So this is the last post I ever wanted to write.
It was barely a week ago that I posted a brief summary of my joyous first semester at the Ottawa Theatre School, an acting conservatory program whose work I’ve followed with admiration for years now and that, at age 42, I decided to audition for and enroll in myself. It was a serious starting over point for me, maybe the most exciting and joyous point in my life. I learned so much in that all-too-short semester, and could not wait to get back to my teachers and classmates at the studios on Picton ave for the second part of my inaugural year.
But it wasn’t to be.
This week I, and the rest of the students at the OTS learned that, due to an increasingly bad financial situation which had become insurmountable, the Ottawa Theatre School Conservatory Program was forced to cease operations after a decade (although the Ottawa School of Speech and Drama, and its recreational and evening classes IS still going, it must be stressed). The announcement came on what should have been our first week of classes of the second semester…it was clear that Natalie Hanson and Bruce Bissonnette, the program’s administrators, had been fighting to the last moment possible to keep the school alive. That their efforts were ultimately in vain is a serious blow to the Ottawa Theatre community, and a devastating gutpunch to those of us who called its halls and studios home. The best time of my life had somehow led me to one of the worst.
But maybe I’m too close to this…maybe I’m confusing the ragged fucking hole that’s been left in my heart at this loss with a perceived hole in the Ottawa Theatre community. Maybe. But I really don’t think so. Ottawa has still some stellar Theatre programs thank goodness, most notably at Ottawa U and Algonquin, but nobody focused on acting in such a specialized and physical manner as the OTS, and nobody but nobody was working so intensively on performance creation, something that to my mind is an increasingly vital tool in any actor’s toolkit in today’s artistic landscape. It was quite simply a unique and progressive conservatory program, and its loss is one that is going to be felt, and felt hard, down the line. This school didn’t just turn out great actors…it turned out Creators.
And yes, I know there are several major financial issues still stemming from the OTS closure, and multiple parties affected..hell, I’m one of them. But this post isn’t about that. It’s not an expose, or hard hitting journalism in any sense.
This is me, saying Goodbye.
My sense of personal loss at this announcement is…hard to express. I’ve shed more tears in the last 48 hours than I have in the previous ten years. When I think of the hours logged, lessons learned, the sweat earned, and the new family I made there, its almost too much to bear now that it’s gone. When I think of what could have, SHOULD have been yet to come…ouch. To my beloved classmates…Alex, Ashley, Ben, Dania, Julia, Kathryn and Laura (three of whom travelled from the maritimes just to be part of this amazing program, that’s how hardcore we are)…I’m so sorry I won’t get to continue growing and learning with all of you. I guess we didn’t manage to be the class of 2016 after all, but you’ll all be in my heart forever. I’ve been a bit of a loner all my life, never really fitting in…the handle ‘Visitor’ seemed way too apropos at times. But with you guys I felt, for one shining moment in my life, like I was where I belonged. Like the visit was over. I will hold on to each precious memory of our time together like my life depends on it. Thank you for making me part of your family. We were amazing together. And we would have been a FANTASTIC 3rd year class. 🙂
And for all the second and third year gangsters who blew me away with work I was chomping at the bit to learn all about…God damn, thank you for being so inspiring. Your incredible end-of-semester masques were something to see, and rising to the challenge of how high you collectively raised the bar was a fight I was really looking forward to. I’m so sorry that three of the planned productions will now not see the light of day…but at least the amazing SYLVIA made it to the stage. If you missed this show folks, then…wow, you fucked up. If anyone from the Gladstone or GCTC is reading this, you could do a lot worse than to consider programming it into your next season. I’m dead serious.
To the amazing instructors who taught me so much along this path, and who helped me become more than I thought I could be…I am so grateful. I found funny, angry and sad inside me that I never knew I had…I sang and danced and bent in ways I honestly didn’t think I was capable of. You helped me overcome limitations, discover hidden talents (and hidden flaws!) and open doors to me that are going to change the way my life proceeds from here on out. An extra special and heartfelt thanks to the ones who stuck it out to the end, difficulties and all. It mattered, I promise. And I thank you for everything.
And to the staff…Debbie, I will dearly miss seeing your smiling face behind the front desk every week. Hell, I’ll even miss co-op kid whose name I always forget. Natalie, thank you for fighting so hard for us, every day. We noticed, and we thank you. Bruce and Andy…please know that you helped make me a better person, as well as a much better actor. I kinda love you for that, and I always will. Please be well, and take care…you’ve all earned a rest. We owe you a huge debt of thanks, and that’s the truth. Your work at the OTS, and the school itself, won’t soon be forgotten. Promise.
There’s so much more, and I could go on for days and days, but let’s face it…I’m just postponing the inevitable. Thank you Ottawa Theatre School…for the great days I spent following your grad classes and their awesome shows (UNDER MILK WOOD, GLITCH, THE SUICIDE, WE WANT LIFE, FARM SHOW, and THE EUMENIDES to name just a precious few) and the amazing students, actors and creators who came out your doors, year after wonderful year. I call many of them friend today, and I couldn’t be prouder. Thank you for letting me in to share in the magic, even for so short a time. I spent precious little time as an active part of this program, but I learned a helluva lot. Even in the painful days following its closure, I’ve learned things…like it isn’t so bad to be filled with sadness, if that sadness is born of love. I won’t lie, I’d wanted so, so much more from this school I love so much…but sometimes the gifts the Gods give us are tricky beggars. And if the launchpad to the rest of my life is shorter than I’d hoped, then I suppose I’ll just have to jump a little higher now that I’ve reached the end.
Thank you, OTS…I’ll do you proud. I won’t forget. And we’ll meet again. Thank you so, so much. Thank you.
PS: If any previous years worth of OTS gangsters have group class photos they’d like me to add to this post, send’em my way and I’ll happily add them. 🙂 firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated: Got the first submission! Here’s the epic class of 2012, when they were just raw first year recruits (and Bruce is in this one, Yay! Thanks, Jonah!