Ryerson on the big stage

Oliver Daniel as Melchior in Ghost Light Players’ production of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening at the University of Toronto’s George Ignatieff theatre on Feb. 8. Photo by Trevor Hewitt.

Even in her first year at Ryerson, Andrea Pestana could tell something was missing.

Opportunity.

The third-year School of Performance student says that, while she enjoys her program, it became clear from the get-go that there was too much talent and not enough roles to go around.

So what’s an aspiring director to do? Create her own performance company, of course.

“One day we were just like sitting there, you know, talking about different things that we wanted to do. We had recently put on a show with another group, and we thought to ourselves, ‘that was good but it could have been better, we can do better.’”

And so Ghost Light Players, a Ryerson-based performance company, was born. Created by Pestana as well as classmates Emilie Trimbee and Scott Phyper, the group was made to offer opportunities to students interested in theatre – ones who might not be getting them otherwise.

“Community theatre sometimes has a bit of a bad rap for being like not very good, like the acting’s subpar, the sets are just like painted cardboard trees or something like that, but really it can and should be much more,” Pestana says. “I think theatre and the arts … that’s what really feeds the soul of the community, not just the individuals who participate in it but like the actual space, the community.”

Fast forward two and a half years later and Ghost Light Players has just finished its first production, Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening. Pestana says that, in keeping with their mandate, the performance was very much a multi-program effort. “It was really important for us to make sure that this wasn’t just another project for the theatre students,” she says.

The group has students from many different programs outside of the performing arts, including the business and engineering programs.

But, after finding a cast and crew by last October, the company was faced with another challenge – finding a theatre to perform in.

“There’s no way we’d be able to do it here on campus,” says Pestana. “There just aren’t the resources. The theatre school itself doesn’t even have enough studios to rehearse their shows as well as they would like sometimes.”

According to Daniella Altobelli, the public relations manager at the Ryerson Communication and Design Society (RCDS), this is a common complaint, and not just from theatre students.

“It has come up at different events and, I mean, it’s not only theatre spaces we’re lacking. I noticed that journalism students are lacking spaces, RTA students are lacking spaces, everybody’s sort of lacking space,” Altobelli says.

Enter the University of Toronto’s George Ignatieff Theatre, an intimate, 178-seat offering with a slight stage thrust. Exactly what Pestana was looking for. “If I had all the money in the world, I wouldn’t do it at the Princess of Wales because you need to be close,” she says. “It’s about the characters and how they develop and interact.”

Putting together the production did not come without challenges. When she first pitched the idea to the RCDS, which funds the group in part, they were worried about the mature subject matter of the play. Spring Awakening deals with topics like self-harm, mental illness and rape.

“When we were first getting approval to get this play they told us, ‘you can’t do it, pick something else, or else we won’t fund you,’” Pestana explains. “So my response was, ‘yes, they’re difficult themes, but all the more reason to talk about it and all the more reason to treat (them) as respectfully as possible.”

The number of students from different programs also made getting everyone together in a room very hard. Rehearsals began in October, but Pestana says that, before moving into the theatre, the group had only two rehearsals where the entire cast was present. “But (then) we had our dress (rehearsal) last night and it all just finally came together after two and a half years. It was crazy.”

What’s next for Ghost Light Players? Pestana says she’d like to explore collaborating with some other Ryerson-centric theatre groups, like the Ryerson Musical Theatre Company and the school’s community theatre group.

“I’d really like to do some more crossover work with them, like almost do like a Mirvish thing and sell like a subscription, pay this much up front and you get a ticket for all these shows,” she says. “I think it’s much more beneficial for us to be working together and to help each other grow than to think of ourselves as competition, which I don’t particularly see ourselves as because we offer such different experiences.”

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