Airdrie has been introduced to an exciting new theatre experience this year.
Torchlight Theatre, the brainchild of artistic director Chelsea Restall, launched in June with SPARK, a summer camp for youths aged 15-18 (younger participants will be considered), as its first achievement. The program is aimed at young people who love dance, spoken word and/or theatre or those who would like to learn performance skills from industry professionals.
Torchlight Theatre calls Victory Church’s new 350-seat auditorium home. The theatre is not faith-based, says Restall (although she admits that she probably won’t choose plays with nudity or a lot of profanity). “Uplifting art comes from all walks of life, all cultures and all religions,” she says. “There is truth in art, whether it is written by a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist or a secular person.
“We’re just happy to have the church as a rehearsal hall and a performance place,” she adds.
Restall, who grew up in Airdrie and is currently creative arts director at Victory Church, acted in a church play with her grandfather when she was three. By age six she knew she wanted to be an actress. “I was watching a movie,” she recalls, “and I remember going, ‘Oh, I can do that!’ Ever since then, everything I’ve done has been toward acting and theatre.” She attended Rocky Mountain College, taking drama and fine arts, and continues to study in various workshops in Calgary. She acts, writes and directs. “I love acting – that’s my passion and that’s what I want to do with my whole life but in the industry you have to be a jack of all trades,” she says.
Her first film role was in a TV miniseries, Into the West, and in the past 10 years she has appeared in several independent short films. On stage, she has acted in The Hunt for Red Willie (Liffy Players) and recently played Mrs. Markham in Move Over, Mrs. Markham (Morpheus Threatre.) Her dream is to play Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing with a Shakespeare theatre company in Calgary. “That would be the cherry on top,” she says.
Even though getting work in the arts is extremely challenging, she adds, “I decided a long time ago that if I wanted a career in acting I was going to have to create my own career. I wanted to open up opportunities for other artists, as well.”
While Restall mourns the loss of programs at Mount Royal University and Rocky Mountain College due to funding cuts, she hopes to develop a strong mentorship program through SPARK and the Torchlight Theatre company. Young performers are welcome to audition for Torchlight’s feature productions.
Main stage productions will include classics as well as works from new Canadian artists. Restall hopes that one day Torchlight Theatre will perform five productions a year, including musical theatre and Shakespeare, and host camps for children and adults, but this first season will consist of SPARK and two feature plays, one in December and one in the spring.
For those interested in auditioning for the productions, the biggest thing is commitment, says the artistic director. “If you are going to come and be a part of the show you have to be committed,” Restall says, adding that carpenters, set designers, costumers, lighting and sound people, and stage managers are also needed, and she welcomes sponsors and inquiries from advertisers.
For this inaugural year, she simply wants to bring something unique and special to her community.
“I want people to be able to go to the theatre and escape and leave feeling lightened, encouraged and challenged in a positive way,” Restall says. “I always want the audience to leave feeling good.”