Suriya Lachance was just eight years old when she first started coming to Ottawa School of Theatre.
“I first got involved when we moved back to Canada from Barbados,” Suriya says. “[The school] really helped me feel more at home, because I didn’t know anybody when we moved. It gave me a second family — people that I knew, and I could be myself around.”
Since then, Suriya has been an important part of our community, bringing her full heart to classes, and performing in shows like the Wizard of Oz.
“[Being at OST] makes me realize how important theatre is, and how happy you can be to just be around people that you know and that you feel comfortable around,” Suriya says. “I don’t think I would have been as happy if I didn’t have that in my life.”
Suriya’s story shows us that theatre can impact our lives in so many different ways. It’s an art that’s for everyone, no matter your age — and that’s why, at OST, we have our All Ages Plays, and offer classes to students from the ages of 5 to 85. Often, that means full families take part in plays, putting on performances of shows like Peter Pan and The Wind in the Willows.
Megan Piercey Monafu, OST Artistic Director, explains that in these performances, youth and adults are given an equal opportunity to shine.
“It’s not that the children have the little, no-risk, cutesy roles, and all the adults have the good roles,” Megan says. “Kathi [Langston] always finds ways for really talented and eager kids to have nice, juicy roles, and to be right alongside young adults and older adults, working together.” It’s a tradition Megan intends to keep.
Kathi, OST’s former Artistic Director, first started working with OST in 2002. Back then, classes were only offered to students aged eight to 16 — but Kathi was on a mission to change that. When parents brought their children to classes, Kathi and her team would try to convince them to sign up, too.
“‘Your children got their talent from somewhere. You’re their parents, why don’t you try?’,” Kathi recalls telling them. “I kind of bent their arms a little bit, and then their kids would help by making them do it. I love those memories.”
With her students by her side, Kathi was a force to be reckoned with — and bit by bit, parents began attending classes with their kids.
“They realized just how valuable [it was], [and] what it was that they were actually giving to their children,” Kathi says. “I think that might be how the word spread [about the All Ages Plays].”
Biz MacDonald was one of the many folks that Kathi personally roped into the OST community. Today, Biz is OST’s Costumer Designer, creating an amazing wardrobe for shows like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Jungle Book — but 12 years ago, she was “just a parent”, bringing her children to classes.
It all started with Biz tidying up bins of costumes to “kill time” while waiting for her kids, she says. “Then we get to the point where, ‘oh, gosh, that’s got a broken zipper, this needs a new button, this seam needs a repair’ — so I started taking things home,” Biz says. “I just kind of fell into it.”
Now, Biz is an essential part of the community; for OST’s performance of Mary Poppins, she transformed items like curtains and tablecloths from Value Village into costumes for 103 cast members.
It’s a job that takes countless hours, Biz says — but to her, the pay-off is worth it. “These little kids come up and they give you a hug and say ‘I love my costume’,” she says. “I feel like I have all these little grandchildren. We all really just love doing it for the kids.”
As well as being a maker extraordinaire, Biz acts in our plays, too. In 2014, she played the busybody Rachel Lynde in Anne of Green Gables: Biz’s favourite childhood book growing up.
“It raised my confidence level immensely, and in other aspects of my life as well,” Biz says of the experience.
She adds that, as a kid, she was never very athletic, but being involved with OST gave her an insight into what being on a sports team feels like. “The whole team works together to [create] a production, and every member of that team is important,” Biz says. “It truly gives one a sense of belonging and a way to see how important working together as a team is.”
It didn’t take long for OST to become a full family affair in the MacDonald household: in 2010, Biz’s husband Barry joined the board, where he is currently the president.
“You feel so welcomed when you’re there,” Biz says. “Honestly, when I say it feels like family, I really mean it.”
Our All Ages Plays are offered twice a year, in the fall and the spring, with 100-200 students taking part annually.
“It’s a really unique experience,” Megan says. “It puts people of different ages in meaningful contact with each other.”
The effect of this is something that Biz has seen first-hand, again and again. “Some kids might start out at the first rehearsal, and they’re like deer in headlights,” she says. “You can tell they’re terrified, [but] by the end of the rehearsal process, they’re running around. It’s a confidence booster to everybody who participates, and personal growth on all kinds of levels. It’s just a great place to be.”