By Meaghan Brackenbury
Emily Vaz, 17, says she had trouble speaking in front of people before she joined the drama program at Canterbury High School in Ottawa. “I was always a very reserved person,” she says. “I used to cry when I did class presentations.”
Vaz has lived in the Glebe for nearly 11 years. Though she was shy, she says she has always been a performer, often showcasing her talents in front of friends and family. So, with a little bit of encouragement from her dad, she decided to give the dramatic arts a try.
She is currently in Grade 12 at Canterbury and says she’s not afraid of anything any more. Acting out scenes and participating in improv exercises in front of her classmates is just another part of her daily life at school. This, Vaz says, has boosted her confidence levels throughout the years.
“You have to fail all the time in front of these people that you don’t really know,” she says. “It’s one of those things that make you gain grit. Nothing really fazes me anymore.” Now, Vaz is tackling a new challenge; she is one of the leads in Canterbury’s production of The Government Inspector.
This Russian satire was written by Nikolai Gogol and first produced in 1836, having been translated into English over the years. It chronicles the mishaps of corrupt small-town officials as they scramble to impress a man named Khlestakov who is rumoured to be a government inspector. True to satirical form, Khlestakov is of course not the inspector, only a simple but greedy civil servant. Folly ensues.
Vaz, who is playing Khlestakov in Canterbury’s rendition, says the show shines a light on the inner workings of small-town government in all its hilarity. “It’s kind of making fun of it all,” she says.
The school is producing the play as one of their graduate shows this year, an elective that gives older students the opportunity to put together a show from top to bottom. This includes some of Vaz’s peers in roles such as assistant directing, stage managing, costuming and set design.
When it comes to managing the time of 17-year-olds, Vaz says it can sometimes be challenging, as everyone is busy with the end of the school year creeping closer. However, she says this production is some of the most fun she has ever had. “My favourite part is hanging out with the cast and crew when I have the chance,” she says. “Or just working with them and seeing their different opinions on characters, and seeing them play their own characters is fun.”
Another challenge Vaz faces is remembering all of those lines. “The language isn’t structured in the same way that I would talk so it’s not something I would ever normally say,” she says. “I’d say the hardest thing is memorizing all of the words in their right order because it’s all very proper and old-timey.”
Despite this, Vaz says she has learned a lot throughout the process of working on this play. After watching the work that goes into putting together a show, Vaz says she has a new-found appreciation for the medium.
“It’s a different experience than watching a movie,” she says. “It’s kind of like there’s more possibility with theatre, because when something visually impressive happens in front of you, it’s almost like you’re seeing a magic show. You get to appreciate how everything is done in that moment.”
She is looking forward to the next chapter in her life as her time at Canterbury comes to an end. She has accepted an early offer from Carleton University’s journalism program to start in the fall.
And, she still wants to stay in touch with her drama roots and get involved in the campus performance scene. “I want to continue doing it just for the fun of it,” she says. “It would be a good way to make friends and it’s something I’m comfortable with.”
In fact, because of how it has helped her open up, Vaz says she feels everyone would benefit from participating in theatre. “Theatre is really good for getting you out of your shell.”
The Government Inspector runs from April 30 until May 4 at Canterbury High School.
Meaghan Brackenbury is a third year Journalism and Human Rights student at Carleton University.