This is one of a series of more-or-less-monthly interviews with some of the movers and shakers in the Calgary Musical Theatre scene. Paul Mulloy is a Drama Teacher/Learning Leader at the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts (CPVA) at Central Memorial High School and the director of their upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast. I caught him for a few minutes during his lunch hour on Tuesday for a quick conversation.
Paul, how did you come to teach at the CPVA?
I studied vocal performance, theatre and education at university and then went on to work as a stage actor, mostly in musical theatre. I was in the Toronto and international touring productions of several shows, including Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. I even got to perform on Broadway with the 1989 revival of Shanandoah. I also worked with a number of theatre companies in Canada, including Theatre Calgary, The Canadian Opera Company and the Shaw Festival.
When my three children were small they travelled with me, but once they were in school, I realized that the personal rewards of being on stage started to diminish relative to the price of being on the road all the time. I went back to school in 2000 and got an education degree so I could get a job where I could stay in one place, while still pursuing my love of theatre. I landed a position at the Arts-Centred Learning Programme at Milton Williams School, which moved to Willow Park School, and then came to Central Memorial four years ago. I really enjoy teaching, and particularly love putting on shows with the students. I consider myself honoured to have the opportunity to work here.
What is the CPVA programme and why is it unique?
The CPVA is housed at Central Memorial High School and it focusses on the arts discipline. Grade 10-12 students can choose to specialize in dance, theatre arts, visual arts or music (band, choral or strings). We have the only strings programme in the Calgary public school system. Students get one and a half hours a day in their chosen area as part of their high school curriculum and a guaranteed opportunity to be involved in a major production every year. There are about 400 students in the programme (~150 in drama) and they really like being in a school surrounded by peers who share their interest in the arts.
How do students get into the programme? Is it really competitive?
We do have more applicants than we have spots, but our selection criteria are quite broad and we try to make the process as painless as possible. Students send in a written application by January of their Grade 9 year and if their application is accepted, they have to prepare a short audition piece (a one minute monologue for theatre candidates, or a presentation of their portfolio for visual arts candidates, for example) and do a short interview. We realize that for most people, this is their first audition, and they’ll probably be pretty nervous, so we don’t expect it to be perfect. We’re looking for passion and preparedness, the ability to take direction and the willingness to take risks, as much as raw talent or experience. You can find more details on our website.
What kind of shows do you do and how do you pick them?
We typically do four plays a year, two of which are a musicals. We’ve got a lot of people, so we’re looking for a show with a big chorus that has enough to do to keep the students engaged. For example, we recently did Little Women, which has several great lead roles, especially for girls, but it was kind of boring for everyone else. [I saw this at Storybook Theatre earlier this year, and definitely agree. lmc]. We also typically double-cast the lead roles (i.e. two people are cast in the role and play it on alternate performances), which means we have to find not one, but two people who are capable of performing them. This can sometimes limit the plays we’re capable of doing in a given year.
The show also has to have a story we’re interested in exploring and that will challenge us, because, let’s face it, we have to put several months of time and energy into it, so we want to really enjoy and learn from the experience. We also have to believe in what the show is trying to say. For example, we wouldn’t do a show like Grease, as much fun as it is, because we think it sends the wrong message to young girls about what you need to do to get friends/a boy. [Funny, I said the same thing in my post on a few of my favourite musicals. lmc]. A few shows we’ve done in recent years include Fiddler on the Roof, Les Miserables and Urinetown, to give you an idea. Beauty and the Beast is a bit of change for us, but it’s fun to work with the students on something with which they’re so familiar, having all grown up with the 1991 Disney movie. One advantage we have over regular theatre companies is that we don’t have to worry as much about selling tickets, so we have the freedom to choose shows just because we want to do them, rather than because they’ll sell well. [That would explain recent productions of Scaramouche and Oresteia, among others. lmc].
Do you have anything else to add?
Our students have worked really hard to put on an entertaining show and we hope people will come out to see what a great job they can do. Also, we couldn’t put on a musical like Beauty and the Beast without the strong support and talent of the entire school – not just the students, but the other staff who are involved in areas like music, choreography, costumes, set-building and stage management. That’s the great thing about the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts. We’ve got all the talent we need to put on a great musical theatre production under one roof.
Beauty and the Beast is playing for 5 performances only at Central Memorial High School from May 22 – May 27 (excluding Thursday and Friday). Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students. Family packs are available for some performances. Click here for tickets.
I’ll be going to Beauty and the Beast next week on Opening Night (Tuesday, May 22). If you want to come with me, join my Calgary Musicals MeetUp Group and meet me there. Watch for my review later in the week.