Profile by Jane Ledwell
If you’d asked me a year ago, I definitely didn’t see myself at UPEI,” says Brittany Banks, a dancer and singer already well-known to Island musical theatre audiences even though she has just completed her first year of studying music at the university. “I saw myself AWAY,” she admits.
“UPEI was the choice I made after I really, really considered my options. I thought I was ready to leave home, but I’m not yet,” she says. “I still want to establish myself through my own community, here.” This summer, Brittany will be establishing herself further on the local scene playing Diana Barry in Anne & Gilbert (a new part for her in the show), as well as serving as dance captain for the production, behind the scenes.
Brittany expresses herself physically with the equipoise of a dancer but speaks with musical expressiveness, giving an impression of someone more mature than her years but with youthful energy, curiosity, and exuberance bubbling always just to the surface.
Of Anne & Gilbert, she says, “The biggest thing is that it is purely ‘Island.' The cast is 95 Islanders, and this brings a real authenticity to it.” For instance, she reflects, “There’s an element of stepdancing! And everyone has an Island accent. There is always a sense that we’re not making fun of the Island. And the show is very, very funny. Diana has some funny songs I can’t wait to sing.”
Brittany’s most rewarding theatre experience remains her first major project: spearheading, directing, and choreographing Grease in 2007 as a grade eleven student. It was the first musical theatre production her high school, Bluefield High School in Hampshire, had ever put on. “What was most amazing to me was seeing the growth in the cast, not only as performers but as people,” Brittany says. “I learned so much in my role as a teacher. They performed what I’d given them, but also what they’d grown into themselves. I was younger than a lot of the cast, and I wondered, why would you even want to listen to me?”
This past year, she took time out from her university studies to spend time back at Bluefield, choreographing their production of High School Musical. While she definitely wants a career in musical theatre, and while she is developing as a performer and training as a singer, Brittany says, “I don’t necessarily see myself as performing. I’m equally as interested in directing or choreography.”
Her apprenticeship so far is as a close observer. She has been learning, for instance, by watching and listening to the three different directors of Anne & Gilbert she has worked with. “What works well for me is a director explaining something in a different context,” she says. “For example, putting something from Anne & Gilbert into modern-day terms. It’s a way of connecting with actors in ways that work for them.” She is also inspired by recitals by guest performers and senior students she has had a chance to hear at UPEI. “When I see a performer now, I already notice things I didn't notice before. I can see the music history in the piece.”
While a more studied approach or an apprenticeship in directing and choreography would probably require time away from Prince Edward Island, “I’d like to bring it back,” Brittany says. “I feel like the arts community here is very supportive, and a lot of things interconnect….
“I want my kids to live here, and I definitely want to be here at the end of my years. I think everyone needs to move away for a time, but I loved my childhood here and can’t imagine anywhere else where children could have what I experienced, when I could run through the fields to my grandparents’ house.” Also, she adds, “They’re going to stepdance, that’s for sure!”—a sign to Brittany Banks that any future children, like their mother, will be “Island through and through.”
—A published poet (Last Tomato, Acorn Press), Jane has been profiling PEI’s cultural movers and shakers for The Buzz for the past ten years. www.sandacre.ca/jane