Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 15, 2010
Students invigorated by immersion in Living Water
Catholic summer Shakespeare camp 'stretched us till we thought we would all burn out'
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
A cut, thrust, dazzling sword play and Jenny Sawyer won the duel with resident chaplain Father Stephen Smith.
The setting? Derwent's Living Water College of the Arts where they staged Macbeth during their 2009 summer program.
Classically trained at Roman Catholic liberal arts Thomas Aquinas College, Sawyer says this is the first time she has seen the premise of integrating faith and the arts put into practice.
The Kansas-born school teacher says when she initially saw the six-week summer school schedule going from 8 a.m. to 10 at night every day, "I thought 'We will all burn out.'"
But as the course wore on, Sawyer saw the wisdom of the intense integration such as going from a class on philosophy of art directly into Mass.
The community came to a halt at prayer and Mass times and you were encouraged to use prayer to wind down, still yourself, says Sawyer. The chaplain would sometimes slip into classes and when it came time for the homily in Mass, he would often relate the spiritual aspect of what had been happening in class.
"So things were not separate," says Sawyer.
When they cooked and cleaned together, Sawyer says they were still talking about what had happened during the day.
"Even those times were kinds of integrating experiences."
Sawyer also saw the wisdom of the college's Derwent rural setting, a significant distance and isolation from a major city, keeping the students free from secular distractions, much like "the monastic artists."
Sawyer's words are ringing affirmation to the intent of the college's founders. Living Water College of the Arts is the dream child of Deacon Ken Noster and his wife Marlane. Basically Ken wanted to provide a means by which "young people could explore their calling in the arts without having to compromise their faith."
He comes to that commitment from the often-bitter experiences he and his wife had as professional actors. The couple were thespians from the mid-70s onwards. Their stages crossed the country from Toronto westward and they even played the Citadel.
"But when you are working with other people, you are at others' dictates," recounts Ken. They turned down much of the work offered to them because it went against their spiritual and ethical grain.
So the couple developed their own touring company, Mime Light Theater, and about 10 years ago, a vision took root in their hearts. The seasoned actors "saw young people who had nowhere to go if they are to be able to retain their faith and stay a living, breathing child of God." Their mission became to create a place of study/worship where a "consortium of young people could manifest their art and build their faith."
Living Water is tucked into a retreat-like setting near Derwent, east of Edmonton, with a 930-square-metre building, home to a 2,000 volume library, common kitchen area, recording studios, classrooms and chapel. Two dormitories house the men and women.
ART, FAITH, REASON
The pillars of the integrated instruction are art, faith and reason, but the college needs $2.5 million before it moves into full-time studies. Until then, the summer programs portray the college's potential.
Ken's eyes sparkle at the memory of Macbeth and a smile bursts over his face. "But now we know it works. Last summer went way beyond my expectations."
Shakespeare's Macbeth "stretched" Markus Visscher. He played Banquo, yet that wasn't the main impact the six-week program had on the 20-year-old.
"These people are interested in producing good actors and interested in people's futures. The college has an honour system that you don't find nowadays in the film or stage industry and I really, really appreciated that. We were almost like a family by the time we left."
Visscher was one of the 13 students at the 2009 summer program at the rural campus. The 20-year-old actor/electrician says he came away with an appreciation of how the stage is the foundation for film.
A devout Christian, he says God urged him to take the course.
"It's a once in a lifetime experience. It's pretty rare you get guys (instructors) of that calibre coming out there."
Another student, Kimberly de Champlain, reflects back on her six weeks at Living Water and marvels, "Everything always came back to one thing and that was that God gave us these gifts to do for the world and do it through his name."
She admits the studies were "draining and intense to the intellect with the long days . . . but never was it boring or uneventful, that's for sure."
De Champlain saw her faith growing stronger, and "I loved the daily prayer that we had. It was awesome to start the day with the Lord before we got into the things that we loved to do."
While she played Lady Macbeth, one of the lead roles, de Champlain saw her artistic focus take a novel turn.
"My professor said he thought I should write scripts, something I never thought I would ever do in life. So I have been working on writing recently."
She plans to return to Living Water in 2011. "It's a great opportunity to learn about yourself, how to incorporate your faith in what you want to do and to have a great time."
When Allie Van Dyke journeyed down that rural road last summer to Living Water she "did not know what I wanted to do yet. Living Water gave me a chance to reflect on myself, get a chance to become close with God and other people who wanted the same that I did."
She found herself going from a relatively unstructured life into a situation where her day was filled from morning to night.
"We did get time to ourselves. But most of the time we were doing movement and rehearsals, seminars. I was surprised how well I took to it. It was very tiring, but at the same time it was very invigorating and uplifting."
KNOW THE LORD
Van Dyke, 21, played Lennox and says the greatest gift Living Water gave her "was a deeper love of drama and a desire to get to know the Lord more and deepen my relationship with him."
She too plans to return to the college in 2011 to "see if I can strengthen the gifts I found there."
As Sawyer reflects on her six weeks at Living Water, she says the program shows a "way in which we were able to pull together and make a community out of it, where everyone pulled their own weight."
It also gave students "an ability to see your art in the greater context of life, the broader human perspective."
Sawyer says she was "extremely happy" with the course. Usually when an actor does a production, "you just do your lines. But with this kind of experience, you give of your whole self."
It was grueling and Sawyer says she slept for a week afterwards.
Know too that there was the added bonus of a deepening of Sawyer's faith during those weeks.
"My faith grew in that period because we were given an adequate time to reflect on what we were learning," says a satisfied Sawyer.
This summer's production serves up a lighter Shakespearean play, the Merchant of Venice, and in 2011, there will be a visual arts program.
To contact Living Water, call 780-741-2488, or visit the college's website, www.livingwatercollege.com.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.