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New West actor brings Shakespeare to virtual life

Theresa Cowley, an NWSS grad, was one of 12 young actors from across Canada who took part in Riotous Youth with Bard on the Beach this past summer
Theresa Cowley
New Westminster Secondary School alumna Theresa Cowley was one of 12 performers from across Canada picked for the Bard on the Beach Riotous Youth program this summer.

Theresa Cowley has been recognized as one of Canada’s rising theatre stars.

This past summer, the 20-year-old New Westminster Secondary grad was one of only 12 young actors from across Canada selected for funding from the RBC Emerging Artists Project and a spot in a program called Riotous Youth. Riotous Youth is a paid internship with Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival.

It was an opportunity that almost didn’t come to pass. When Bard on the Beach was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the internship was in jeopardy. But the RBC Emerging Artists Project stepped up to provide funding for the participants and keep the program alive.

The shift to an online program gave Cowley the unique opportunity to bring the Bard’s famous words to life in a virtual setting.

“I was very nervous about how we would approach this program virtually, but we were able to use this challenging time as a way to build a real sense of community and think of creative ways to express Shakespeare,” said Cowley. “I also had regular online meetings with my program mentor, who really helped me with my vocal technique and the practical aspects of actor training.”

The interns also produced a collaborative piece of theatre called ‘A Shakespeariment’ - a showcase that released on the Bard on the Beach Youtube channel.

“It’s us performing Shakespeare, but recorded on our phones,” said Cowley.

Live-screen recordings of Zoom meetings were used as a “stage,” allowing actors to alternate appearing on the screen, replicating a classical theatre format. And with the interns at home, a lot of the typical elements of theatre – like sound, lighting, props and costumes – had to be created with whatever was around the house.

Katie Johnstone, education coordinator for Bard on the Beach, noted it meant finding new ways to recreate theatre.

“The program’s mission is to inspire by creating engaging experiences with Shakespeare, but how do you digitize the experience and bring the essence and entertainment of Shakespeare to a computer screen?,” Johnstone said. “Our interns showed us not only that this could be done, but that it could be done with a lot of creativity.”

Cowley’s internship also involved helping run the program’s Young Shakespeareans summer camps.

“There isn’t a part of this internship that hasn’t been amazing, but having the opportunity to help run the Young Shakespeareans Julius Caesar camp was an incredible experience,” said Cowley. “It allowed me to take on a leadership role and get a taste for what life as a director would be like.”

Cowley is starting her third year in the joint theatre and drama studies program at the University of Toronto Mississauga and Sheridan College.

“Growing up in New Westminster, I saw a lot of theatre, but my first hands-on exposure to theatre came through participating in musical theatre productions at New Westminster Secondary,”  said Cowley, who appeared in three musicals at the school: Footloose, Legally Blonde and Crazy For You.

During the summer of 2019, Cowley also participated in a Shakespeare intensive with the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Pasadena, California.

“My high school English class also gave me my first Shakespeare memory,” Cowley said. “We took a trip to see the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and I was blown away by the actress who played Henry Percy in the festival’s production of Henry IV Part 1. It made me want to pursue theatre and to hopefully one day be able to command space on a stage as she did.”

To see the Shakesperiment, check out Bard on the Beach’s Youtube channel at The videos are linked under Bard Education, and the Shakesperiment is posted in three acts.