The thrill of a life on stage

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Allan Lysell talks theatre

By Adam Tatelman, Arts Editor

Allan Lysell, the chair of Douglas’ theatre program, has spent his life on the stage, following a passion that began in high school after the Vancouver Playhouse visited his school to present a selection of Shakespeare scenes. “The energy and excitement of watching these live performers thrilled me,” Lysell said of the performers. “It was all about the thrill of live performance, and it still is for me. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Inspired by the Vancouver Playhouse’s performance, Lysell tested the waters of acting at his high school, and found some success. This led him to UBC, where he learned the craft and became more focused. “I started to discover the things that I was really interested in were the studio productions, black box, revolutionary stuff,” Lysell said of his time at the university. His experience gained from UBC resulted in an opportunity to work with the Vancouver Playhouse, which took him on a formative tour across the province. “I learned more about acting in those three months—not to mention things about myself and my colleagues—than I’d ever learned before.”

After his time with the Playhouse, Lysell founded his own theatre company, making his first forays into the world of directing. “The very best early times in my career were always fraught with fundraising, always challenged,” he said when questioned on the difficulties of attracting an audience to alternative theatre venues. “I think that the spontaneity is a huge factor for audiences to be intrigued and attracted, but the storytelling has to be excellent.”

Lysell found theatre to be more fulfilling than his film work: “Film is 99.9 per cent ‘what you see is what you get.’ It’s only the people on the A-List who are being challenged. The rest of the actors in any given production are human pieces of furniture. I was very lucky, having my own theatre company, so I could cast myself in roles that I felt like doing. But I always felt more intrigued by what other directors would see me as.”

When Lysell’s family expanded to include two sons, he transitioned into teaching high school students for financial reasons, but found working with the younger students debilitating. “When I managed to move into the college level, where the students wanted to be in the program—that was uber-satisfying.”

“If you desire it, do it,” Lysell said, but had a warning for those who enter the profession with pretentions of fame and fortune. “The world will throw sufficient obstacles in your way to disabuse you of the notion that you’re going to be a star.” Due to the amount of work involved and the fact that there are many actors vying for the same opportunities, Lysell asserted that theatre and film are only for the extremely motivated. “It is essential that you become entrepreneurial… being a standalone actor waiting for the phone to ring is a lonely existence.”