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Alumni Stories


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Inspired by our Alumni? Explore our selection of Fall and Winter theatre classes!

Alumni Stories

Attending Academy is a lesson in personhood. Problem solving, public speaking, discipline, empathy – a performer’s skillset comes in handy for school, work, and life. Whether a child is set on sciences or social media, Academy can help them pursue their passions with confidence.

It’s been 30 years since we founded this theatre education program. That’s three decades of rigourous rehearsals, theatre game laughing fits, and backstage butterflies. We’ve met all kinds of Academy students – the shy, the bold, the somewhere-in-between. We’ve also seen them grow into all kinds of adults, thriving in their pursuits within and beyond the world of theatre. Below are just a few stories from Academy Alumni that capture the diversity of their journeys and the lessons they learned in their time with Academy.

We’ve spent 30 glorious years helping young people to learn, laugh and grow. Here’s to 30 more!


Ashleigh Nazareth
UBC Medical Student

I knew from a young age that I wanted to go into healthcare. But if you’re going to help someone, you have to understand where they are coming from first – that’s where theatre came in.

I started at Academy in grade eight. I had done classes at the community centre and I was training in Indian classical dance, but I really wanted to have the full “theatre kid” experience. Academy seemed to balance fun and learning; I signed up and never looked back. I felt so connected to my castmates and I loved the community I built with my friends there.

Gateway helped me develop a lot of wonderful skills, but especially empathy. I got to learn about characters who had vastly different backgrounds than my own, and then think about why they would take certain actions. What motivated them? How I would feel if I were in their situation? During my bachelor’s degree I got to work with residents of the Downtown Eastside, and I met a lot of wonderful individuals struggling with all sorts of social injustices. Years of getting into someone else's shoes at Gateway helped me see things from their point of view, and figure out how I could support them from where I was standing. That helped me decide: Yes, I want to do medicine, I want this as a career. I started the Doctor of Medicine program at UBC this year, and this summer I’m working at Children’s Hospital.

I’m so grateful for the years I got to spend at Academy. We played a lot of theatre games, and even though there are lessons to gain from that, you don’t realize how much you’re learning in those moments - it’s just really fun. Gateway Academy teaches invaluable skills for working with people, and for life in general.


Colette Richardson
Performer, Producer, Independent Theatre Artist

For kids thinking I want to be on Broadway someday, it’s not just about skillset–lots of people develop the talent, but not everyone learns the attitude. That’s invaluable, and you can get it while still having a lot of fun. I’m so grateful for it; I have been able to make so many things happen for myself because of my time at Gateway Academy.

I got to do a lot of firsts at Gateway–my first leading role, my first professional gig, the first thing I ever produced. Everyone in that building had so much faith in me. There was trust in us to bring our best work, and that’s a huge thing to learn so young. I got to try new things with the support of a safety net, giving me the skills to figure it out on my own, and I grew bolder. What I can accomplish as an independent artist today is because of those building blocks, the ability to experiment and try new things.

I’m still performing. I got my certificate in musical theatre performance from the Musical Theatre Dramatic Academy in 2018, the same year I made my off-broadway debut in a show I produced myself. These days I run a virtual production company. I feel like I can take on these big ideas, and I don’t need anyone else’s permission. I think that’s what I’ve carried with me from Academy. I developed this confidence, and as a result I’ve taken massive leaps and bounds in my career as an artist.



Kali McAndless - Courage
Graphic Designer, Gateway Theatre Board Member

At eight years old, I saw my very first musical at Gateway, and I was awe struck. I felt part of something, and I went home knowing I wanted to be up on stage. There was just one catch – I was painfully shy. 

My parents were delighted by my enthusiasm for theatre. They signed me up for summer camps and I kept going back year after year. It was usually hard for me to talk with people, but for whatever reason I could get up on stage and become a completely different person. I learned a lot of social skills, which gave me the courage to come out of my shell. I discovered very quickly that Gateway Academy was a safe space, and I’d go there excited to see my friends.

The skills that I learned from my Academy classes, about how to present myself, have definitely supported me in my career. As a designer, you have to present your ideas to companies and clients, and so I am always getting up in front of people, even though it still terrifies me. I am able to articulate myself, get my ideas across, present my work. Simple little things like how to hold a microphone have stuck with me; sometimes I even coach my peers and support others’ presentation skills.

Even after I stopped attending Academy classes, I would volunteer at the theatre, and here I am full circle, on the board. Academy was an important part of growing up for me. It rounded me out as a person and gave me the confidence I needed to walk through life.


Troy Banks
Musical Theatre Student, Capilano University

When I originally started at Gateway, it was just a fun thing. I had this internal monologue saying ‘I don’t know if I can do this’, and ‘are you really going to do this with your life?’. Throughout the years I got really close with the teachers here, with students, with Ruth. I won an award in Musical Theatre B and later the McAndless Family Award for Excellence, and I realized I might actually be okay at this. I’ve been working hard and that’s been recognised. I discovered I had this incredible passion for putting on shows for people.

One of my favourite memories is of mentoring younger musical theatre classes. The person I mentored with couldn’t make it, so our class instructor Christina came in and mentored with me. That dynamic switch has always stuck with me; one day she was my teacher, the next she was a peer teaching alongside me. Having that experience, not just being taught musical theatre but teaching musical theatre, opened my mind to different possibilities.

Without the Academy I wouldn’t be the person I am today. All of those life experiences helped me grow as a person and a performer. Now musical theatre is what I want to do with my life, it’s what I’m pursuing next year at Capilano University.




Yi Ming Liu
Theatre Student

I remember being so scared of auditioning in general, going into a room with only two people and being expected to perform. My first audition I had no idea what I was doing, I didn’t even do a proper monologue. Our instructors had high expectations for us, but they really encouraged us to explore, to be bold in that auditioning process. That support built up my courage and helped me move past my fears.

Academy was a space where I didn’t have to compare myself with others; where I could trust that what I brought to the table was enough. Everyone felt very safe with each other, and everyone was on their own journey. Having that experience as just a kid has been so valuable, and that mentality has carried over into everything I do. I’m really grateful to Gateway Academy for introducing me to performance and to the wonderful people who helped me get my start.

Inspired by our Alumni? Explore our selection of Fall and Winter theatre classes!

Photography provided by Alumni. Colette Richardson "now" photo of Party Worth Crashing (Our Time Players) features Colette Richardson (L) and Joshua Kerlin (R); photo by Heather Gershonowitz.