By JEN MACLELLAN
FOR STAGECOACH THEATRE SCHOOL
For 25 years, Stagecoach Theatre School has been offering courses in the performing arts for youth on Salt Spring Island.
Community members have filled ArtSpring to watch the year-end productions in support of their families and friends. The school is an island “institution” that has had the extreme privilege of drawing the best teachers, volunteers and board members anyone could hope for, and this year marks the beginning of a new generation.
In 2017, Christina Penhale joined Stagecoach as a teacher. This year, the board is thrilled to announce that she has accepted the position of artistic director.
Penhale describes returning to Stagecoach as “a full-circle moment.”
“I volunteered at the school as a high school student, doing make-up for many shows in the early 2000s. At the time, I remember wishing there had been a program like it when I was younger.”
Penhale said she is thankful for the dedication and tireless hours that those before her put in to ensure Stagecoach continues to provide opportunities for youth.
For several years Penhale worked side by side with Adina Hildebrandt, who stepped down earlier this year. She recognizes that as she moves into the artistic director position “it is a very different climate and world” than when she first began working with the school.
“Youth need places where they can connect, where they feel belonging, where they feel they have a voice and that their voice is heard, respected and valued. When I think about it we all need this right now in the post-plague-that-shall-not-be-named world. For me the theatre was and is that place. A place like no other, where the audience and performers alike can have a collective lived experience in real time. Where we can live vicariously through the characters on the stage and develop compassion, a new perspective or just consider for a moment what things might be like for someone that maybe doesn’t share the same opinions or priorities that we do.”
As Stagecoach enters its next phase, Penhale has a number of ideas to meet our island’s changing needs and celebrate its future. Sue Newman has also returned, offering dance classes under the Stagecoach umbrella. They will be adding workshops for stage fighting, film acting, audition preparation and more with the assistance of experienced local professionals. She promises an announcement soon regarding the anniversary festivities, to which the entire community will be invited.
Penhale’s passion for theatre is obvious to anyone who knows her. She is already known for exitStageLeft, SOSSI (Shakespeare on SSI) and her launch of the Salt Spring Youth New Creatives Festival this summer. This year she has made a deeper commitment to focus her attention on further education for island youth.
Penhale refers to something said by Bill English of the San Francisco Playhouse: “Theatre is like a gym for empathy. We practise caring,” and adds herself: “Theatre education and theatre literacy for everyone is so important, we can encourage an appreciation and interest from the start. So whether we actively participate on the stage or behind the scenes, we can go and see a piece of theatre and practise caring. We look forward to working with and witnessing the incredibly talented youth on this island. It is a privilege.”