Theatre provides food for thought

Company plans to help actors develop self-confidence

Salmon Arm Secondary grad Nathan Nasby-Zwicker is following his dreams in Vancouver in a thoughtful way.

Working with two others, the 21-year-old is creating Theatre For Thought, an innovative project designed to help people discover their acting chops and find confidence in the process.

“It will be a theatre company that focuses on the positive effects theatre can have on mind, body and soul as well as the power it has in the community,” said Nasby-Zwicker. “It will focus on providing a voice for people who don’t have a voice; we want to be a vehicle to help people to get their stories out even if they’re too shy and don’t have the means available to do it themselves.”

As an example, Nasby-Zwicker says Theatre For Thought wants to provide a safe place where people with social anxiety, who may have trouble talking with people or making presentations in front of others, can practise those skills and hopefully overcome their anxiety.

“And we also want to help people with ADHD; people are told it’s a learning disability, a setback,” he says. “We want to provide the message that once you are able to use it, you may even find out it’s a unique tool you can use to your advantage in your art or craft.”

It is a scenario with which the young actor is very familiar.

In Grade 9 he was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and ADHD.

“First they tested me for anxiety and when it continued to get worse, they tested me for depression,” he says, pointing out he had started to notice things that were no big deal to other students had a big impact on him. “I had difficulties paying attention and focusing, getting lost in meaningless thought.”

Because there are so many students in a classroom, Nasby-Zwicker says it is hard for teachers to cope with kids who have “setbacks” like his, a word he prefers using rather than “conditions” and says, like any other setback, such as a physical injury, people learn to cope and do the best they can.

Once his teachers knew of his diagnoses they became very supportive, but that didn’t help the feelings of isolation.

Nasby-Zwicker felt lost, like he didn’t fit in anywhere, and found it hard to make an effort to do anything. Loneliness was another reality. Because others couldn’t relate to him, he felt his thoughts were somehow alien.

“I also thought I was alone in that, but once I found community theatre, I was accepted into a group, into a team,” he says, noting it was then he started discovering what aspects of his setbacks he could control, what was just going to be part of his life and how he could use them to his advantage. “Before theatre, I was often scolded for distracting the class. I am a performer, I just didn’t know it at the time, and neither did the teachers.”

It was a counselor Nasby-Zwicker was working with who suggested he give theatre a try.

“It was a positive force I could put my mind to and all my energy,” he says, with enthusiasm. “It was nice to be focused and engaged; not only did it help me, it was an incredibly enjoyable experience.”

Nasby-Zwicker’s first appearance was a SAS Theatre production of To See the Stars. A starring role followed in Peter Pan in 2014, under the direction of teacher Danielle Berger.

“We get the positive energy from Mrs. Berger, she has the ego of a performer and she inspires us,” he raved at the time, pointing out he thrived on the rush of performance. “Peter Pan is attractive because you really don’t have to be a grown up. Having the theme of childhood as we graduate, it’s a nice feeling to end the year on that note.”

The talented young man also performed in several Shuswap Theatre productions, winning Best Youth Performance for his role in the Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged, the theatre’s entry in the 2014 OZone Festival.

Entering North Vancouver’s Capilano University in 2015 added a whole new level of growth to Nasby-Zwicker’s dreams and abilities.

“I learned a lot about creating a rich, genuine performance, which was kind of a big thing for me,” he says. “It was amazing to be with like-minded people, getting their support and feedback. It really inspired me to focus on doing it my own way.”

With the proof theatre can really change someone’s life through inclusivity and the opportunity to use their own issues or feelings to enrich their performances, Nasby-Zwicker looked for a way to share his newfound knowledge.

“The idea popped into my head last summer that I might not been the only one who had such a change in life, so I talked to other students and there were tons of stories where people find the theatre and it changes their lives,” he says of the emergence of Theatre For Thought. “It entertains and really good things come from theatre.”

Encouraged by the response, Nasby-Zwicker took his idea to the broader Vancouver area and has been getting positive response while he gathers more stories on which to build a theatre school program.

“We need to build the collection of stories; it’s not a science, it’s an art and we need the stories to add legitimacy,” he says. “Once we have a good foundation of support we can go to the arts board and say ‘look at all the support we have, we would like to become a real teaching facility.”

Nasby-Zwicker says he and the two others who are creating Theatre For Thought have plans to ultimately take the program across the country. In the meantime, information and mentoring will be available to folks beyond Vancouver borders.

The theatre company is also inviting stories from people on how theatre has effected a positive change in their lives. They may be submitted through the Theatre For Thought Acting Company Facebook page or by email to theatre4thought@gmail.com.

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