University Players (UP) is the theatrical performing arm for students enrolled in programs at the University of Windsor’s School of Dramatic Art.

The School of Dramatic Art began in 1968 through the vision and efforts of Professor Daniel Patrick Kelly who taught speech and dramatic works in the university’s English department. But, it was a full decade earlier that UP came into existence under the direction of Father Cornelius Patrick Joseph Crowley, Dean of Graduate Studies and Head of the English Department, 1960-1967, with Assumption University, the precursor of the University of Windsor.

In the “Dictionary of Basilian Biography” . . . the author writes of Fr. Crowley, “He directed the Assumption Players for over five years in such productions as “The Mad Woman of Chaillot” and “The Little Foxes”. His production of the “The Glass Menagerie” was one of four college plays invited to the National Catholic Theatre conference, Kansas City, Missouri, 1957.”

Now in its 61st year, University Players is halfway through its six performance season. From September through December 2019, audiences were treated to the Shakespearean tragedy “Othello”; a contemporary drama, “The Wolves” and a family favourite, “Beauty and the Beast”. (Note: the remaining performances in their current season are profiled at the end of this article).

Today, the University of Windsor’s School of Dramatic Art boasts an unparalleled reputation across the country, offering students from around the world the following options: BFA in Acting, BA in Drama in Education and Community with a concentration in Applied Theatre, BA in Drama and Concurrent Education, BA in Dramatic Art, BA in Drama and Communication, Media and Film. The BFA in Acting traces its beginnings to the 1970s and was the first program of its kind in all of Canada.

Over the years, the school has turned out a veritable “who’s who” list of alumni who have found success on such acclaimed stages as the “Stratford Festival” and “Shaw Festival”, as well as numerous other theatre houses, and many national and international touring companies world-wide. Here are just a few great examples . . .
The most recent grad to hit the big time is Sean Sennett, currently in the national touring company of “We Will Rock You,” which just played at Caesar Windsor’s Colosseum on the final days of November 2019. Sennett is a 2019 alumnus with a BFA in Acting and a veteran of Windsor’s rich theatre community.

Then there is Danielle Wade who, beginning in 2012, played the role of Dorothy over 500 times in Toronto and in the national tour of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “The Wizard of Oz”. She then starred last season in Stratford’s “The Music Man” and is starring in Tina Fey’s musical, “Mean Girls,” now on Broadway and touring the United States.

And there are two other notable alumni — Emmanuelle Zeesman from the Broadway musicals “The Wizard of Oz” and Finding Neverland” and Laura Condlln who will be starring as Captain Hook in Stratford’s 2020 presentation of “Wendy and Peter Pan”.

This list of esteemed alumni is by no means exhaustive, nor does it include the many successful grads involved in independent works, actors like Rose Napoli who is a highly successful Toronto area actor and playwright.

So, let’s take a look at the final three offerings of UP’s 2019-2020 season with insight and commentary by Kristen Siapas, Marketing and Public Relations Co-ordinator with UP and the University of Windsor School of Dramatic Art — and also an alumnus of the BFA in Acting Program and a local actor.

First up is “The Cassilis Engagement”, January 31 to February 9, 2020 at the Essex Hall Theatre.

Siapas: This is directed by Lee Wilson who has joined the school as an Associate Professor this year and who brings us a long career spanning the globe. It is a classic piece, a comedy with an Oscar Wilde feel to it. It centres on the romantic relationship of a high-born man and a low-born woman and the interactions of their respective mothers. It’s a clash of the classes; it’s city mouse meets country mouse and is great fun.

The second play is “Morning Sacrifice” running February 28 to March 8 2020 and is presented in the smaller and more intimate Hatch Studio Theatre located in the Jackman Dramatic Art Centre.

Siapas: This is directed by alumnus Sarah Kitz, a Toronto writer, actor and director. It is a classic dramatic period piece and features a cast of all women. It tells the story of an all girls’ school in 1939 Australia, on the eve of World War II, and the struggles they face with an evil head mistress who is controlling of all the women in the school. It explores the politics of power between women, and the gender roles they’re forced into, and what happens when you step outside of the norms. It’s a very dark and passionate work and most entertaining.

And, finally, the season concludes with “Stag and Doe” playing March 27 to April 5 2020 at the Essex Hall Theatre.

Siapas: This selection was written by Mark Crawford, a theatre actor and playwright who grew up in Glencoe in Southwestern Ontario, the son of dairy cattle farmers. It is directed by Marc Bondy, an alumnus of the BFA Class of 2000. For 20 years he has worked as an actor, director and teacher with many of Canada’s finest theatres. Simply put, “Stag and Doe” is an hilarious, over the top, farcical comedy dealing with one couple having their Stag and Doe at a local community hall who then agree to share it with another couple whose wedding reception tent has unexpectedly blown away. It’s filled with ‘awkward’ relationships among the wedding party members, collapsed wedding cakes and caterers run amok and sent to jail.

For more information about tickets and start times for these three plays, visit University Player’s website.

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Joe McParland
Joe retired January 2015 as a Superintendent from a 26 year career with the Canada Border Services Agency in Windsor. Since then he has jettisoned into a number of exciting new opportunities. Joe is in his 13th year as a volunteer with TVCogeco as their on air personality at Windsor City and Essex County Council Meetings, and his 11 years as a registered Ontario Marriage Officiant. Joe now shares his talents and numerous life experiences with Biz X as a regular blogger, columnist and any other “Joe – Jobs” we can find for him.