Alison O’Toole plays around with a prop. (Keili Bartlett / The Northern View)
Bad Video Embed Code

Alison O’Toole plays around with a prop. (Keili Bartlett / The Northern View)

Heart of Our City: Going off script

Drama teacher Alison O’Toole has been a part of 25 musicals in Prince Rupert — and then some.

Alison O’Toole has lived in Prince Rupert for 25 years or, as the theatre teacher likes to put it, 25 musicals.

“My life is by musicals. Every fall I do a big show,” O’Toole said. “Two times they’ve been full-length plays but every other year it’s been a musical. I typed out a list. The first year was ‘The Outsiders’, the second year was ‘Oliver’. It’s by show, so this is actually my 25th year.”

Her list, of course, does not include the community musical she directed in 2010 for Prince Rupert’s centennial, or the plays she’s performed in.

Once, while directing the community production of “Fiddler on the Roof” O’Toole stopped and counted how many of the cast members were her former students. Of the 30 actors, about 17 had taken her class in high school.

“It is generations. I’m now teaching kids of kids I taught,” O’Toole said with a laugh. “Some of my former students are now teachers here and we’re colleagues. It’s an interesting community that way.”

O’Toole arrived in Prince Rupert in 1993 after earning her teaching degree in Victoria. Originally from Victoria, with a few years in Nanaimo, it wasn’t always clear what role O’Toole was meant to play in life. When she graduated from high school, she recalls feeling lost. After a year and a half of studying theatre in university, she dropped out and worked as a waitress for several years.

“I thought, ‘Maybe teaching. Definitely theatre,’” O’Toole said. So she enrolled in university again.

There was no question in her mind that she would teach high school students. She’d been in community theatre as a kid and naturally elected to study it in high school.

“I think because that’s when it clicked for me at that age, that’s why I was drawn to teaching that age group,” O’Toole said.

Her own high school theatre teacher, she recalls, had a big impact on her. When she was doing her practicums to become a teacher, she took one with him — a frantic, fanatic British man by her description — and later invited him to do workshops with her students after she landed the job in Rupert.

“He just drove you. You didn’t mess around. He said, ‘You leave your baggage at the door. We’re here to rehearse.’ Yet he was just like my confidante,” O’Toole said. “He was and still is a positive influence. I still have lessons from when I was on practicum with him that I use with my kids. There’s still a part of him that lives on.”

For someone who’s spent many years in high school on both sides of the student-teacher divide, O’Toole knows how much influence those around you can have.

“High school can be a really hard time and you’re a bit lost. [Theatre class] was like family in those tumultuous years. It’s so much about connections and relationships and that bonding experience,” she said.

READ and WATCH MORE: Heart of Our City: Giving a voice to Prince Rupert’s talent

“Theatre had always been a part of my life, but it was really in my Grade 12 year I was in a bad relationship with a guy who was very controlling and did a lot to my self-esteem. I was in a low place. I think I just needed something, and this was the right group of people, it was the right environment. It was ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’” she said with a laugh. “I feel like it saved my life in many ways. It gave me confidence. It made me look at that relationship and say ‘Woah, who was that person? That’s not me.’

“I think that kids can be so vulnerable in high school. Occasionally, I’ll hear maybe first hand or second hand that I’ve had a good influence on a kid,” she said. “When I hear that I totally get it. That’s probably what drove me here and keeps me here.”

She said that other teachers will occasionally comment on how a certain kid was so quiet in their class, but excelled on stage during the high school musical.

“I think sometimes teenagers get a bad rap. Just to see them in another light is great,” O’Toole said. “They’re not just kids. They’re people who have skills and capabilities. The kids just continue to amaze me.”

It’s not often that O’Toole takes a break from theatre. She listens to musical soundtracks and said from September to December the high school musical is all-consuming. Then it’s on to the spring festivals. Once she emerges from behind the scenes, it’s slo-pitch season. As a teacher, O’Toole gets a two-month summer vacation every year, which she likes to spend travelling with her husband and visiting his family on Canada’s East Coast. During those trips, she can’t help but catch a few local shows.

“There’s just something about a musical,” she said, waving her hands as she speaks. “There’s something about that energy and excitement that musicals have.”

It’s a magic O’Toole spends a lot of time creating. She starts working on her own productions in the spring, often finding a prop and saying, “Oh, that would be good for the play!” It’s a tireless effort to create an amazing experience for everyone, on and off stage.

“I’m hoping the audience can go and forget about the dishes at home or the work they have to do or whatever and just be taken away in the magic that is musical theatre … I hope they take a journey with these guys,” she said of her latest onstage production, “and it ends with some pretty good life lessons.”

Read more Heart of Our City profiles here.

Heart of our City

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Glenn Hall, resident at Yellowhead Pioneer Residence Assisted Living in Barrierem B.C. received their first COVID-19 vaccinations on Jan. 19. (Pam Simpson photo)
Acropolis residents and staff to receive COVID-19 vaccine

Prince Rupert long term care residents will receive the vaccine on Jan. 20

An outbreak of COVID-19 was declared on Jan. 19 at Acropolis Manor. The long-term care home also had an influenza outbreak nearly two years ago.
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Acropolis Manor

Prince Rupert long-term care home has four resident, three staff cases

Lax Kxeen Elementary School has two different active notices for potential COVID-19 exposure after three adult lab-confirmed cases of the virus were identified in Prince Rupert schools, School District 52 released in a statement on Jan. 18. (Photo K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Three adult COVID-19 cases result in four potential exposures in city schools

Prince Rupert School District 52 calls special open meeting

The Port of Prince Rupert has experienced another year of increased cargo volumes, shipped through the city, with more than $50 billion in international trade facilitated through the area, the Port Authority announced on Jan. 18. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Port cargo volume growth continues despite pandemic obstacles

Prince Rupert Port authority announces $50 billion in international trade

Prince Rupert Lions Club donated $11,500 to several local organizations from the proceeds of the 28th annual Blue Knuckle Derby on Jan. 18. (Photo: supplied)
Local organizations benefit from Blue Knuckle Derby

Prince Rupert Lions Club donates $11,500

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

Cranbrook Food Bank coordinator Deanna Kemperman, Potluck Cafe Society executive director Naved Noorani and Sunshine Coast Community Services Society executive director Catherine Leach join B.C.’s new Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne on a video call about B.C. gaming grants, Jan. 19, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. gaming grants reorganized for COVID-19 priorities

Minister highlights community kitchens, food banks

(Pixabay photo)
‘Cocaine bananas’ arrive at Kelowna grocery stores after mix up from Colombia: RCMP

Kelowna RCMP recently concluded an international drug investigation after finding cocaine in local grocers’ banana shipments in 2019

A new video from NCCIH and BC Northern Health titled ‘Healing in Pandemic Times: Indigenous Peoples, Stigma and COVID-19’ was animated by Joanne Gervais. (Photo Provided By: NCCIH Archives)
VIDEO: Stigma against Indigenous people is a ‘social sickness’

A new short animated video is aiming to educate the public on the stigmatization

A pinniped was attacked by an unseen predator off the shores of Dallas Road Monday night. (Courtesy of Steffani Cameron)
VIDEO: Seal hunting, not being hunted in video shot off Victoria waterfront

Victoria woman captures footage of pinniped activity off Dallas Road

Most Read