Louie Villanueva/the Gauntlet

Taking Flight student festival taking off

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As the school year draws to a close, the University of Calgary drama department’s Taking Flight: Festival of Student Work is taking off. Now entering its 10th year, the festival allows students the opportunity to control all aspects of creating a theatrical production — both on and off stage. The festival is open to all theatre students, ranging from first-year actors to fourth-year designers and although the faculty is there to provide support, the festival is student-run and operated.

This year’s festival features six productions from a variety of forms and genres, such as musicals, theatre for young audiences, staged readings by graduate-level playwrights, improvisation pieces and complete productions of one-act plays by some of the world’s most celebrated playwrights. The festival provides theatre students an opportunity to harness their creativity and put class-learned theories into action.

“Drama itself is such a physically, emotionally, spiritually and everything demanding [art form],” actor Bianca Miranda says, “so it has been a real challenge to be here until 10:00 p.m. every day, but at the end of the day, I think it’s really cool that we get to tell these stories.”

One of the stories, Song of Myself, is a play based on excerpts from the deathbed edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. With this edition containing over 400 poems, director and fourth-year drama student Britt van Groningen says adapting Whitman’s poetry for theatrical production has been difficult. Because there isn’t always a previous production to take inspiration from, van Groningen says preparing poetry for the stage is more difficult than reinterpreting previously produced plays. While this presents a challenge, it also allows for more experimentation.

“I think one of the main challenges, but also benefits, is the ability to take a lot of risk in the work,” van Groningen says. “Theatre to me is poetry of the senses. It’s taking poetry on text and realizing it visually and aurally, so it just made sense for me to want to take poems and realize them theatrically.”

The plays in the festival take inspiration from a variety of sources, styles and languages. The Beautiful Galatea is a German operetta by Franz von Suppé, translated and adapted by Barry Yzereef and features live piano performances by U of C alumni Kathleen van Mourik and former U of C music professor Charles Foreman.

Legoland, the prequel to the smash hit Ride The Cyclone, which was presented at the 2013 High Performance Rodeo, is a theme-park inspired dark comedy by playwright Jacob Richmond, directed by drama student Courtney Charnock.

The Family Facsimile is a work-in-progress written by playwriting student Ted Stenson about a man and a woman who decide to have a child together, but soon realize parenting is more work than they thought.

‘Art’ is an award-winning comedy by French playwright Yasmina Reza and is the first full-length English production that graduate student Fasyali Fadzly has directed.

The Intruder is a 19th-century play by Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck and is directed by Tim Sutherland.

In addition to showcasing student talent, the festival provides students with practical experience to use after they graduate.

Van Groninger says this hands-on approach makes the festival a valuable experience.

“I think that is what makes it such a rich experience, too. We have first years, second years and up until the end, so it’s just a great mixture and it’s a great time for first years to get involved,” van Groningen says. “There’s a sense of pride that as students we have come together and we have made this — with help from the faculty, of course — but that it’s something that we’ve taken charge of and it’s great working with the people we’re going to graduate and then be working with professionally.”

With so many different influences and styles coming together, the eclectic mix of productions speaks to the diversity of talent in the drama department.

“I think it’s important to check out all of the pieces,” van Groningen says. “There is such a mixture of time periods and styles. I think it’s a great overview of theatre in Calgary and in Canada. It’s very exciting to get a taste of everything.”

The Taking Flight: Festival of Student Work runs until April 5 in the Reeve Theatre. General admission is $8 and festival passes are available at the door for $17.