For a small city, Nelson sends an unusual number of young performing artists off to post secondary schools to study dance, music, and theatre.
One of the reasons for this, and one of the essential ingredients of any place that calls itself an arts town, is the large number of high quality of mentors here. Nelson is home to many professional artists who regularly work with young people, both in and outside the school system.
Mentorship was one of the central ideas behind in the Oxygen Art Centre’s Youth Talent Slam, held at the Capitol Theatre on February 14.
The project hired three professional artists—actor Lucas Myers, dancer Slava Doval, and singer Bessie Wapp— to audition the performers and then give each of them an hour of one-on-one mentorship before the performance. All three have all been working as artists in the Nelson area for years and they all grew up here.
The Youth Talent Slam defined youth as anyone under 30, but most of the 18 performers were high school students. Each person or group performed one number in the concert.
Following the performance, the Nelson Star sat down with the three mentors to talk about their experience.
Nelson Star: What was the best part of this mentoring experience for you?
Lucas: I felt really lucky to be able to intersect with them at this stage in their life. To be part of that experience was incredibly lovely. I remember how much fun it was then, and how much I would have loved to have a professional come and gave me some tips—that would have been fantastic. To be able to cross paths with them now, just on the cusp of beginning to think about whether to go into acting or not, just to be with them for that, it was awesome.
Slava: lt’s like you are in this little creative bubble with them, helping to fine tune and create something. You are in an artistic zone with someone young and full of ideas, which is exciting. It was not teaching. I was asking the right questions and helping what was coming through them, and refining it, and that was really fun.
Bessie: My heart bursts for them, such beautiful young people, every single one of them is beautiful, a universe just blossoming.
Lucas: I felt I had to treat them like peers because I am not a teacher. I was there more as a collaborator, and I think that was a unique experience for them. Some were nervous, and I said, ‘Don’t be nervous, I am not here to judge you, I am here to help you out, we are just going to work on something together.
Slava: I was also the stage manager of the performance. That was so fun, so great, because they know how to have fun, and they do what they are doing just for the joy of doing it.
While the opening performer was on stage all the other performers, waiting backstage to go on, were singing his chorus with him because they had heard the sound check—we were all singing along, all the singers and dancers. Another great moment was backstage when the funk band was on, everyone was dancing, and the tap dancers were tapping. Just to see how they bonded as performers of different ages and genres, it was really, really sweet.
Nelson Star: Can you give an example of something specific that you worked on with some of the people you mentored?
Bessie: I worked with four different singers, and a band, and a cello player. I am not a cellist but there were a few things I suggested about musicality and pitch. And a singer who had created his piece in a range that was a bit too high for him, so we dropped his piece down a few tones so it is more manageable.
There was a singer where we worked with different moments in the song. Sometimes I like to ask them to think of the opposite, like if it is expansive and big, let’s think of it as small and fragile, or with different emotional starting places, and I left it with her to use them or not. We found a song we both knew and we sang it together. With another we mostly talked about musical career choices.
Lucas: A lot of young actors get excited and they think they should have energy so they tend to rush through stuff. Take your time with what you are saying. Don’t rush it. You belong up there, you are home, embrace it, enjoy it. Let the moment happen instead of jumping to the next one.
Slava: Use the stage, it is larger than you think it is. Use the directions on the stage and be aware of using more of the space. And slow down.
Lucas: Be specific about that moment happening, let it fill, don’t be blurry, be clear. I was working with these two young girls, working on just going and sitting down on a couch. Don’t just kind of wander over and plop down. You have to walk clearly, sit down clearly, with all your intentions clean, so the audience can see it unfolding, because if it gets blurry it is harder to see.
Slava: One of the dancers had a movement that went all the way out to her hand. Some movements happen quickly and the extension of the movement is all the way to the fingertips and then just about six inches past that. So take the time to enjoy that and fully live it, and physically that means knowing that our bodies extend further than the tip of the limb.
And I gave theatrical ideas to tie things together, talked about the logistics of lighting onstage, ideas for costuming.
Nelson Star: Why is Nelson a good place to do this?
Bessie: It is not just chance that the three of us all grew up here. There were mentors in the community already, and those people are here, and this community values the arts and comes to shows, and that keeps it going, and those skills are passed down.
Lucas: And they see it as viable. It is not a crazy thing to become an actor when you grow up.
Bessie: Deluded as they are! (laughter all round)
Lucas: It is not this completely impossible thing. It is almost normal. To me that was what was exciting, these kids are so excited about theatre and they have the opportunity to pursue it. Like with the summer youth theatre. The schools are great for that too, but there are so many opportunities beyond the schools here.
Bessie: As much as the schools are able, given the budget cuts they are experiencing. I had great teachers at school. They were really instrumental. What I would have benefited from would have been some professionals, spending one on one time coaching me, it would have been amazing.
Slava: Kids that have been mentored, maybe slowly become teachers themselves. You are are gaining experience and then you start thinking of how to teach it. I have a dance student who is going to be doing some teaching of younger ones. It is an opportunity.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a festival for those kids, 18-19, that have so many skills, so educated already, full of new ideas, how to give them work with the younger ones. It is so validating when you are 18 or 19 to be getting money for something like that.
Lucas: After the performances there was a backstage lounge that went amazingly, 30 people, open mic, discussion, jamming, drawing. That kind of inter-artist mingling is really important. We could have more workshops with professional artists involved in the event, having young people talk with a professional artist about their experience, what they need to do to get into the business.
Slava: I felt honoured to have this opportunity.
Bessie: Yes, that’s a good word for how I felt too. Honoured.