This year's Expressions Theatre Festival includes a production of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Photo by Tim Matheson.
This year's Expressions Theatre Festival includes a production of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Since 1979, Arts Umbrella has helped young artists cultivate their creativity through dance, theatre and visual arts by way of its Theatre Intensive, Pre-professional, and Theatre Conservatory programs.

The culmination of each year’s training comes in the form of the Expressions Theatre Festival, ten days of shows designed to place a spotlight on the next generation of Vancouver theatre artists. In 2018, the festival offerings range from classics to originals, and from fun to the more serious.

Alongside the family-friendly whimsy of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!, this year’s programming also includes a modern take on the classic Greek tragedy The Phoenician Women, and a student-created original work about self-image, Outside In.

Created and performed by the Arts Umbrella Laboratory Theatre Troupe, Outside In explores how self-image can play a role in how we feel about ourselves. Photo by Tim Matheson.
Created and performed by the Arts Umbrella Laboratory Theatre Troupe, Outside In explores how self-image can play a role in how we feel about ourselves. Photo by Tim Matheson.

“We strive to provide an environment where students can take risks and express themselves freely while they hone their art,” says Paul Moniz de Sá, artistic director of the theatre and music program at Arts Umbrella. “The skills they learn as they rehearse for and perform in this festival enriches their lives on and off the stage.”

Helping to prepare students for careers in the performing arts, the Arts Umbrella programs have seen a number of former students move onto the professional stage. Case-in-point is  alumnus, Douglas Ennenberg who returns to perform in Missing, a modern interpretation of the classic Hansel and Gretel fairy tale.

Arts Umbrella ulumnus, Douglas Ennenberg, returns to perform at this year's Expressions Theatre Festival in a modern interpretation of the classic fairy tale Hansel and Gretel.
Arts Umbrella ulumnus, Douglas Ennenberg, returns to perform at this year’s Expressions Theatre Festival.

“I was there for twelve years, which is a long time, at a really formative time, and in a big way my experience there shaped who I am today,” says Ennenberg.

After studying at Arts Umbrella, Ennenberg went on to graduate from Montreal’s National Theatre School of Canada, and has been recently seen on local stages in critically acclaimed productions of Mr Burns, a post electric play, The Events, and The Nether.

“Even the National Theatre School didn’t get as much of me as Arts Umbrella did. It’s safe to say I would be a completely different person if it weren’t for Arts Umbrella. Like, I might never have gone into theatre,” he continues.

In Missing, the Hansel and Gretel fairytale gets a contemporary update in story of two poor children surviving desperate circumstances. Photo by Tim Matheson.
In Missing, the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale gets a contemporary update in story of two poor children surviving desperate circumstances. Photo by Tim Matheson.

Students in the festival not only collaborate with professional directors and designers, they also have an opportunity to hone their skills before the festival begins by mounting their productions at schools across the Lower Mainland. Both the school performances and the festival itself are designed to provide students with a preview of life as a professional actor.

The 2018 Expressions Theatre Festival takes place at the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island from May 17-26.  Visit artsumbrella.com for tickets and information.