By Stephanie Davoli
This month, Ryerson Musical Theatre Company (RMTC) is hosting a series of digital performance workshops that will provide students with opportunities to sharpen their entertainment skills from home.
Each week over Zoom, RMTC will offer a variety of workshops focusing on different aspects of theatre, from acting, dancing and singing to stage management and makeup.
RMTC, which was founded in 2014 by former Ryerson student Robyn Hoja, is an entirely student-run theatre company that aims to put on a different musical with school-wide talent every year. Due to the pandemic, the company hasn’t been able to do so, but the challenging circumstances of this past year haven’t discouraged RMTC from reconnecting with students.
“We really wanted to provide something to our community,” said Nathan Gregory, the president of the company. “By providing these workshops, our goal was to re-engage with everyone who’s been with RMTC in the past but also to introduce a new audience to our company.”
Since September, members of RMTC’s creative and executive teams have been hard at work discussing the possibility of creating the series. At the beginning of this year’s winter semester, the company began solidifying the schedule and designing plans for original workshops that would be exciting for students. Workshops will be hosted by various members of the company and will consist of a combination of discussions and interactive activities including dance, acting, music and production.
“At least with these workshops, we’ll all be performing together, although being separated in our own homes”
In early February, the company was pleasantly surprised to see that they had almost 40 responses after sharing a survey with members of the Ryerson community through social media to help gauge interest for potential RMTC events this year. 76 per cent of those respondents were people who had never been a part of RMTC in the past.
“That was one of those ‘happy accidents,’” said Gregory. “We originally just wanted the community to get together, but it seems like we’ll be making the community bigger which is very exciting.”
The team was excited to meet new people eager to participate in theatre from their home with them. Annasofie Jakobsen, RMTC’s director of marketing, said that while joining a Zoom call with strangers is intimidating, especially when doing something vulnerable like singing and dancing, she’s hopeful that the workshops will engage newcomers.
“I hope that these workshops can be a stepping stone for people who want to get involved with the company for the first time but are maybe nervous or unsure about how,” she said.
Gabby Noga, the company’s director of choreography, will be leading four workshops that she said will have participants “dancing through the ages” with her original choreography. Each of Noga’s workshops will highlight influential dance styles from different eras of musical theatre and pop culture.
Noga explains that there will be something for everyone, from classical Golden-Aged dancing to songs from the musical Crazy for You, to more contemporary and street-style choreography from High School Musical Two’s “Bet On It.”
“You don’t need to be experienced in any of these styles to join the workshops,” said Noga. “There’s really going to be something for everyone at every skill level.”
Haylee Thompson, RMTC’s director of acting, will lead participants in an audition workshop, where she will share her tips and advice on how to navigate the often anxiety-inducing audition process.
“Auditioning always stresses me out so it’s something that I’m really looking forward to hosting,” said Thompson.
She also hopes that this will be a chance to meet new members of Ryerson’s theatre community and connect online. “I think it’ll be a cool way to see some of the talent we missed out on this year and to help them get a perspective on their material that only theatre people can give them.”
Last week, Gregory led a workshop on stage management for people interested in the behind-the-scenes aspect of performance. He said it was an “open-forum discussion” where everyone had the chance to share their experiences and questions. Gregory also brought in some of his past coworkers from previous productions he’s worked on to provide perspective on the intricacies of stage management.
“Everyone sees the actors on stage, they hear them sing and act, but you don’t usually get to see all the work that goes on backstage,” said Gregory. “Personally, I think that all that behind the scenes stuff is so important to understand how [people] get from those first design ideas to the show you end up seeing on stage.”
RMTC ultimately hopes that these workshops will help all theatre-lovers find an outlet for performance and a way to practice their craft among others—something that many have been missing this past year.
“People were pushed into a corner and we’ve found a way to adapt”
While Noga has remained committed to dancing as much as she can at home, the past year has been challenging for her as performance has always been a huge part of her life.
“It’s been difficult mentally. If I’m away from performing for too long, I just become sad,” she said. “At least with these workshops, we’ll all be performing together, although being separated in our own homes.”
These workshops are also much needed for many other RMTC members as the final two performances of their rendition of Big Fish, RMTC’s 2020 musical, were cancelled last March due to COVID-19.
Although the company still had the opportunity to perform two out of the four originally scheduled shows, many cast and crew members remember feeling disappointed and “heartbroken” during their final performance.
Thompson, who played Josephine in Big Fish, recalls how fast everything changed between the Thursday night show and the morning of their second performance on Friday. Company members view these online workshops as the bright side of all the closures that the pandemic has brought on.
“People were pushed into a corner and we’ve found a way to adapt,” said Thompson on the creation of the workshop series. “I think that’s what’s really cool about it, we’ve all pushed ourselves to see what we could do.”
Those interested can sign up for and find a complete list of workshops available here.