Students of the FFAC Class of 2017 are working hard to live the dream
It’s not easy to jump out of bed after spending 12 hours at school the day before. But students in the Faculty of Fine Arts and Communications have been working toward their dream careers since they were children, and they’re each on their way to making those dreams come true. Their passion and dedication gets them out of bed in the morning. Here they share some of their favourite moments, best advice and biggest accomplishments (so far).
Our first classes weren’t actually in a classroom—we were on the Haar theatre stage for most of our classes during the first month. I remember all of us being huddled around the main theatre entrance on the first day feeling really confused. We were waiting for a faculty member to come give us the okay to enter the theatre. Eventually someone got the courage to open the doors and see if anyone was inside. Our faculty member was waiting on the stage. Once we all sat down, he said, “You guys are techies now—you don’t use the main theatre doors anymore.” That made my heart race a little. I liked the idea of getting to see a side of theatre not everyone gets to see. It was in that moment that I knew this was where I was supposed to be.
Even though I was exhausted from long days at school, I would drag myself out of bed every morning because I was excited for the challenges ahead. I think that is a great sign that you are doing the right thing for your life.
I am really proud of our first show, The Drowsy Chaperone. So much work went into the production of that show. It had a really unique and fun design in set and costumes. I was lucky enough to be the wardrobe lead so I was in charge of helping bring the designers’ costume sketches to life. Opening night of The Drowsy Chaperone is definitely one of my proudest moments.
From the start, I figured out that MacEwan is where I wanted to be, and that this was my home as an artist. There were definitely moments when we learned more about ourselves than about fine art. You get past this egotistical stage where you just want your art to be good, and it becomes more about talking about art itself and having a conversation with the viewers and other artists in the room. There’s definitely this line that most people cross at some point where we feel overwhelmed and crazy, and that’s where sometimes we make our best work because we have to go purely on intuition. It’s a great place to be. It’s also a terrifying place to be.
I’ve been accepted to the University of Lethbridge and I’m really pumped. I looked at other schools and they all have great things, but I’m really fond of the contemporary art program in Lethbridge. They have a way of mixing all the programs and studios together, and they’re very cool with experimental work, so that’s the next step for me.
I have no idea what the next five years look like. I might decide to go to grad school. I might try to do solo exhibitions and travel around a bit. I have my next two years planned out and that’s what I’ve got.
Related: Stephanie talks about getting ready for the Fine Art Grad Show.
Arts and Cultural Management
You really have to try to reap the benefits of the opportunities that are presented to you. The networking, the people you know and the connections you make in the community really make you stand out and are going to put you ahead in the long run. Of course doing well in your assignments is important too, but I really recommend jumping at opportunities when it comes to volunteering and keeping positive. Keep picturing your end goal because you’re going to be discouraged at times. It’s going to work out. Just relax.
I got to be a research assistant for Bent River Records, the record label that MacEwan recently launched. I’m so excited to see the music program flourish, because students will get some great hands-on experience, seeing how their paths cross through working with journalists, arts administrators and musicians.
When I was nearing the end of my internship with Alberta Music, the grants administrator gave her notice, and I was asked if I was interested in the position. I said yes! It’s been a really interesting learning experience. Obviously grants are a big deal in the arts, so being able to make sure grant applications meet all the requirements and then curating a jury to assess the applications is really interesting. I’m in a good place with Alberta Music right now, and that’s exciting. That’s my biggest accomplishment so far.
Related: Read about Bent River Records' launch.
A few years ago when I went back to China, my parents were very proud of me. My mom felt like I was a totally different girl than I was three years ago. I grew up so much here, so I’m most proud of that. I’m also really appreciative of my friends. English is my second language and at first, my friends couldn’t understand me. But they didn’t say anything. They just tried to understand me. They’re so friendly and patient.
I’m not sure where I see myself in the next five years. I really want to find a job and stay here, and then what happens next? I have no idea. Depends on the situation, but I really want to stay here because I’ve met a lot of people and made a lot of good friends.
My advice for students is to know what you want. Know what you like. That’s my experience. At first I tried accounting, but thought I couldn’t survive as an accountant. I realized no—I want to do design. Find the things you love and keep working at it.
Related: Read Zhenghu’s story about how she made the jump from accounting to Design Studies.
Elizabeth (Zena) Jensen
When I watched Lord of the Rings—the first fantasy movie that I ever saw—I fell in love with the armour, the blades, the special effects. All of it. I decided I was going to do film. And the end goal since then has been to work at Weta Workshop in New Zealand. I’m still striving for that, slowly getting there. But when I watched those movies, I knew I was totally going to be one of the people that makes the armour.
I’m working at some festivals over the summer and I’m looking to go back to school to study special effects in about a year or two. The end goal has always been to work in film, but I thought it would be a smart idea to get my name out there in the theatre world, and it turns out I love theatre.
