If you’ve ever met Stephanie Lawlor, you will be struck by her endless passion, fierce intelligence, positive energy, and infectious love of theatre. In addition to heading up our Theatre Department at Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts, she is the Artistic Director of Rook’s Theatre, a professional company that focuses on contemporary work in our city. We spoke to Stephanie about how she got her start in the field of acting, why studying acting is important, and what’s in store at HCA this year!
Can you share a bit about your background? Why did you choose to go into theatre as a career?
I grew up loving theatre, but I was also extremely shy. I saw a lot of theatre and definitely watched any movie musical I could get my hands on, but was terrified to try it myself. I love the idea of storytelling and becoming somebody else, and can’t even tell you how many times I performed my very own one-woman production of Annie in my living room as a kid. It wasn’t until my late teens that I started to explore theatre seriously, studying singing, acting and dancing pretty intensely. The first time I stepped on a stage, I knew that it was home for me. I can still remember the moment! After that, I knew there was no chance of me doing anything else.
A career in the theatre isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly a calling. Choosing it meant following my heart and trusting my instincts (which, incidentally, are skills I learned by studying theatre).
What’s the most rewarding part about teaching acting?
I love teaching acting because it keeps me sharp – working with my students teaches me so much. It’s something I never expected when I started teaching over 10 years ago, but I have so many memories of students facing their fears, or having a really terrific lightbulb moment (or a “popcorn moment,” as a student once coined) and it’s great fuel for me when I’m feeling bogged down.
My younger students often remind me that theatre should be fun and exploratory – that we need to be imaginative and have a sense of humour to be actors. Theatre is play! It’s joyous and silly and exciting. It’s easy to forget those things when you’re stressing out about memorizing sides for an audition or nailing a tough harmony part in a song.
Working with teens and adults is so fulfilling because they’re in studio to learn. They’re so open-hearted and willing to challenge themselves. To see that is incredibly inspirational. Whether they are seasoned pros who are sharpening their skills or they’re exploring theatre for the very first time and nervous about the silly things I’ll encourage them to do, they show up on their own accord because they’re committed to it.
I always encourage my students to keep a notebook of thoughts and inspiration to turn to when they forget their “why,” and when I share mine with them it’s often thoughts or student quotes scribbled down after classes that I teach.
Can you share some stories about student growth that you’ve witnessed at HCA?
The idea of the ensemble or company is very important in my classes – it’s all about building a team and working together to create something special. My favourite part of the year is watching the students come into the studio as strangers, and go through struggles and successes as they become a company of actors. When the students perform their final shows in June it’s not just a showcase of their acting skills, but it’s really a testament to the skills they’ve gained through studying the arts and how they’ve learned to come together as an ensemble. Studying theatre teaches you invaluable life skills, from physical awareness and vocal confidence, to compassion, creative thinking and problem-solving (if you ever want to hear me bang on about why everyone should study theatre, you can stop me in the halls at HCA – but I hope you have some time on your hands).
Teaching at HCA is so special because students are completely immersed in the arts. I love hearing the sound bleed from a dance class, or a student belting out an Adele song or practicing violin next door, or walking through the gallery on the first floor. Creative inspiration can come from all of these places, and we’re so lucky at HCA to be able to draw on all of these elements in what we do!
The HCA Theatre Department is expanding! What are some of the changes this year?
Our musical theatre programming is remaining the same (save for a few tiny schedule changes), but it continues to develop every year. Last year, Novice Triple Threat joined HCA’s Musical Theatre Ensemble for their final spring showcase, and it was an epic show! Watching both groups collaborate was fantastic.
I can’t wait to meet this year’s students and to see the creativity, fun and excitement that the 2018-19 school year has in store!
Registration is NOW OPEN for all HCA theatre classes. Call 905-528-4020 for details.