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The secret world of Dal Theatre

On the fifth floor of the Rebecca Cohn building, David Nicols’ office floor is a cacophony of piled papers.  Nicols’ eyes shine amongst the chaos as he stops organizing to talk student theatre at Dalhousie.

Despite what the uninitiated may presume, theatre studies is more than learning to act—although that is an option. Students also study costume design, lighting, sound and set construction. As a professor of the history of theatre, Nicols is involved in the academic aspects of theatre study, in which all theatre students are versed.

The practical applications of the various facets of the theatre program are showcased by four productions throughout the school year. Nicols puts his hands on his knees and leans forward as he describes this year’s impending productions.

The first, The Ends of the Earth, is a “very strange play with a very strange sense of humour about a couple of guys who keep encountering each other wherever they go, and one guys thinks the other guys is spying on him and the other guy is convinced that the other guy is spying on him and he thinks the guy is following him but in fact the guy is following him because he thinks the other guy is following him…”

Nicols’ laugh is unrestrained as he admits the story messes with your mind. The play is a low-budget production by esteemed Canadian playwright Morris Panych.

Nicols’ descriptive fervour mounts as he describes the three other plays, although he doesn’t spoil the stories.  The final play, which this year will be The Triumph of Love, is an elaborate culmination of the knowledge accumulated throughout the year. Nicols says when the curtains open onto that final production, and the audience sees the set and costumes, “everyone just goes ,‘Ohh.’ That’s the best part of the year.”

University theatre is exciting because it doesn’t focus on box office sales. “Although it’s nice to sell tickets,” says Nicols, “it’s more about teaching students.” This mindset allows more experimentation and variety than private theatre companies, and draws the interest of outside members of the theatre community.  According to Nicols, the leeway university productions have should also draw an audience. “You get to see things you wouldn’t normally see,” he explains.

Nicols says non-theatre students should participate as audience members for other reasons.

“Theatre is risky, anything can happen, it’s dangerous and it changes and it transforms, which is a really exciting thing about it,” he says.

“And that really intense energy you get, with people on a stage in front of you, actual human beings doing actual stuff, and a relationship can build up on set between the audience and the actors: that’s the really powerful thing about theatre and the one thing film can’t do.”

Besides being an audience member, non-theatre students who harbour thespian dreams can get involved in theatre through the Dal Theatre Society or the King’s Theatrical Society at University of King’s College.

“You don’t have to be a King’s student to join that one. They’ll accept anything with a pulse,” says Nicols.

Halifax has a strong theatre culture outside of Dal because it would be too boring of a place to live without it, according to Nicols. So, do like the theatre crowd and stave off the potential boredom of Halifax by getting involved, as an audience member or as a performer.

Detailed information on DalTheatres 2012-13 productions can be found at

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Meagan Deuling
Meagan Deuling
Megan Deuling was Assistant Arts Editor of the Gazette for Volume 145.

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