Students navigate their first year in person at the Phoenix

Taylor Williams

In the Department of Theatre, the past several months have been filled with monumental changes, including the return to in-person education. For some students, the start of the year marked their first time experiencing the Phoenix outside of a Zoom room, which made for plenty of adaptation and adjustment. With only three weeks left until the end of the winter semester, we decided to check in with some first- and second-year students to see how they’ve been enjoying their in-person experience so far. 

Back in September, second-year students hit the ground running to make up for time lost during a full year online. This included an all-day “bootcamp” where they learned how to put their first-year theory into hands-on practice in the scenery, costume, and lighting areas. The transition to in-person learning was not without its challenges, but students found it a welcome change. “It’s nice to actually be in the building and have [these] opportunities,” commented Bill Allen, a second-year student with an interest in front of house management. “I feel like I’m actually gaining education in areas I completely never expected to.”

Kiera Epp – another second-year student in the self-directed focus – agreed, adding, “I’m glad that we are actually getting to make up for some of the practical experience we didn’t get in first year, because I feel like that stuff is really important.”

Practical experience often comes in the form of tasks like board operating, ushering, and dressing. For first-year student Daniella Snyders-Blok, working as a dresser was one of the highlights of her year. “[My] most memorable moment from the Phoenix so far was being able to dress for Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” she explained. “I loved participating in clap lines, and meeting all the cast and crew members.” Being a dresser involves helping actors prepare their costumes, hair, and makeup before going onstage. The immersive nature of dressing allows first-year students to interact with upper-year performers, wardrobe supervisors, and other students working on the show.

In addition to dressing, there are a number of other opportunities for first- and second-year students to get involved in the department. As Epp explained, “I think just like getting more involved with things outside of our courses that are happening in the Phoenix community, like doing stuff on the [Theatre Course Union] Board or going to see [Student Alternative Theatre Company shows] or shadowing for SATCos and doing that kind of stuff has been really exciting.”

With multiple projects happening simultaneously, sometimes the Phoenix can feel overwhelming. Second-year student Lilian Doucet, who is working as the Assistant Hair and Makeup Coordinator for the department’s final mainstage of the year, affirmed the importance of knowing your own limits: “Not having that first year in the building, we didn’t get that chance to like, push ourselves and realize, ‘Oh, you can’t say yes to everything!’” For most new Phoenix students, much of this year has been devoted to finding the right balance between classes, shows, and friends – certainly no easy feat.

Another common thread amongst new students is the ever-increasing sense of community that has developed over the course of the year. “You have to take classes with the same group of people,” mused Snyders-Blok, “[so] you start to form bonds really fast.” According to her, the connection transcends the division of years: “The upper-year students are very happy to help out first-years and give advice.” With the year coming to a close, the first- and second-years will soon be stepping into the role of upper-years themselves. It won’t be long before a new cycle of students enters the Phoenix looking for advice – and the current first- and second-years will be just the people to ask.




Kiera Epp and Bill Allen preparing for their front of house duties as part of their Theatre 205 class.