When Elyse Gauthier was a little kid, her parents put her in ballet classes. She remembers being up on stage, having the time of her life.
“I was waving at the audience,” she says, laughing. “I was smiling and having a great time, but I didn’t get any of the dance moves.”
Elyse’s parents realized that maybe theatre was a better fit, and enrolled her at OST. At just six or seven years old, Elyse was taking three classes a year, on top of summer camps and performing in the All Ages shows. “I was really, deeply ingrained in the OST community,” she says.
At OST, our classes are led by 30 incredible teachers who each bring a wide range of expertise to the role. Today, at 23 years old, Elyse is one of those teachers, as well as being an Education Coordinator at the National Art Centre’s French Theatre. “It’s crazy to think how many years I’ve been at OST,” she says. “The majority of my life has been spent as part of the community, so it’s definitely very important to me.”
Throughout her work, Elyse sees first-hand just how much theatre can impact lives, whether you’re a teacher or a student.
“Theatre creates a unique environment in which students have to work together in a creative way,” she says. “In a lot of other disciplines — like learning an instrument or sports — there isn’t really a lot of space to do those two things at once. Either you’re working as a team or you’re doing something artistic. [Doing both at the same time] is a skill that is useful no matter what work you end up doing.”
As a teacher, there’s nothing more rewarding than working with students who might need a little bit of extra support, Elyse says.
“Oftentimes, it’s not the student who is perfect from the start that ends up being our favorite student or the most memorable,” she says. “I’ve had students who came in and wouldn’t speak for the first couple of weeks because they were so shy.”
By giving those students the space to learn new skills, “eventually you see them blossom. They learn to have more patience or to express themselves more easily, to be silly in front of other people,” Elyse says.
That’s what OST did for Max Frederick who, at the age of 11, began attending OST’s summer camps. “I’ve learned so many skills from OST. I used to hate going up in front of my class and talking. Now it’s one of my favorite things to force people to listen to me for 20 minutes,” Max jokes.
Today, Max is in high school. Even now, some of his closest friends are people he met through OST’s All Ages shows. “Through the classes, I was able to learn how to connect with new people,” he says. “I made new friends who I might not see every day, but every time I see them now, there’s still a really strong connection.”
On top of supporting OST as an office administrator, Max is one of our class volunteers. As a teacher, he cherishes the bond he’s made with his young students; for example, when students draw Max pictures, he keeps them all, pinning them up on a wall in his room.
“I like to have those in my back pocket, just to be able to remember how I was able to connect with these students,” he says.
There’s a story behind each drawing — even ones that are ‘just scribbles’. “The reason I do drama as my creative outlet is that I have no skills with drawing,” Max laughs. During one class, “[the students] asked me to draw something, so I just started drawing a bunch of lines, and told them it was abstract,” he says.
One student was so inspired that they spent the next half an hour “drawing super elaborate scribbles and spirals,” Max says. “[They] gave it to me at the end of the class, and I’ve held on to that since then.”
Whether as a teacher or a student, Max has a lot of happy memories of OST. “My favourite part [of] being a student [was] just being able to go to rehearsals, hang out with people, collaborate with them every week, and put together something awesome by the end of the rehearsal period,” he says.
And Max’s advice to anyone considering joining the community? Just go for it. “I always like to try things at least once,” he says. “If you don’t like it, you don’t like it — but if you do like it, it can become this huge, lifelong passion. My job is my hobby right now, which is pretty awesome.”