In 2013, Theatre Alberta and Cenovus Energy embarked on an exciting and important partnership to expand Artstrek: A Summer Theatre School for Teens at Red Deer College. Artstrek is Theatre Alberta’s largest and most popular program. Every July, Artstrek provides an opportunity for hundreds of teens from across Alberta to spend a week in residence at Red Deer College immersing themselves in learning about theatre and theatre production with some of the province’s top theatre instructors.
After eight years of waiting lists in which dozens of teens were told, “Sorry, there’s no room for you at Artstrek this summer,” it was clear that we needed more capacity to accommodate demand. However, expanding Artstrek was no small undertaking. The program was thriving under a two-week model: one week for younger teens, and one week for older ones. The facilities and residences at Red Deer College were jam packed, and we couldn’t fit more teens on the Arts Centre’s main stage if we tried. Program expansion meant adding an entire full week… and this meant taking a hard look at how Artstrek must evolve in order accommodate a 30% increase in capacity.
It meant negotiating an extra week from the already incredibly busy schedule at Red Deer College. It meant contracting our instructors and supervisors for four summer weeks instead of three, which is a much more significant commitment when you consider that many of our instructors are high school drama teachers working during their vacation months. It meant taking a significant financial risk as our crucial funding from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (AFA) provides per student subsidy based on the school’s previous three years of attendance.
But, more importantly, we needed to look at changes in how Artstrek would operate using a three-week model. How the Exploration weeks would change, and who would be eligible to attend which week? How does the curriculum change in order to provide appropriate learning opportunities and challenges for more specific age groups and experience levels? How would the program feel being ultimately less crowded and full – would it still be as exciting and fun? Much thought and careful planning needed to be invested in order to implement this expansion: such a major change requires a period of several years to implement and to adapt to the invariable hiccups that would happen along the way. And, it was clear that we needed help to make sure that the job was done right.
Cenovus Energy is well known for its community investment programs in Alberta to help make this province a better place to live. The company is especially active supporting educational programs and creating opportunities for youth. In 2012, Theatre Alberta was fortunate to partner with Cenovus on our Artstrek scholarship program, which supports families in difficult financial circumstances in sending their teens to Artstrek. Indeed, one of the most important elements of Artstrek is accessibility:
- providing students from rural and smaller communities with few theatre resources the opportunity to learn with experienced professionals in one of the best facilities in the province;
- providing students with limited financial means to come learn at a world-class program; and
- providing students who may be a little different a safe and welcoming space where equal opportunities for learning is valued above all.
When Cenovus learned of our ambitions to correct our one accessibility problems – lack of space – the company decided to become involved.
Understanding the complexity of program expansion was key, which is why Cenovus made a three-year commitment to Artstrek: an investment of $25,000 per year to support our work evolving the program. For Artstrek 2013, Fiddler on the Roof, 333 students attended. We made space for every single student who applied; not one languished on a waiting list. Having a three-week program also provided opportunities for students to attend even when a family vacation or other prior commitment would have normally interfered with their Artstrek plans. Last year, we even had three teens travel all the way from Fort Vermillion to attend Artstrek; the three-week format afforded them the opportunity to travel together and learn together in the same Exploration.
Now in Year Two of our expansion, Artstrek 2014 will feature a Canadian play: the Governor General’s Award winning Unity (1918) by Kevin Kerr. Proof of the long-term investment our program enables, Kevin actually attended Artstrek back in the early 1980s. Thanks to Cenovus and our other program partners’ ongoing support, Artstrek now has the capacity to welcome many more Kevin’s and other potential star theatre artists than ever before.
Artstrek still has plenty of room for students in all three Exploration weeks! Register now for Alberta’s legendary summer theatre school for teens. Learn more about the program at theatrealberta.com/artstrek.
July 6-11, 2014
for 13 and 14 year olds
July 13-18, 2014
for 15 and 16 year olds
July 20-26, 2014
for 17 and 18 year olds