It might be Megan Piercey Monafu’s first time as our Artistic Director — but it’s not her first time being a part of our community.
When Megan first moved to Ottawa in 2011, she began working at OST, teaching musical theatre. When interviewed by our former Artistic Director, Kathi Langston, Megan shared a play she’d recently written, called Mabel’s Last Performance.
The one-woman show featured a 60-year-old woman with early onset dementia, using her past as an actor to make sense of her life in a nursing home.
Kathi loved the story, and from 2012-2015 the two took the show on the road, with Kathi playing Mabel. In the end, it was performed at the Ottawa and Halifax Fringe Festivals, as well as at Memorial University of Newfoundland as a partnership presentation between the Theatre and Nursing Departments. In 2014 Kathi received the Atlantic Fringe Festival Award for Best Female Performance for her work on Mabel’s Last Performance.
“As a young person, I liked Kathi, and was sort of intimidated by her,” Megan recalls, laughing. “By going on tour together, I was able to see up close how she’s a very kind person. Her ferocity is her fighting for the people and the things that she loves, including the school.”
After two years of teaching, Megan left OST to go on other adventures: she moved to Toronto for her Masters in Fine Arts, and continued with her journey in theatre, working as a playwright and director, artist-in-residence, and facilitator.
By 2022, Megan came back to OST — but this time, she would lead the school, with Kathi stepping down as Artistic Director after 20 years.
Kathi shares that, even as a child, she was always busy “doing stuff, doing stuff, doing stuff.” While she’ll keep teaching and acting, Kathi is excited to welcome this next chapter of her life with a little bit of quiet, she says.
Reflecting on her two decades with OST, Kathi shares that she’s “proudest of the team, the family spirit that’s been created over the years. There are no divas, there are no stars — everybody works together in a beautiful manner.”
Back in 2002, when Kathi first started working at the school, classes were taught in English only, with students being between the ages of eight and 16.
Seven years later, through Kathi’s advocacy, OST became a resident partner at the Shenkman Arts Centre. Through its new partnership, OST was able to offer classes in both English and French, set in professional theatre settings.
Today, the school puts on 50 annual performances with 600 students per year, ranging in age from 5 to 85.
“I didn’t do this by myself,” Kathi says. “There have been so many amazing, wonderful people involved right from the first get-go.”
Throughout its 30-year history, OST has led from the heart while offering excellence in theatre education. The result? A caring, connected community that holds space for each other.
“I really do think that love is a pretty big power and is so important in theatre,” Kathi says. “You need to have love, you need to be generous, or it isn’t going to work. The more love you have, the more generous you are, the better it works.”
It’s a philosophy that Megan wholeheartedly agrees with, and uses in her leadership. “Teaching young people well, and instilling a love of the arts is really important,” Megan says. “It does so much for them beyond teaching the art form.”
Megan explains that theatre teaches us that everybody is different, and that it’s ok to make mistakes — in fact, that’s how we learn. And while the idea of standing on stage in front of an expectant audience can seem nerve-wracking, there’s something for everybody at OST.
“Our teachers are so good at integrating people where they’re at, helping kids who are shy, not forcing anyone to do something they’re not comfortable with, and helping them move along in their own personal journey,” Megan says.
It’s a sentiment that Kathi lives by: “one of the best things that you can do for your kids, for yourself, is theatre, because it just teaches you such amazing life skills,” she says.
One of the biggest things that theatre teaches us is that we must be flexible, because there are no guarantees in life. “Never in any of the All Ages plays that I’ve taught have we ever, ever had all cast until opening night — ever,” Kathi says. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, so you have to be prepared for anything.”
OST celebrated Kathi’s retirement this summer, with 150 community members coming together for the first time since the pandemic. “It felt like a little get-together in my living room,” Kathi says. “It was so nice and so relaxed. Kids were laughing, there was lovely food, and a whole bunch of really fun presentations.”
One family wore T-shirts, each with a letter of Kathi’s name. Others performed songs and improv. “It was just so sweet,” Kathi says.
Looking to the future, Megan wants to keep building on OST’s foundations, continuing its legacy of deep, meaningful community connections.
“My first business is to really get to know the community that’s already there, and all the things that they love about the school, to help them all come back from the pandemic,” Megan says. “As that continues to strengthen, I would love to widen the circle.”