Thrift agreed to lease land for the building of the community’s first school house – threw her a curve-ball, she chuckled.
“They said ‘we’re all tap dancers – we want to tap in the scene,'” she said.
“This takes place in the 1800s and I’m pretty sure the Thrifts didn’t know how to tap dance. The old Wendy would have said ‘I like the idea but it doesn’t fit.’ The new Wendy said ‘OK – let’s see if we can make it work!'”
Tickets for NextGen Cabaret ($15) are available from the Coast Capital box office at 604-536-7535.