Building self-esteem in youth through theatre

By ALISON ISAAC

Actor, writer and producer, Rachael-Lea Rickards, is on a mission to nurture every child’s creative spirit, regardless of appearance or financial limitations. That’s why, from June 29 – July 11, and July 20 – 31, The Broadway Bound Theatre Academy will help build “self-esteem through theatre” during two sessions for children between the ages of 6 and 13.

“It’s about teaching them about classical theatre,” said Rickards, artistic director of the academy she started earlier this year. “They’re learning the same skills that I learned, so it’s not a rinky-dink program. It’s really teaching them the language of the theatre and incorporating respect, manners, etiquette, all of those things…celebrating body image and togetherness.”

For several years, Rachael-Lea Rickards put off starting her own theatre career in earnest due to body image issues and restrictions imposed by gatekeepers who had no desire to see her under the bright lights. But, eventually, Rickards’ love for acting became too strong to suppress, and that’s when Rickards, alongside good friend Trey Anthony, decided to tell their own stories.

“If you have the acting bug, there’s nothing you can do to put that at bay. So there came a point where we were like, ‘If no one is going to hire us, we’re just going to put ourselves in our own work, create spaces for ourselves, write our stories and make our community and families proud.’ So that’s what we did,” explained Rickards.

Starting out with sketch comedy and moving on to productions like the highly successful ‘Da Kink in My Hair, the women found a space previously under-serviced by Canadian theatre. Their work was well-received; particularly from women who didn’t fit the traditional, mainstream mould. Rickards said it was then that the importance of seeing oneself on stage was magnified.

“It can’t be denied that the Black community is a valuable community that pays to see their faces on stage – We have The Harder They Come coming,” Rickards said. “People really just want to see everyday people making waves. We are a community that’s being heard and being recognized. It’s not going to all happen overnight, it’s going to take a continued effort.”

One of Rickards’ contributions to that continued effort is her theatre program, which is still taking young applicants. The academy opened its doors to the first batch of budding actors during March Break in order to provide a professional space at a reasonable rate. The theme of that initial session was the emblematic slogan of a new era: “Yes We Can.”

“It actually chokes me up when I see Black parents supporting their children in a theatre program. When I was their age, especially coming from an immigrant background, there was a worry that Rachael was just fooling around,” Rickards said. “But what I’m here to do is not only teach the kids about theatre, I’m also teaching them about how to run a business and how to be valuable in more than one area. So, if you’re an actor, you’d better know how to write, you’d better know how to produce. You have to be more than a triple threat if you’re a young Black person in this city.”

“Theatre, for me, has always been an amazing place to try things. It’s a place where I feel safe and powerful.

“If I can show these children that the stage can be a magical platform where they don’t have to be afraid to try new things, imagine that they can be the people they want to be and play the characters they want to play, then I think I’ve given them the best gift.”

The Broadway Bound Theatre academy is still taking applicants for the second summer session, July 20 -31, and plans to run evening and weekend programs starting in September.

For more information about the program, or to register, call 416 454 3450, email Rachael_lea@rogers.com, or visit www.broadwayboundacademy.com

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