Christopher Gaze recognized for contributions to Theatre Department and youth education
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
Douglas College has given its 2018 Honorary Fellow award to Christopher Gaze, Bard on the Beach founder and long-time friend to the Douglas Theatre Department.
The Honorary Fellow designation is Douglas’ highest distinction and is given to individuals who demonstrate exceptional achievement or service on a community, provincial, national, or international level. The award was granted to Gaze at the winter convocation on February 14.
Gaze was chosen for his contributions to, and advocacy for, performing arts education and youth outreach in the Lower Mainland. The Bard on the Beach Shakespeare festival, founded in 1990, stages several Shakespeare productions every summer and also runs a multitude of educational programs to support young actors, directors, and other theatre practitioners year-round, including Young Shakespeare Workshops and the Riotous Youth internship.
In addition to his community engagement through Bard on the Beach, Gaze has also been involved directly with the Douglas Theatre Department for the past 25 years, most notably by running mock-auditions for students, said retired Theatre Department Coordinator Allan Lysell, who nominated Gaze for the award.
These mock-auditions simulate the experience of a professional audition, with students preparing and presenting material and Gaze playing the same role he played in real life as Bard Artistic Director by critiquing their performances. These sessions, said Lysell to the Other Press via email correspondence, have given the students invaluable real-life practice.
“Auditioning is a major part of an actor’s life and it is imperative that the Theatre department provide skills, training, and feedback that will provide students with the best possible foundation for what is arguably the most important part of their careers, next to actually performing,” wrote Lysell.
“He gave every student the time and focus necessary to provide then with accurate feedback. His responses were individual for each student and although some of the comments he made were similar to instructors’ comments, it had so much more impact on the students as it came from an industry professional for whom they might audition in the future.”
Gaze’s comments were so well-received that the Theatre Department invited him back for repeated sessions over the years. He has also provided support through offering suggestions for the Department’s educational direction, as well as attending the major theatre productions to watch student performances.
Douglas College’s performing arts programs maintain a strong engagement with Shakespeare: The Departments of Theatre and Stagecraft & Event Technology have staged some of the Bard’s plays in previous years, including most recently A Midsummer Night’s Dream last March.
Lysell told the Other Press that he believes that studying Shakespeare is still valuable today because his works speak to the fundamentals of the human condition.
“[Shakespeare’s] works show us what it means to be human, and ask the most important questions that we ask ourselves: What makes us who we are? What behaviours serve us and what behaviours harm us? What does ‘death’ mean? How does love enter our lives? How do we move forward against increasingly difficult challenges?” wrote Lysell.
Many of the Bard’s works feature young adult protagonists and the struggles they face, said Lysell, making them especially relevant for young adult audiences and college students.
“For example, at their cores, both Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It are stories about young people looking at the world their parents created and wondering how they screwed things up so badly,” he wrote. “With the issues of today ranging from climate change to civil unrest to economic instability, let alone the insanity that is Donald Trump, these are realities that any young adult can empathize with.”