EARLIER this year, when program head Stuart Aikins addressed a group of people interested in enrolling in the new bachelor of performing arts program hosted by Capilano University, he outlined the opportunity at hand.
"I said to them, 'This is your opportunity to tell stories in the way that you want to tell them and to tell your stories,'" he recalls.
With the second cohort having started their coursework May 7, it seems his message was received.
Reviewing video of some of their initial project presentations, Aikins is impressed.
"When you give people the equipment and the tools and the right to express themselves, how remarkable their thinking is and how clever and delightful it is," he says.
Aikins' realization speaks to the value of the bachelor of performing arts program, a cross-disciplinary fourth-year degree completion program launched last year. The program is unique in that it's offered jointly by four local institutions, Capilano University, Douglas College, Langara and Vancouver Community College.
While it's currently hosted by Capilano, graduates will have all four school's names stamped on their diplomas, the first of which will be awarded to members of the inaugural cohort, Monday, June 3 at 6 p.m. at the Capilano University Sportsplex.
With the second cohort having just begun their studies, all involved are anticipating a bright future for both graduates and the program at large.
"By creating this freedom for them and the support, they're going to blossom and that's been incredibly rejuvenating," says Aikins, who serves as the program's special appointee.
Aikins wears a number of hats at Capilano University as he also serves as chairman of the school of performing arts and co-ordinator for the theatre department. In addition, he runs Vancouver-based Aikins/Cossey Casting and has worked as a casting director for more than 35 years. Examples of his extensive film credits include the Academy Award-winning Unforgiven, Best in Show, Elf and The Twilight Saga.
According to Aikins, the idea for the new bachelor of performing arts program had its roots at a provincial ministry of advanced education event where presidents from the four participating institutions happened to be standing next to one another.
"The minister came over and said, 'You guys should really get together on a program, literally' and so they figured that wasn't a bad idea and so 10 years ago they began discussing the possibilities," he says.
It was agreed that a capstone fourth-year program would work very well with all involved as the participating institutions had many existing two-and three-year diplomas that could feed into it nicely.
The resulting nine-month full time program runs from May to January and the inaugural cohort, launched in May 2012, had 24 students enrolled. The second cohort is comprised of 22 students.
"What's remarkable about it is that it's not a bachelor of fine arts. This is real world experience and training in collaborative, interdisciplinary entrepreneurship," says Aikins.
The program has been designed to help prepare students for careers as professional performing artists, arts managers, administrators or cultural entrepreneurs, as well as to serve those interested in pursuing performing arts graduate studies.
Students accepted into the program have diverse backgrounds in terms of both their academic and professional experience.
"We try to reach out for the widest range of disciplines so that it is truly inter-disciplinary," says Aikins.
Examples of disciplines the first two cohorts represent include acting, theatre, music, dance, lighting and production design.
Through coursework, students learn how to create their own companies, where and how to source funding, how to create pieces and how to market them. They complete their nine months with a capstone project, a performance at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival of a piece that they've worked together to develop, create, build and produce.
The inaugural cohort presented Qualia in January, taking Vancouver venue Progress Lab 1422, and utilizing the entire space to create a research facility that dealt with the disconnect between emotion and feelings, says Aikins.
"It was very successful," he says. In addition, the cohort was involved in a series of performance art pieces at the Vancouver Art Gallery's Fuse in November 2012.
The new cohort has been given an opportunity to participate in the upcoming Culture Days Arts Club Stroll, Sept. 27-29.
Aikins is pleased to see members of the inaugural cohort faring well following completion of their studies with some doing filmwork and others working on shows for the Vancouver International Fringe Festival. One grad is currently working to develop a big piece in St. John's, Nfld.
"The interesting thing about it is that the network that they created, they continue to maintain and they are all working on projects with each other," he says.
For more information on the Bachelor of Performing Arts program and admission requirements, visit capilanou.ca/bpa.