By Christopher Thrall –
Augustana drama professor Kevin Sutley is no stranger to Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards. “Sterlings” are given annually to celebrate outstanding theatre in Edmonton, and Sutley’s theatre company has won six of them. However, on June 28, Sutley and his Kill Your Television team could receive up to seven of the little statues for their two outstanding productions this year.
“Our work is about quality above all else,” says Sutley about his work on productions such as Mourning Dove at Edmonton’s Catalyst Theatre and Victor and Victoria’s Terrifying Tale of Terrible Things at the Edmonton Fringe Festival. “We strive for it and don’t take it lightly. We do it right despite financial or time restrictions.”
Sutley has brought the same drive for excellence and willingness to work hard to his drama class at the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus in Camrose for the past eight years. After teaching at the U of A’s North Campus, Sutley recalls being apprehensive about joining a rural institution with a religious heritage. That was before Augustana merged with the University of Alberta in 2004.
“I found Augustana very open-minded,” he says. “There was a lot more interaction between faculty members than I had ever seen before. At the U of A [North Campus], I only saw people in the drama department.” At Augustana, humanities chair Kim Fordham has designed costumes for his shows, and the music and art divisions are especially supportive. “It didn’t take long to love the environment here, and to love the kind of students that come to Augustana for a liberal arts education.”
Sutley teaches a wide variety of drama courses at Augustana including acting, directing, clowning and play analysis. Each term, the students mount a production and try their hands at skills behind the scenes: sound, lighting and stage management as well as prop, costume and set design. “Our productions are all about the student experience,” says Sutley, “and we have had a number of students go on to everything from stage management to professional acting careers.”
Sutley believes that Augustana offers something unique to students who major or minor in drama, or even members of the community who audit courses. “There are definite strengths to our program,” he says. “We do everything – not just acting but sets and lights, and even publicity. For those starting out in theatre, the best way to learn is to work at as many roles as possible. I just hope that my students come away loving theatre and know that good theatre is a product of hard work.”
Augustana productions are the talk of the community. Last year’s production of Lysistrata: The Sex Strike After Aristophanes was representative of Sutley’s desire to produce controversial, interesting work for Camrose audiences.
“I like pieces that say something about who we are and how we act in the world,” he says. “Theatre is a great way to be critical of ourselves.” He also directed the graduate show Dating, Mating and Hating in April and a Valentine’s Day fundraiser with the Camrose Rotary Club.
“What it comes down to is that you have to love theatre enough to spend a lot of time on it,” says Sutley. Up for two Sterling awards personally for Outstanding Director and Outstanding Fringe Director, he considers himself fortunate to work on what he loves, teach what he loves, and come June 28th, possibly again be recognized for doing what he loves.