There’s a whole world of theatrical exploration ahead for young actors joining Tree House Youth Theatre under the leadership of the troupe’s new artistic director Serge Belliveau.
“There’s a lot that I’m really looking forward to,” he explained recently of the new post. “There are personal things, professional things and things for the community – one of the biggest things is actually for the community. I think there is a great amount of growth of awareness for Tree House that they could have. We need to make our name larger than it is.”
Of course, working with the youth is the central draw – “Giving them the opportunity to grow and develop whether they want to pursue it professionally or just for fun.
“There’s a huge relationship between artistic people and successful people. If we can give them an opportunity to figure out who they are just a little bit quicker and build their confidence – there are so many life skills that are developed in a group setting.
“It’s fantastic to be a part of something in that age group – regardless of what it is. But I know what potential in the arts, drama and performance there is. I feel like I can bring a lot out in them – I’m hoping for that.”
Belliveau, 41, signed on this summer after the departure of long-standing director Matt Gould and his first order of business was the Summer Stock Theatre Camp. And it’s been a seamless transition thanks also to plenty of support from the board, he said.
“I totally feel comfortable with these guys also,” he said of the organization.
Interestingly, it was with Tree House Youth Theatre that Belliveau had one of his first major acting opportunities that really proved inspirational in him choosing stage work in general as his career. He landed the role of the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz back in the early 1990s and something clicked.
“The seed was kind of planted in high school,” he said, adding that it was during the time of his graduation that he was also auditioning for The Wizard of Oz. He was thrilled with the opportunity, especially as he didn’t feel he had a particularly stellar audition.
He attended Red Deer College and performed there as a student in Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat as Judah, Billy Bigelow in Carousel, and cast as the clown in A Winter’s Tale.
Moving in this direction wasn’t without its challenges. Even as a professional actor, sometimes the work is plentiful – not so much at other times. “I grew up conservatively and traditionally so I didn’t really know how to pursue an artistic identity,” he said.
He later moved to Toronto, which really brought to the surface his improvisational skills. “I found out that I had a huge affinity for it. It’s ‘limitless’ theatre.”
He moved back to Red Deer and started performing regularly, plus the improv training in Toronto served him well with his passionate involvement with the Red Deer-based Bull Skit.
Meanwhile, Belliveau has taught, written, directed and acted in countless performances.
“First off, I would like to thank the board for choosing me as the next artistic director for Tree House. In many ways I ‘got my start’ in theatre through Tree House Youth Theatre,” he said. “With the experiences learned from this company and my years of training and performances, I intend to pass on my great joy and passion for theatre. I am excited and inspired to be working with the young community of this City, and cannot wait to see what life lessons they to teach me in return.
“I am motivated by Matt Gould’s tenure as artistic director and look forward to see where Tree House Youth Theatre can grow from here.”
These days, he’s eager to begin rehearsals on the next Tree House Youth Theatre production for later this fall. “I think I can grow the company through more awareness in the community. I want to help artists and also to pull out of them the talents that are already in them – waiting to come out. I think I can be a big part of that.
“They have great energy, they have great ideas,” he said. “I’m really excited about the potential and the realization of the growth of the company. I’m excited about seeing these kids work and grow and just about building the company. I’m all about building.”
Tree House Youth Theatre was created in 1988 and was the brainchild of Richard O’Brien who was head of the Theatre Arts Program at Red Deer College (RDC).
The aim of the program was to build theatrical interest and foster skills in the young people of Central Alberta. Tree House Productions ran during the College off-season using RDC theatre staff and students to support most elements of the production.
When O’Brien left both Red Deer College and Tree House, the organization moved into a new partnership; this time with Central Alberta Theatre (CAT). CAT continued to provide guest artists for several years, providing support and encouragement to the young performers.
With the hiring of Gould in 2005, Tree House entered a new era of exploration and creation, building a love of the theatre arts in the youth of Central Alberta. In 2009, Gould was also instrumental in securing a rehearsal and performance space in the Scott Block in downtown Red Deer.
Over Gould’s 10 years as artistic director he produced, directed (and in some cases wrote) over one dozen productions including Fiddler on the Roof Jr. (2007), Ho, Ho, Oh (2007), The Wind in the Willows (2009), Last Known Position (2011), Sleeping Beauty (2012), Red Deer River Stories (2013) – Red Deer’s official play of the centennial – and Sweeney Todd (2014) to mention a few.