Listen to your gut, says award-winning Red Deer performer

Four years ago, Red Deer’s Jesse Drwiega was told somewhat simply, that he wasn’t good enough.

Drwiega put together an audition tape for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Scholarship for Performing Arts, only to have his application turned away.

“Basically, the response I got was you’re not quite at the calibre we’re looking for. I was kind of crushed,” reflected the now 25-year-old.

He pressed forward, working on his degree in musical theatre performance at Sheridan College in Ontario, when he applied for the scholarship again, heading into his final year.

For the 2019-20 school year, Drwiega earned the $5,000 scholarship, which is awarded to one “young Albertan performing artist who shows extraordinary talent and potential and who demonstrates clear educational or training goals.”

He received his Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal last week and will be part of a virtual ceremony next week.

His extraordinary talent hasn’t only been noticed in Alberta, either. Drwiega graduated with honours at Sheridan and his grade point average put him at the top of his class.

He was also one of only 20 international students accepted to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where he will complete his masters degree.

He almost didn’t even bother to see if he made it either, pondering if the application fee was worth it, and thinking he’d just be turned away.

It took an email from the head of his program at Sheridan to tell him to pay the application fee.

“He said they were keen to offer me a scholarship, but I had to pay the application fee … so I paid the application fee and I got a scholarship letter from them, saying they’d love to have me,” Drwiega recalled with a laugh.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Drwiega was also trending toward getting a big break in the theatre world. He had auditioned to be a replacement for the company the produces Frozen on Broadway. He only just missed the cut.

That inspired him to dream big. He hopes after his time in Scotland, he might get a chance to make it into a production overseas.

One day, he hopes to return to Canada and find a way to teach musical theatre, as he’s done a bit of teaching on the side while completing his degree.

He’s not quite sure where the journey will end up, but as a kid growing up in Red Deer, Drwiega knows the path he’s taking is the road less travelled.

His dream of being an actor was once called unrealistic, and it wasn’t until later in high school that one teacher encouraged him to pursue musical theatre as a post-secondary option.

“I’m really grateful for her,” he said.

While it’s been a wild ride so far, he had some simple advice to those who think it’s not possible to follow their own dream.

“It really boils down to my gut has really never led me astray. When I’m able to quiet all the excess noise about other people’s expectations of me, or what society’s expectations are of me, I can feel a visceral response to the direction I should be taking – that’s going to hopefully lead me to the direction of happiness,” he said.

“So my best advice is to try and quiet the noise in your life and not try to care so much about the expectations other people put on you – whether that’s your friends, your family or your teachers.

“Even expectations you might have for yourself of what your life needs to look like. Honour what you feel like you want to do with your life.”

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