Oakham Community Theatre shines the spotlight on amateurs

From March 14 to 17, Ryerson theatre aficionados showcased their work at the Oakham Community Theatre’s (OCT) annual end-of-the-year festival.

OCT, formerly known as the Ryerson Community Theatre, is one of the oldest amateur theatre groups serving the downtown area. This year’s festival, titled Artifice, had an overarching theme of deception and examined the thin line between real and unreal. It featured four original plays: Prodigal, Deface, Letters to Myself and Storia Pinocchio.

Mieka Shade, the director of Deface, was handed the 48-page script in October. Her cast began seriously rehearsing after the winter break.

Shade, a fourth-year creative industries student, said she focused on balancing all of the “big personalities” in her 11-person cast, and tried to ensure everyone was working towards the same collective creative vision.

The play itself takes place in a sort of dystopian society where everybody wears a mask. In what may be a comment on the social media-crazed culture of today, people begin to act differently when under the protection of anonymity.

OCT and playwright Bryan Chu gave Shade the freedom to let her artistic vision come to fruition in Deface, she said. The 21-year-old is focusing on performance studies within her program and appreciated the opportunity to apply what she learns in class to a real-life production.

Bronwen Spolsky is the writer and director of Letters to Myself. Since the last play she wrote was a very structured piece, OCT gave her the chance to experiment with her craft and try something completely different.

Letters to Myself is a character-driven psychological thriller. Spolsky, a second-year sociology student, said it was interesting to watch how the actors interact with one another. Everyone involved is participating because they like the production and genuinely want to be there, she said.

“You’re creating relationships that are very real,” Spolsky said. “If they want to leave, they can. As a director, that’s really interesting to deal with.”

Community theatre groups give amateurs the chance to display their ideas and creativity, she said. Since nobody is paid, audience members get to see the unique work of actors and directors who genuinely love what they do.

“Amateurs do have great ideas, believe it or not,” Spolsky said. “This is theatre in its purest form.”

Artifice showcased a musical as well. Storia Pinocchio, written and directed by fourth-year child and youth care student Janine Fernandes, was a twist on the beloved story of Pinocchio.

In a nod to the festival’s theme, the actors also incorporated masks. Fernandes said she got the idea for Storia Pinocchio while interning in Italy last summer — there, she discovered a classic Italian theatre form called commedia dell’arte. This is a style from the 16th century where actors travel around in troupes and use masks to perform.

The 23-year-old said she has was involved with theatre from a young age. This is her second time directing with OCT.

Community theatre gives people the opportunity to make art even if it’s not their area of study or chosen career path, Fernandes said. It’s an example of people building and sharing their creative work solely because they have a passion for it.

“It’s an incredible chance to explore innovative, creative and challenging theatre,” she said.