Off the Rails #2
by Mary Beach
August 17, 2016
Railtown Actors Studio celebrates anniversary by launching Railtown Lab
VANCOUVER B.C. – (July 13, 2016) - After four years as one of Vancouver’s premium acting studios, Railtown Actors Studio Co-Artistic Directors Kate Twa and John Cassini celebrate thriving classes, a new fall program and an “incubator” program for launching new work in the heart of Vancouver’s hip Railtown district.
“The vision of the studio has always included developing new work. That is the genesis of creativity,” said Twa, onstage in the 3500-square-foot Studio’s black box theatre on Alexander Street. “Within our scene study programs, we teach with an extraordinary range of inspiring works. It’s only natural that the Lab can now facilitate original content.”
It’s kept them busy. According to Cassini, when he and Twa joined forces, four years ago, they knew they were onto something. “We knew it would be contagious, because we care a lot,” said Cassini, stage and screen veteran and 2016 Jessie nominee for The Motherf**ker with the Hat, by Stephen Adly Guirgis at the Firehall Arts Centre.
Now with eight instructors, and more than a dozen classes, the studio operates at capacity with close to 100 students per semester. Even when classes are full, actors are encouraged to interview. “If they feel Railtown is the right place for them to study, we will find a space,” said Twa.
Community is important to them. When Twa and Cassini started training actors in Gastown in the 1990s, Vancouver was booming with work for actors but “serious” training opportunities – as they had experienced – Cassini at the famed Actors Studio in New York and L.A. and Twa in London – were minimal.
“Vancouver is such a young city when it comes to training and culture,” said Twa. She craved an intense and immersive creative community and considered leaving Vancouver to find it – like so many artists do. Instead, she started building her own.
She and Cassini began teaching at Gastown Studio in the early 90s. Cassini then moved to Los Angeles but returned to guest-teach at Lyric School of Acting, where Twa was co-Founder.
Twa then started Cucumber Satellite Theatre and Film Society at a “teeny-tiny” 500-sq-foot space on Commercial and, with the help of partner Ronan Reinart – the “renaissance” man in her life – Twa wrote and directed her first feature film, Gods of Youth.
Cassini watched the film, recognized the quality of work, and they started Railtown.
Four years on, Cassini said they are happy they chose to stay here and build what they both craved – a local creative epicentre.
“The word I hear in interviews with prospective students is that we are very serious,” said Cassini. The truth is, “we have a lot of fun, and the fun comes from how committed and serious students are about training here.”
“We love the process, the rehearsal, the discovery,” said Twa.
The Studio is a luxury, a blank slate and a creative hub, where anything is possible. Twa playfully calls it the mothership, spinning off satellites that energize and “up the game” for the local community in both theatre and film.
Cassini said that when his students get work in a TV movie, for example, they are ready. “Because if you can handle the work of our great playwrights: O’Neill, Walker, Shephard, Mamet, LaBute, Shanley – four pages of television script will not intimidate you. You’re going to feel good about approaching it.”
Launching the Railtown Lab feeds the next generation. Former students and now co-curators of the Railtown Lab, Anthony Shim and Bryan Demore produce original work – starting with For The Record, by writer-in-residence Raul Inglis, which had a sold-out run at Railtown in April, and looking ahead to their next production in August.
This summer, Twa’s second film, The Orchard, has its premiere. The script features many Railtown actors and grew out of her experience in Inglis’s writing class at Railtown.
“It's formidable in a sense – rather than we as artists becoming a block in someone else’s story, we are creating our own.”