Ponoka teacher Airyn Street has no trouble reflecting on her formative years with Tree House Youth Theatre in Red Deer.
Street went from starring as Dorothy in an early Tree House production of Wizard of Oz to directing the musical nearly two decades later with her drama students from Ponoka Composite High School.
“Everything I did at Tree House, I still do today. . . . It’s shaped my whole future and made me what I am,” she said.
Given the group’s influence on her life, nothing could keep Street away from an alumni reunion held on the threshold of Tree House’s 25th anniversary season in 2013.
A drop-by open house is being organized for Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Scott Block in Red Deer. All present and former Tree House youth, parents and volunteers are invited to get reacquainted at the wine and cheese reception.
Street said, “A lot of my friends from Tree House I still Facebook with. It’ll be nice to see all of them face-to-face again. We’re like a big family.”
Artistic director Matt Gould hopes to see many familiar faces at the 5 to 7 p.m. event — and he also hopes the alumni bring memories and memorabilia to share.
Tree House Youth Theatre was formed as a non-profit in 1988 by former Red Deer College theatre instructor Richard O’Brien as a way of encouraging the theatrical talents of young people.
For the first few years, it was run as a summer program, with rehearsals in church halls and productions running at RDC, said Gould. Then the season grew into a year-round one with two or three plays now staged annually at the Scott Block in downtown Red Deer, where the group also meets for classes and rehearsals.
Audiences over the years have been able to see some 40 productions, including You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, The Magic Toy Shop, Alice in Wonderland, Fiddler on the Roof, Jr., Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, The Wind in the Willows and, more recently, Grimms’ Tales, Sleeping Beauty and Last Known Position — an original play written by Gould and his young actors about a group of kids stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash.
“Last Known Position was a game-changer,” said Gould, who believes the gritty tale that required cast members to dig deep into their emotions raised the bar on what the young actors believed they were capable of creating on stage.
Since becoming artistic director in 2007, Gould has continued to run Tree House with the goal of fostering skills development. But something more intrinsic happens as well.
Gould said the “democratic, collective experience” of taking part in Tree House productions provides a refuge for many artistic teenagers who don’t fit in with the main peer groups at school.
At Tree House, there are no divas but neither are there outcasts. “Everybody is important here,” said Gould, who takes his role model position very seriously. “The more I know these kids and the stronger the bond is, the greater the responsibility is.”
He added that some students have confided “this is the only place where they feel genuinely connected, at ease and comfortable.” That makes Gould feel that Tree House provides a much-needed safety net — “and that’s core for me. A lot of kids I see really, really come out of their shells.”
One Tree House youth went on to do such a fantastic job at a school event that Gould told him, “‘Holy smokes, you are so at ease with the mike and the audience.’ He responded, ‘That’s all Tree House.’
“Our kids take what they learn here (the self-assurance and stage presence) outside our context, and carry it over into the outside world.”
This fall, Tree House actors are putting on the Winter Wonderland Christmas Party at the Scott Block on Nov. 30, Dec. 1,7 and 8. Gould hopes local corporations will book $200 tables for 10 for their business Christmas parties. Refreshments, snacks and seasonal entertainment will be provided. Individual seats are also available for $20.
Starting in January, the theatre group that caters to 12-to-18-year-olds will also include classes for nine-to-11-year-olds.
For more information about the reunion, classes, or Winter Wonderland bookings, call 403-986-0631.