Setting the stage with one of the best theatre technicians
Performers may steal the spotlight once the curtains go up, but one man is determined to show the Island’s teens that just as much passion goes into working behind the scenes.
Canadian Don Finlayson has over three decades experience in light, sound and production design. He is currently the production director of Canada’s renowned Shaw Festival and also worked with acrobatic spectacle Le Rêve (The Dream) at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas up until 2005.
Mr Finlayson has been recruited to help The Argo Foundation with its second staging of Bermuda Glee.
Bermuda Glee is a ten-day intensive in the performing arts for local students aged 14 to 19.
This year’s programme, held from June 29 to July 8, aims to get 75 young people from different schools around the Island to challenge themselves and unite through a shared love of theatre.
President of the Argo Foundation Wendy Davis Johnson said there was no dedicated technical theatre instructor in last year’s production, but this time around students will have one of the industry’s best at their disposal.
Mr Finlayson was on Island last weekend and said he was thrilled to meet a handful of youngsters interested in production and design.
As a child he grew up going to the theatre “a great deal” and said it was always a big part of his life.
His mother, Agnes Finlayson, performed in plays such as ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ when the Stratford Shakespeare Festival was touring through Canada.
He said: “It was just magic seeing her on stage. I didn’t understand the full magic at the time, but I was transported.”
Although he dabbled in acting himself, he describes himself as a “shy teenager” and eventually decided he belonged behind the scenes.
“Ironically I started with production right out of high school, so not too unlike a lot of these kids.
“I was in the drama club and once I did my one second on stage as an actor I was intrigued by all the background support, lighting and sound, and I started doing that.”
Years later, after training at the National Theatre School of Canada, Mr Finlayson found some notable production jobs in New York, London and Toronto.
“I have been lucky enough to work in this chosen field ever since 1977.”
He is currently in his seventh season with the Shaw Festival — the second largest theatre company in North America.
Mr Finlayson said he was introduced by a colleague to organisers from The Argo Foundation. “As I got to learn more about the project and understand its foundation and structure of working with the kids it seemed like a good fit to come along and lend a hand,” he added.
He will be spending two full days giving ten students hands-on training in lighting, sound and other areas. The workshop teens will join with the other performing artists midweek, and offer them technical support for the four mini-shows.
Students will be limited in the amounts of props they can use and, instead, encouraged to use their imaginations.
Last Friday, Mr Finlayson spent the better part of an hour trying to get a sense of what the young people were like.
Each student is at a different level with some never having dabbled in technical theatre before; Mr Finlayson is hopeful they will all gain something from the experience.
He said he could already see potential in some students.
“It’s like planting seeds and you nurture it and see that grow.
“The same kids are going to go for the bright lights, but there are other people that can be equally as creative in the surrounding and supportive creative team that supports the acts.”
Ms Davis Johnson said this kind of training would also be an investment for the Island’s young people.
“I am totally confident that the kids that didn’t get the experience [last year], they will this year at the hands of a master.
“And it’s an area in Bermuda where we need to develop young people. There are a lot of kids focusing on singing and dancing and acting, but this gives other students that opportunity to learn about technical theatre. It’s a great long-term investment for our young people in Bermuda.”
The project is supported by Tokio Millennium Re, Zurich, Digicel, Barritts and Upper Crust Pizza.
For more information on Bermuda Glee e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.