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Oak Bay arts school marks 25 years of skill-building for stage and screen

Carly Rae Jepsen just one of the shining alums to graduate Canadian College of Performing Arts

The graduating class of 2024 marks the end of 25 years inspiring talent on stage and screen from a small but mighty school in Oak Bay.

The Canadian College of Performing Arts was built to fill a niche and along the way the institution aims to develop a better person, body mind and spirit, says the school’s managing director.

“That niche was really about offering in many ways an intensive training that allowed emerging professionals to get out into the industry faster,” said Caleb Marshall.

He took the helm in 2018 after a nationwide search led by the Canadian Heritage Arts Society board of directors and co-founders Jacques Lemay and Janis Dunning.

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Marshall figures everyone’s heard of alum Carly Rae Jepsen. But the singer-songwriter is far from the only graduate shining internationally, many others could be the subject of a feature-length community story.

The Canadian College of Performing Arts in Oak Bay routinely turns out quality entertainment industry professionals. (Courtesy CCPA)

Andrea Macasaet recently tackled the role of Anne Boleyn in the Broadway production of Six: The Musical.

Victoria’s Jana Morrison stars in Astrid & Lilly Save the World among other things.

And Toronto-based Siobhan Richardson, is an actor, fight and intimacy coordinator.

Mark Folks is president and CEO of The Hobby Centre for Performing Arts in Houston, Texas.

While he grew up in Victoria and once worked at the Belfry Theatre, Clayton Baraniuk is now a theatre producer, arts administrator, trained Relaxed Performance (trained in the UK) consultant and access coordinator.

CCPA has 867 alumni as of its May 25, 2023 graduating class.

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Most students attend a two-year diploma, some a one-year certificate and there’s the occasional six-month intensive.

The longest program is technique-focused and while often referred to as a musical theatre school there’s equal exposure to acting, voice and dance with a focus on career management.

“Often we’re just training artists to be artists and not training them to be self-employed entrepreneurial businesses,” said Marshall.

The programs are about skill building, the student ensemble opens that up. Primarily for students in their third year, 10 to 16 students form a collaborative company and put together three shows utilizing the entire toolkit.

“It’s really one of the most unique programs in the country,” Marshall said. “They take leadership on all aspects around the show not just on stage.”

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That means sets, costumes and marketing and more.

“When you’re young and producing your own work you have to wear all of those hats. It also gives them a tremendous sense of ownership.”

It’s led to notable alumni working in a variety of fields on the stage, screen and in the music industry. Being a 25-year-old school, they’re in the act where creators and directors have moved into teaching and mentoring roles.

Other shifts over the years are in tune with societal moves.

While holding true to the founding principles of exposure to disciplines, skill building and working with some of the best leaders in the fields, the school also follows the dialogues happening in the industry.

Those include representation, reconciliation, environmental responsibility, collective creation and intimacy coaching among the current and recent movements.

“Our job is to reflect society back to itself,” Marshall said.

RELATED: Oak Bay-based performing arts college offers ‘relaxed performance’ program

In the last few years, they’ve added a focus on empowering voice on social justice issues. Students who are interested, are empowered to use artistic practice for their own activism and advocacy.

“We have some very vocal advocates in the world using their art to affect change for a better world,” Marshall said, adding the school was also among the first to institute consent requirement for any physical contact.

And presentations are more representative of society on stage and off. Even if only men could perform all roles, the industry has been binary for years, he said.

“It’s been male parts and female parts and I would say 10 per cent of our student population is non binary,” he said.

Since 2018, CCPA has offered ‘relaxed performances’ both in their Oak Bay hall and shows staged at places like McPherson Theatre. Relaxed performances are open to everyone, but chiefly geared to theatregoers living with conditions such as anxiety, autism, fear of the dark or disabilities of any kind.

‘Showtune Piano Bar Cabaret’ will be performed at the Fernwood Inn on Thursday, Jan. 25. (Black Press Media file photo)

Looking to program the silver anniversary celebrations was daunting, Marshall said.

A look back to the founders, connecting with roots, saw them come up with a Canadian-content heavy season.

The anniversary season kicked off in fall 2023 with The Weight of Ants, by David Paquet and translated by Leanne Brodie. The next month students staged Lenin’s Embalmers by Vern Thiessen and last month staged the Broadway hit Peter and the Starcatcher.

In February, CCPA presents the multiple Tony Award-winning Canadian hit The Drowsy Chaperone.

The traditional year-end musical draws links to the college’s roots during co-founders’ Dunning and Lemay’s time in Charlottetown, bringing the beloved East Coast classic, Anne of Green Gables – The Musical to Vancouver Island.

Performed at the McPherson Playhouse in April, this marks the first time the year-end musical will be led entirely by alumni.

“It’s a mark of an institution’s impact when exceptional alumni can return in leadership roles as directors, choreographers, and writers,” Marshall said.

Visit for tickets and information.

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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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