Experiences of alumni from the Trinity Western University’s soon defunct theatre department serve as the backbone for a play currently showing at the Langley campus.
In June of 2021, TWU announced that its theatre department will be closing. This year’s students will be the last to receive BA and BFA degrees in theatre from the school, with the program’s last class graduating in 2024, explained Angela Konrad, a long-time faculty member and co-chair of theatre program.
“Alumni were devastated to learn of the department closing, as many see this place as home,” Konrad said.
“But the nature of artists is to make beauty from pain and to find meaning in suffering. Sharing memories of a formative time in their lives provides alumni healing, gives current students an opportunity to meet their older ‘siblings’, and offers us all a chance to celebrate the rich history of theatre at TWU,” she elaborated.
In response, and following decades of faithful, creative, and inspirational productions, theatre alumni sent in stories of their time in the department.
“These inspirations were used by current students to create a funny, insightful, and moving celebration of the legacy of Theatre at TWU,” Konrad said, noting the curtain went up Tuesday on AWAKE.
The show unfolds like a live scrapbook of memories, encompassing letters, scenes, poems, songs, dances, and verbatim testimony that honour the impact the department has had on decades of students, the instructor explained.
Students in the cast have collaboratively created the show, presenting snapshots of past productions and glimpses behind the scenes that reveal the thoughts and journeys of alumni from the department.
Woven together, these stories craft – what Konrad called – a compelling narrative of awakening and transformation.
“Hearing from people who were part of this program before I came here – in some cases, before I was born – has been an incredible experience,” said Coquitlam resident and fourth-year theatre student, Madison Willoughby.
“I am so grateful to get this opportunity to use my training in a way that salutes our alumni and commemorates the department that I love so much.”
All the designers for AWAKE are alumni of TWU theatre, including production designers Uliana Akulenko and Shelby Wyminga; lighting designer Lora-Lynne Frewing; and graphic designer, Jordan Ravensbergen.
Sound design and composition is provided by current student (and future alumna) Lani-Mari Carbonel.
The eight students in the cast are all theatre majors: Jennifer Mamchur, Valerie Mihelic, Sacha Mugisha, Berke Mutaf, Braedon Grover Sunnes, Madison Willoughby, Tahlia Wine, and Annie Zander.
Stage managers Hannah Gallandt and Sarah Grace Wiedenheft are also theatre majors, and assistant stage manager Jenna Shaffrick is a theatre minor.
Many other theatre students are also involved in this production, Konrad explained.
“We welcome TWU students and alumni, as well as people from across the community, to laugh and cry with us as we share what this department has meant to so many.”
Cast member and second year acting student Tahlia Wine came to TWU to learn theatre, because she desired to make a difference in people’s lives through acting.
“I feel that the heart and meaning of AWAKE is to show people how much of a difference theatre can make in people’s lives. It explores stories of alumni and how the theatre program at TWU has shaped their lives and helped them become who they are today. It’s quite beautiful, and it also shows that although we are being shut down at Trinity, the people who have gone here will still continue to make a difference in people’s lives—we will live on,” said Wine.
She has dreams to become an onscreen actress someday and Wine believes that AWAKE will be well-received by audiences.
“I hope they learn that a theatre education, especially in a Christian environment, can change people’s lives and help them become who they are meant to be, help them understand others while also being able to be their true selves. I also hope that audiences leave feeling hopeful about what theatre and the arts in general has in store for the future.”
Wine said that what makes AWAKE especially meaningful to her is the unique experiences and messages that each of the alumni stories tell.
“One common theme among almost all of them is the sense of community and how much theatre brings people together. I think it shows the value of community and how important it is for us to be ourselves, and know ourselves, in order to connect with ourselves and with others.” she said.
First-year theatre student Sarah Grace Wiedenheft is stage manager and “keeper of the story.”
Her role was to help craft the narrative by taking ideas and thoughts from alumni submissions, and drawing significant connections.
“It’s interesting to hear stories of alumni read aloud by current students, and seeing how the actors understand it,” she said. Wiedenheft observed reoccurring themes of love, home, and belonging.
This production of AWAKE runs Tuesdays through Saturdays, until Dec. 4, at 7:30 p.m. nightly, plus a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturdays.
Tickets and more info at www.twu.ca/theatre.
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