To cap off our first ever "College Week," The Ensemblist is celebrating the myriad of ways aspiring theatre artists receive an education in the arts. Today, we hear from Jacqui Sirois, graduate of Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and NYU Steinhardt.
If you had told me six years ago when I was a freshman at Queen’s University that I would be pounding the pavement in New York City, I wouldn’t have believed you. I grew up in Toronto, ON (Canada) knowing that I wanted to be in musical theatre from young age. I majored in Music Theatre at the arts-focused high school I attended where, even there, I was still considered a total musical theatre nerd. This past spring, I completed my Masters of Music from NYU Steinhardt in Vocal Performance with a specialization in Music Theatre, and although there were many hurdles to overcome there, I feel that the pursuit of my Bachelor of Arts at Queen’s University shaped me through the myriad of experiences I had to face there. There’s one phrase that is able to sum it all up for me: If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
Doing an undergraduate degree in the U.S. was out of the question for me and so I had to go to school in Canada. There’s only one musical theatre program in Canada and I didn’t get in. I did however, get into my “safety school”, Queen’s University. I knew they had a Drama department but it was not a conservatory program and was more of a theoretical and analytical program. It was a tough start because I was limited as to how many Drama courses I could take, all the productions put on by the school are student run and extra-curricular and although I was able to take voice lessons through the School of Music, I was only allowed to study classical voice. None of this was ideal but this is where I was and I had to try and make the most of it. I learned pretty quickly how the the politics of student theatre ran and so, starting in my first year, I worked on as many production crews as I could. This allowed me to get to know many of the upper-classmen who ran the shows or would be doing so in the coming semesters. My first few semesters were less than ideal since I was pretty lost without musical theatre running the show and was struggling to figure out where I fit in but, in hindsight, this forced me to find other ways to be fulfilled and pave my own way. Once I realized that as I progressed in the program, I was able to kinda “make my own degree” and that I had the power to take courses that would be pretty darn close to a musical theatre degree so, I took full advantage of everything Queen’s had to offer. I took every acting class I could fit in my timetable including an intensive at the Shaw Festival, I continued my voice lessons, I took tech and design courses, I assisted other students on their production roles on shows, I did four musicals and acted in a straight-play for the first time, I took a work study job in the costume shop, I did my senior thesis on the art form of cabaret and created my own show, and most profoundly, I discovered my love of directing and directed one of the first Canadian productions of Dogfight. Those are just a handful of the things I did so, suffice it to say, I learned a ton and graduated from that program appreciating theatre in a new way and feeling like I was seeing performance through a new set of eyes.
Although it wasn’t what I initially wanted in my post-secondary education, nothing is ever wasted. I’m so grateful for the challenges presented to me at Queen’s since I was still able to take away more than I imagined out of the program and still got to move to New York City when I was done. I grew so much as both an artist and a human and those hard times gave me so many experiences that I’m able to use in my work in the arts, which may not have happened in a conservatory program. I am able to understand and appreciate every aspect of work that goes into a production because, at one point, I was that person. I feel I have a unique set of experiences that I’m able to bring to my budding career in New York and I know that it will lead me to where I meant to be.
Listen to our episodes on college theatre programs here.