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ASTC & Me: theatre is alive and well

Far right: Dane Shumak with the cast of Dogfight

When I was asked to write an article about the Anne Shirley Theatre Company (ASTC), my journey with the company, and about my thoughts on its history and its future, I wasn’t sure where or how to start. ASTC defined my university career, and it has helped to shape the direction of my life. This article is a gift for me, as it gives me a chance not many people get, which is to say goodbye to something larger than I.When I first auditioned for ASTC it was first year for Xanadu, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be in the show. I felt sick , whether from nerves or illness, who knows. It was callback day, and I nearly didn’t go. Turns out, it was a good thing I went, because I got the part. By the end of the year, I was the company’s Vice-President. ASTC has this incredible way of sucking you in.

The actors, the production crew and its Executive, were so dedicated to making it the best it can be, that I was hooked. If you ever want something to be the most time-consuming, life changing and rewarding experience of your life, try out student theatre. ASTC has undergone a remarkable transition in the last few years. From one musical a year, to a two production season, with an improv team, and a number of events such as Trent’s Got Talent, ASTC has nearly tripled in budget, size, and mandate.

I was grateful to be given the opportunity to spearhead and win ASTC a levy when I was Vice-President of the Company. ASTC is, in my opinion, the best levy group on campus – imminently accountable, totally reachable, and incredibly student oriented.

It represents what’s best about a controversial, sometimes difficult system. ASTC is now the largest student arts organization at Trent University and serves as the de-facto Drama department where there really isn’t one. But it wasn’t always this way. When it first began in 2002, ASTC was a student project in Professor Stephen Brown’s English class. Named after the titular character in the musical Anne of Green Gables ASTC continued forward through the sheer force of will, and as a labour of love for some of the original cast members, relying on Theatre Trent and TCSA funds.

As it grew, so did the scope and size of the productions. It produced one musical every year until it secured its levy funding and expanded its season. Each show it has done was more ambitious than the last, all grown through the hard work of Trent Students, and incredible support from the local theatre community. I noticed in my time at ASTC that I didn’t just make friends who were a part of this company, but from all over Peterborough. If you’re not aware, Peterborough has the most inclusive, connected and supportive arts scene I’ve ever seen, and the fact that ASTC has grown to become a cooperative part of this community blows my mind.

The journey hasn’t always been easy, and as logic would follow, actors tend to be dramatic. With the very seldom exception, though, the best thing about conflict in ASTC is that it comes from a place of love; people are trying to fight for, and defend this thing that they care for, and want to protect. Since the introduction of new policy in the 2013-2014 show “Spring Awakening,” ASTC has become a safe space, a place to learn, explore, and escape.
I took over ASTC in 2013-2014, as the Director of the Musical and the President of the Company. After the acquisition of the levy, it was my goal as the Director and President to push boundaries, break down barriers, and create new and exciting opportunities with the input, and support of the incredible executive that surrounded me. ASTC did something it had never done before then – it moved downtown. And it did so with a show that so many people said wouldn’t work; Spring Awakening.

What followed was ASTC’s most successful year to date, financially and in terms of audience. Most importantly, it introduced something incredible. The executive, actors and production crew of the company, almost subconsciously, began to take risks, push boundaries, and break down barriers. ASTC has blossomed into an incredible student organization, a brilliant community theatre hub, and a close-knit family. I am so proud to have been even a small part of this growth.
When asked what the most important part about theatre with ASTC is, it would be easy to say that it’s about creating the best show possible, but it would also be incorrect. ASTC has never been solely about producing great art, even though it does.

No, ASTC is a place where students can go to feel accepted and to get away, whether for a single show or a year of rehearsals.Watch out for ASTC auditions in mid-September. This year’s season is building on that ambition, run by some of my closest friends and most respected colleagues, featuring Heathers: The Musical and Heaven.

You won’t want to miss out on being a part of something this life-alteringly fantastic. If you’re on the fence, take it from me – nerves, concern about your schedule, not knowing anybody are not worth giving up something this amazing.
I’m not going to get to be a part of ASTC this year, something that still hasn’t sunk in. For the past four years, I have lived and breathed this company. It gave me my very first start into what has now turned into a professional career in Theatre Arts. It gave me money to start my own theatre company, Cordwainer Productions. It gave me more new friends than I’d ever be able to count. It gave me the confidence to follow my dreams. It gave me a home, a family, and sometimes when things were difficult, a life worth living.

It was never easy, it was never simple. Yet it was, and will continue to be, the most special project I almost didn’t take on. For more information about the Anne Shirley Theatre Company, visit:

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