As the newest addition to the theatre department, instructor Rylan Allen brings his positive presence, energy, knowledge, and passion for theatre to Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts. He and Stephanie Hope Lawlor have created an exciting online Musical Theatre Ensemble program this term that integrates both collaborative and solo work – and allows students to explore their creative interests in a safe environment. We spoke to Rylan about his background and training, favourite performance moments, how teaching fuels and inspires him, and why theatre is important.
How did you get into arts and arts education?
My introduction to the arts happened in Grade 6 when I was in the high school’s production of Les Miserables. I then really became enveloped in theatre and the educational aspect of it when I started taking lessons with the Zamprogna family and Tom Oliver right here in Hamilton, and eventually became an Assistant Teacher for Lou Zamprogna’s Junior classes at Theatre Aquarius during my high school years.
You are a recent graduate of Sheridan’s prestigious Musical Theatre Performance program. Can you tell us about your experience there?
Spending 4 years in an intensive Musical Theatre Performance program can honestly be exhausting. 14 hour days on average, 6 days a week, and spending each day dancing, singing, moving, acting, playing, memorizing lines, writing music, while taking electives really
takes a toll on your mind and your body. It’s so tough because you eat, sleep, and breathe art, and sometimes it can become overwhelming. But what I’ve noticed from so many of my friends that went to Sheridan and other intensive theatre schools is that they still are in love with all of it. It’s just like that saying: “Find what you love and let it kill you.” The courses/assignments at Sheridan really take you out of your comfort zones, and you’re given the tools to do things you may have never imagined yourself doing, such as choreographing a new musical, performing a setlist of just pop songs at a theatre in Toronto, or teaching singing, all of which I can proudly say I have done.
Do you have a favourite moment from teaching or performing that you can share?
The final show I did at Sheridan was The House of Martin Guerre and the character I played was pretty short-tempered and he eventually pushes someone to the ground. My best friend in real life was the one who I pushed, and when she hits the stage floor, she would have to smack her hand hard on the floor at the exact same time to make the fall seem more painful. One show, after my friend had fallen, a woman in the front row gasped and said out loud, “Oh my gosh, are you okay!?” It’s such an intense moment on stage, but at that moment the two of us were trying so hard not to break character because we had never experienced something like that before.
What’s your top 3 musicals and why? And what are your dream roles?
My top 3 musicals would have to be 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee because it is hilarious, short, and has amazing character arcs. I love The Guy Who Didn’t Like Musicals, a parody musical on the classic film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and the 3rd one is honestly too hard to say, I have a lot of favourites. My dream roles however would be to play Jamie in the gender-bended version of Company, and Anthony in Sweeney Todd.
Musical Theatre Ensemble is running online this term. How are you and Stephanie making an online format dynamic and exciting for the students? What do you both have planned for this year?
Stephanie and I have been tackling these online lessons head on and so have the students. We are focusing on 5 songs that span across the history of Musical Theatre, and the students are learning choreography and harmony for these songs, and also having the chance to express themselves with solos given out throughout the songs. We then bring the students in one at a time on a fixed date and record their vocal line, and we then record them dancing, and then Stephanie edits it altogether into one fantastic video that the students can watch with their families!
What’s your favourite aspect of teaching?
My favourite aspect of teaching so far has been the positive reciprocation from the students in such a challenging time. Growing up, all of my theatre lessons have been in person and I’ve always been surrounded by friends in classes, so as a teacher, the idea of learning singing ONLINE just seemed otherworldly. Every so often, a student will speak up and voice how happy they are, and how they tell their friends about the classes, and how although they wish it was in person, they’re really glad that they have the online classes. It’s truly amazing that our students are still thrilled and embracing everything with nothing held back, and their positivity inspires me even more.
Why is theatre and theatre education important?
Without theatre our lives would be pretty boring. Theatre is beautiful and important because when we see theatre, it is a collective experience for EVERYONE in the room. At the movies, the screen separates you from the characters, and although we sit beside other live humans, chances are we probably get annoyed because they’re eating their popcorn too loudly or are a ‘Tommy Texter.’ But in theatre, the characters, the stage crew, the orchestra, the ushers, the audience… time essentially freezes for all of us and we get to enjoy the same space altogether. It’s honestly a rare occurrence the more you think about it. And the education of theatre is just as important. We need doctors, janitors, teachers, bus drivers, and cooks – but we also need entertainers. On social media, we all see these funny videos of people pretending to be someone else, or an exaggerated version of themselves and us as viewers all laugh and share it with our friends. Within each and every person who posts a funny video of themselves to social media is a potential theatre student. Someone who isn’t afraid to get silly and become someone else for a few moments. And I think to myself, if all of that is already there, why not tap into it? Not everybody needs to become an entertainer, just as not everybody needs to become a doctor. But it’s interesting that as a human race, we subconsciously express ourselves to others through the former.
If you are interested in our Theatre programming, please visit our department’s page, or contact us at info[at]hcarts.ca or 905-528-4020.