Arts & Culture
Wade finds his calling in the theatre
By Don Fennell
Published 2:46 PST, Mon December 28, 2020
Last Updated: 2:13 PDT, Wed May 12, 2021
At seven, the boy was already showing a passion for the arts. Each week he looked forward to standing next to his mom at church and singing his heart out.
A creative side thanks to a vivid imagination was also quickly emerging, reflected in a homemade Halloween costume of The Comic Creator. It was little more than a bunch of cartoon characters he’d drawn on paper and then taped all over himself, but a good opportunity to show his resourcefulness if nothing else. And, thankfully he recalls, it didn’t rain.
A few years later, perhaps in Grade 3, he caught the acting bug after auditioning for his elementary school’s Christmas play. He’s still not sure what motivated to try out for the role which consisted of dancing in a classroom to music, but cast as the lead in The Littlest Christmas Tree, it planted the seeds for a future on the stage.
A voracious appetite for books and adventure video games also occupied a considerable amount of his time growing up.
Richmond-raised Andrew Wade has grown a lot from those early years. But the memories reflect an upbringing that didn’t just embrace the arts, it encouraged them. As well as becoming an award-winning actor, playwright, and stage manager, he remains devoted to his hometown as executive director for the Richmond Arts Council.
“I firmly believe that the arts, and stories, can build empathy between people like almost nothing else,” says Wade, who attended Westwind and Tomekichi Homma elementary schools and later Hugh McRoberts secondary before going on to graduate in 2011 from the University of Victoria with a bachelor of fine arts in acting and a bachelor of arts in writing.
“I think Richmond has done a great job at using the arts to build bridges between our varied immigrant cultures, as well as with the First Nations cultures on whose land we reside. The arts are necessary work if we want to keep racism and ‘other-ism’ from dividing us.”
Occasionally a front of house manager or bartender at Gateway Theatre, Wade has also written and led heritage tours in Steveston including the popular historic vignettes performed by local high school students. Indeed his portfolio of achievements is a lengthy and impressive one, that includes winning the Vancouver Young Playwright’s competition for The Romantics in 2011; being nominated for two Ovation awards and a Community Theatre Coalition award; and writing, producing and performing original works in as many as 23 festivals across Canada. He also co-created and wrote the book and lyrics for Titus!: The Light and Delightful Musical Comedy of Titus Andronicus which was a hit at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.
“I am so fortunate for the varied life I’ve been able to lead,” he says. “As the executive director for the Richmond Arts Coalition, I’ve been able to support dozens of local artists in a managerial role, and I’ve stage-managed deep and important work like Paneet Singh’s A Vancouver Guldasta. There is great satisfaction in being a really useful engine, doing whatever needs to be done to support one’s collaborators. In my heart, however, I feel I most associate with the work of empathy—of feeling why people act in the ways they do, and sharing that with an audience. This can be done as an actor or as a playwright.”
Proud of local theatre
Wade says our theatre community does well to convey the sense of fun and play inherent in the medium.
“The show is going to be better if the actor is enjoying performing in it,” he explains. “That said, the craft takes a lot of skill, and we’re not always great at conveying that side of the equation. (That) leads to audiences being surprised that actors are being paid and to underpayment of performers in general.”
He also believes the theatre could do better reflecting society back at it. He wants everyone in the audience to be see themselves on stage through an increasing diversity of actors and backstage people and the stories being told.
And what’s Wade’s favourite role to date?
“I try to be a creature of gratitude, so my favourite role is usually the last one I had the opportunity to perform,” he offers.
Others, he continues, are favourites for different reasons: Malvolio in Twelfth Night at the University of Victoria, “for capping off my time there with the final emotional beat of the play, full of tears, surrounded by people I’d trained with for years”; Skeets Miller in Floyd Collins, Hullaboo from his own play, Hullaboo and The End of Everything, and his most recent being the villainous manager J.R. in A Country Star with Jubilations Dinner Theatre, for the chance to tour with a show across three cities over eight months, improvising and riffing with the audience every night.
“Mostly, I’m looking forward to my favourite being the next one,” he says.
Wade enjoys the opportunity to reminisce, especially about the early days that helped to spawn his love of the arts.
“My dear mom would come into my classrooms from time to time with her guitar and lead our class in singalongs,” he recalls.
As for theatre, remember that Grade 3 Christmas play? Well, in the play The Littlest Christmas Tree is taunted and teased by the other trees for being so small, but he gets picked by Santa in the end.
“As a kid who felt he was bullied, I felt the catharsis of the role,” Wade says. “Mostly though, the eureka moment of my love for theatre came after the play ended. The entire school stood up and applauded, which wasn’t something I had even thought about. I got to walk out of the gym to the sound of applause, with the Grade 7s giving me high-fives on the way out. Magical.”
Many actors have served as inspiration
Proud of his British heritage, Wade grew up with live theatre. He’s not sure what the first play he attended was, but remembers attending both the Metro Panto and the Arts Club production of Amadeus at a young age. He was entertained by both, but for very different reasons—pantomime for its silliness and Amadeus for its depth of emotion and ambition.
“I felt such a yearning to be up on those stages,” he says, and about a decade later was cast in the pantomime.
Many actors have served as role models through the years. Locally, that includes Peter Jorgensen and all the “brilliant” work he does; Dave Morris for his “incredible” improvisational skills; and from the world of pop culture Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter for their commitment to the absurd and imbuing meaning to things for meaning’s sake.
“And any song that Neil Patrick Harris has sung, any role he has played, I want to imitate,” Wade says.
And what if he could play any role, what would Wade pick? Javert in Les Miserables.
“I enjoy the amount of empathy it takes to play a villain,” he explains.
To his surprise 34 years old now, Wade has grown immensely since first raising his voice in those church pews and then stepping onto the stage. He’s also matured as a performer and writer. But, perhaps not surprisingly, his motto is rather simple and straightforward: “follow the butterflies.” It’s a hand-written message he has taped to his wall, reminding him that nervous excitement is a good thing.
He may never have become the successful webcomic he dreamed about as a child, but has had the chance to sing and act for thousands, sometimes bringing them to tears out of connection or sheer laughter. And he’s written stories that have helped friends get through tough periods in their lives.
“I’m happy with what goals I’ve realized thus far,” he says. “That said, I definitely still have childhood dreams I want to fulfill—acting for TV and playing ice hockey come to mind. But I still need to learn how to stop while on skates for that last one. Post-pandemic, I definitely plan on looking into whatever is the lowest tier of beer league.”
Forever grateful for all those who have helped pave the way, he relishes the chance to give back believing a community full of art is a community seeking to explore, understand and empathize.
What would Wade perhaps be today if not an actor?
“I joke that in a parallel dimension I’m a rather unhappy accountant, or possibly a lawyer who has had at least one heart attack by now due to all the feelings of confrontation. Maybe in a decade I’ll see if I can do some good as a politician. For now, I need to piece together my screen acting demo reel, edit a grant proposal, and start preliminary planning for ArtRich 2021. I eagerly await a post-pandemic time for live theatre.”
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