There were a couple of times when I was pulling 14-hour days trying to make sure I got my homework done for the next day and all my paperwork done for the production that we were doing. I had really good profs—they were so helpful and nice, and a lot of the friends I made were so helpful even though they were obviously pulling the same amount of hours as I was. We all understood this was hectic, but that we were going to get through it together.
On the first day of my first year, a bunch of us were late because of the bus. We ran to our dance class, freaking out, and when we got there, we sat in a circle and talked about our experience in dance. I remember hearing that other people had taken jazz and ballet. I’d only taken hip hop in the past, so I was a little intimidated. For our first exercise, I stayed in the back of the line with two other girls who ended up becoming my very close friends. We just stared at everybody in awe. We wanted to leave because we didn’t feel like we could do it. But looking back, it was so hilarious because I could do it. I just didn’t know it then.
It was scary to take tap and ballet for the first time. I wanted to stand in the back of the class all the time and just wanted to give up. But I pushed forward and kept reminding myself that it’s a process and I’m in school to learn. Now I have the confidence to go to the front of the class and learn the choreography. I’ve definitely grown a lot.
Believe in yourself. Be open. Soak everything up like a sponge and let the process happen because you never know where it could take you.
Bachelor of Communication Studies
Early in my program, I met a couple of other students and we’re all weirdos. There was one good friend who brought us quirky introverts together. It started with a group project and then we started hanging out every class, working together and helping each other. Even now, we still hang out and say that this group is the reason we all graduated. We relied on each other through tough times. I’ve never been super social, so I never thought a group of people would help push me towards my end goal. I was very independent about getting things done by myself, so learning to rely on other people was a big step for me.
I’ve learned so much in just four years, but I didn’t feel done. I want to get into international studies. So I applied for—and was accepted into—the Global Communication MA Double Degree program at Simon Fraser University. I do one year in Vancouver and my second at the Communication University of China. When I first read about it, I didn’t know if I wanted to do it, but the more I looked into it, it sparked my interest. I knew I wanted to do something around refugee issues and when I mentioned that during my interview, the interviewer got really excited—they have so much work going on and many research projects, so it’s a nice fit for me.
Arts and Cultural Management
When I was in kindergarten, my parents took me to Disneyland for the first time. It was there that I decided I wanted to get into the arts and work behind the scenes. Since then I’ve wanted to work in various technical fields, but always in the arts, like in Grade 4 I wanted to be a pyrotechnician. And so I did eventually get my pyrotechnic certificate through being a theatre technician—there was a course offered at one of the conferences I attended. Before beginning this program, I worked for over five years as a theatre technician, and also have a degree in film production.
I didn’t have a goal when I started the program, and I still don’t really know what I want to do. The program sets you up for so many different fields within the arts world, you never know where you’ll end up. But hopefully what I’ve learned helps me grow within any organization.
Competition is healthy to the extent that it’s good to look at what other people are doing and say, “Yes, I need to step up my game here,” or “I’m doing well in this aspect.” But comparing yourself to others is poisonous. I am not a strong dancer, but I’m a strong vocalist. If I compared myself to people in the program who are amazing dancers, it would be bad for my education. I wasn’t trained like they are. They’ve had 10 years of dance training and I’ve had two years of high school musical theatre. It’s very different.
I just played in the pit orchestra for Rock of Ages at Festival Place in Sherwood Park, and now I'm taking the year off to try and pursue theatre. It would feel kind of pointless to take this program and then not do anything with it, so I want to see where it takes me. If it takes me in a direction where I’m working regularly, I would stay as long as I can. If it doesn’t, then I’ll find another way to work in theatre—whether it’s teaching in a high school and passing the knowledge on, music directing or playing in a pit orchestra—anything that keeps me involved.
Bachelor of Music in Jazz and Contemporary Popular Music, Performance
I began learning the trumpet when I was in the fifth grade. For as long as I can remember, I just wanted to make a living playing the trumpet. So far that has mostly worked out, with a few small exceptions along the way.
I served 16 years with the Canadian military as a full-time musician. After I was injured during a training accident in 2007, it eventually got too painful to continue, and I was forced to accept a medical release. After much soul searching and discussion with my wife, I decided that returning to university to complete a degree that I had started more than 20 years earlier was a positive step forward. MacEwan University was the obvious choice because they offered a music degree in jazz and contemporary music—the genres that I listen to the most. I was also a peer and colleague of many faculty members, so “hanging out” at school was extremely enjoyable, and studying/preparing for their classes and assignments offered me further insight into their vast knowledge.
My advice? Try not to stress over little things that are out of your control. Accept that the path you have chosen will not be easy but it is attainable with consistent and diligent hard work. That work should also be enjoyable—otherwise, why do it?
My wife is British and had been living Canada for 22 years, and I have always loved England and was tired of shovelling snow, so I readily accepted the challenge of immigrating to the UK. I am starting a master of arts in music performance and composition at the University of Chichester in September 2017, and I hope to work as an educator and musician in England and around Europe.
MacEwan University is proud to celebrate the Class of 2017. Congratulations to this year's graduates, medal recipients and distinguished award honourees.
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