OYP Theatre School, formerly Orléans Young Players, has expanded to include theatre lovers from young children to adults
You can call it the little theatre school that grew.
OYP Theatre School started as a drama class for 16 students in 1989, using basements in churches and people’s homes.
Today, it gets as many as 500 registrations year-round, is based at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orléans and has seen several of its students excel in theatre or acting careers.
Artistic director Kathi Langston emphasizes that the school’s name is now OYP Theatre School, not Orléans Young Players, as it was in the beginning.
“OYP Theatre School is so much bigger than just ‘young players,’” she says. “Our students start at the age of four but we have adult classes as well.”
She adds that students come from across the National Capital Region, though most are from the Orléans area.
OYP offers learning in acting, set design, costumes and other aspects of theatre.
There have been some notable students over the years, such as Tori Barban, who has appeared in television movies such as The Christmas Hope, Made … The Movie and The Wife He Met Online.
Two young students, Madison Bellini and Petra Ginther, will be part of the production of The Sound of Music at the National Arts Centre in December.
The school also features some high-level instructors, including award-winning director and actor Mary Ellis, and Al Connors, president of the Canadian Improv Games.
Despite the high level of expertise of its staff and some students, it’s also a place where anyone with an interest in theatre can go without feeling self-conscious, says Langston.
“It gives the students the chance to have a great deal of fun but also opens the door to those students that have the ability and the talent and the interest to go on,” she says.
That sentiment is echoed by Andrea Cochrane, who first became a student at OYP as an 11-year-old in 1993 and has since returned as an instructor.
“It was a really good community, family feeling that you got from it,” she says, recalling her initial experience.
“Everybody was really supportive. It’s a really non-judgmental, accepting environment, and it still is.”
When Cochrane first became a student at OYP, she did so with her brother. Langston says the school makes an effort to involve family members in classes and productions.
“One of the parents, a couple of years ago, he was bringing his daughter in to audition for the Christmas play,” she says. “Well, I needed a man so I said, ‘Why don’t you audition.’ He said, ‘Well, no. I’ve never done theatre.’ I said, ‘So what? Who cares? Just come and try it out.’ He did and he’s so good. He had an absolute blast doing it. He’s done every single one of the all-ages plays since.”
Langston adds that even those who don’t go on to careers in theatre can learn valuable lessons in areas such as building self-confidence, thinking creatively and teamwork. “All of these can be applied to your daily life.”