OUTLOOK - Audiences in Outlook and area saw the talent of singer, actor and musician Andrew Linsley as he was growing up. He continued on a performing path that recently took him on an international education experience to further nurture his talents and develop new skills at the same time.
Andrew, the youngest son of John and Margo Linsley, says growing up in this community helped carve a road to the stage. “As one who was drawn to the performing arts, I am very fortunate to have lived in Outlook,” he remarked. “Equinox Theatre has been a great avenue of theatrical enjoyment for our town and I was grateful I got to perform in a few of their shows when I was younger.”
Other local opportunities proved pivotal such as voice and violin lessons, and the fact that his schools (OHS and LCBI) offered band and choir as an option.“I am very privileged to have lived in a community that celebrates performing arts. Having mentors to teach the necessary skills and having outlets to perform like the Outlook Music Festival and Equinox Theatre was a huge boost for me. I teach music and perform in musicals because I had teachers and peers who supported me and made it possible. I guess now it’s become something of a habit.”
After graduating from high school he headed to the University of Saskatchewan to study Music Education, a program that combined his interests. “I really loved music,” he explained, “but I also found a lot of joy in camp counselling and teaching, so I figured it was worth keeping both wheels on that metaphorical bike.”
Following convocation he was on the substitute teaching list in Saskatoon and got a few temporary band and choir teaching contracts. “I taught students to play their instruments, sing harmonies in choir and I even directed the odd high school musical here and there”, things he considers a fit for his personality. “I rather enjoy my role as the ‘music teacher’, the nebulous and somewhat unstable muppet who sings and dances in the name of education.”
But a chance to leave teaching for a bit and become a student again intrigued him after a couple colleagues pursued Master’s Degrees at the Royal Conservatoire in Scotland. The idea of studying abroad excited him so he began putting audition tapes together.
Applying for schools led to some rather interesting experiences. “I had to wake up at 5:00 in the morning for a school in Wales to account for the time difference. So there I am, singing loud show tunes and belting out zany monologues at the crack of dawn in my basement suite. My upstairs neighbours were gracious humans!"
A program in Leeds, a city in West Yorkshire, England, grabbed his attention. “Leeds was a relatively smaller program with a focus on developing new musicals. I knew with a smaller program I’d get to know my classmates better and I was intrigued by the idea of creating new shows.”
Andrew and 23 other Masters students from various corners of the United Kingdom and countries further away (they called themselves ‘Migrant Birds” since they flew in from overseas) studied Performance, Direction, Creative and Dramaturgy.
The program consisted of very full weeks; four different dance classes in ballet, tap, jazz/hip-hop and repertoire, singing lessons, acting lessons, master classes and multiple rehearsals and table work for the shows they were working on. At the end of the year, they had a festival featuring new shows written and developed throughout the year.
Andrew went into the program thinking it would be all dancing, singing and acting but was pleasantly surprised to discover how much writing he ended up doing. “There was actually a lot of composition, book and song writing,” he said. “The conservatoire of Leeds is very dedicated to the development of new work and I collaborated with a lot of creatives to make new musical theatre pieces and I was very excited to try my hand at this. Apparently the best way to learn how to write a musical is to write a musical!”
Performing opportunities allowed students to flex creative muscles and put a new spin on older classics. “One thing we had to do at the conservatoire was put together a cabaret of various re-imagined musical theatre pieces. I had a lot of fun performing and music directing a punk rock version of “Pirates of Penzance”. I essentially just took the best songs from the show and added distorted guitars and double kick drums. It was good fun.”
He also starred in a show he helped compose called “Mr. Wilsons’ Wives,” a cabaret style comedy about a young WWI pilot turned navy officer turned English teacher turned novelist turned spy who was married to four women at the same time and kept it from all of them. “Apparently it’s a true story,” Andrew said. “The guy’s name was Alexander Wilson.”
A show he was particularly proud of was called LAYLA, a folk rock musical about a young girl who ventures out into an apocalyptic wasteland and fights off a shapeshifting monster — a show he described as ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ meets ‘The Walking Dead’. “I composed a lot of the score for the show,” Andrew explained, “ and collaborated with my colleagues on lyrics and dialogue.” They performed at the Sheffield Fringe and have aspirations to develop it for another Fringe Festival next summer.
Collaboration was an important part of the experience for Andrew. “There were other musicians and composers at the conservatoire that we got to know quite well, including my flat mates who were all steeped in the entertainment business in one way or the other.” It was a community extending beyond those on stage. “I lived with a Bollywood film director, a video game music composer and a graphic designer who made merch for UFC fighters. It was a bit of a sitcom!”
Going to Leeds was all the more special for Andrew since his father is English and it was nice to be close to relatives while studying. His dad’s sister and family were a short train ride away and he would visit every now and then and get out of the city. This gave him a chance to get in touch with the artistry in his DNA. “My aunt showed me a lot of my grandparent’s old mementos from their own artistic journeys: my grandmas’ art history textbooks, and old photos of my grandfather in Gilbert and Sullivan productions. They were things that made me feel like I’d come full circle.”
Andrew is now back in Saskatoon substitute teaching and anticipating performing opportunities including a production of ‘The Full Monty” with Saskatoon Summer Players. He is also hoping to return to the United Kingdom next summer for Fringe performances with some of his colleagues. “We’re hoping to take LAYLA to the Edinburgh, Brighton and Sheffield Fringes, so if we play our cards right, that show will make a comeback. I also have a few ideas for some new shows brewing in my musical theatre stunted brain, so hopefully inspiration will strike soon and I can put those ideas in motion.”
He will be building on a resume whose past credits include roles in “Rent”, “Into the Words”, “Avenue Q” and “Shrek: The Musical”, to name a select few. He’s also been involved in leadership roles as musical director and conducting the orchestra for “Sweeney Todd; The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” which he described as a delightful challenge.
Returning from Leeds, Andrew said he brought with him more confidence in his acting and singing abilities, as well as his general knowledge of storytelling. You can hear the smile in his voice as he remarked, “I was never a strong dancer, but in that regard, I feel like I have improved a great deal as well, though I may need to go back into training soon to maintain form. My arabesques and pas de bourees need some work.”
As he considers the past year and looks to the future as a performer he said, “At this point I am just keeping my eyes and ears open for auditions and opportunities in the industry. I really enjoyed my studies in the UK and am hoping the connections I made will open doors for me in a professional setting at some point. A stint on the West End stage, Broadway, Stratford or anywhere would be very exciting, but honestly, as a musician and performer, I typically try to just play it by ear. Whatever happens in the future, I will look back fondly on my experience in the UK, full of gratitude…and Yorkshire pudding.”