Rock City School gets new owner

Local entertainer Kelly-Ann Evans says choice was a no-brainer

Published on July 25, 2012

Kelly-Ann Evans will bring 20 years of experience in the entertainment industry to her newest role as owner of Rock City School in St. John’s.

The actor, singer and performer  took over the school in June and plans to add programs and hire staff to provide kids with the tools they need to become musicians.

When she started at the school as educational director in 2009, Evans said she thought Rock City would be a great business to own someday.

“In the first couple weeks at Rock City, I thought to myself, five years time, I would love to be the owner of this business. And within three, it happened,” Evans told The Telegram.

“I really believe that you can manifest things. If you put things out in the universe, they’ll come to you. And I think this is a really fun career move for me on top of my performing life. It’s like making a big ol’ sandwich with all the perfect stuff on it.”

Evans began performing at the age of 17, when she snuck into bars to sing Alanis Morrisette songs with a band while their lead singer took breaks.

From there, the musician started her own rock band while she worked toward her bachelor of music degree at Memorial University.

“That’s how I paid for my university degree. ... Being on the road five out of every six weekends while I was in MUN with a rock band. Also I played with Billy and the Bruisers for five years, and I got so much performance opportunity with that band,” Evans said.

“The more you perform, the more comfortable you are, and the better you get at it.”

Evans continued her studies at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont., where she did musical theatre performance. While there, Evans learned practical performance techniques that prepared her for jobs in the entertainment world.

In 2007, Evans was cast in the Canadian premiere of “We Will Rock You,” the hit Queen musical, and performed in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival the next year.

“I had a contract with ‘We Will Rock You,’ and I actually got offered to renew my contract for the second year. And I was so tempted to do it, but getting the opportunity to go to Stratford ... it’s the most renowned repertory theatre company in North America. So that was a really hard decision, but I decided to turn down the contract and go work in Stratford,” Evans said.

“But I had the opportunity to share the stage with some of the country’s leading actresses. It was just amazing.”

Equipped with an impressive resumé (one that includes sharing the stage with Brian May and Roger Taylor of Queen), Evans decided to pursue a music career at home in St. John’s.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how huge the gig is you get. The day the contract is over, you’re an unemployed actor. And I had a really hard time with that,” Evans said.

“So I made a lifestyle choice. I feel so blessed to be able to make a living as a musician in St. John’s, so I just find the time to make it all happen.”

Since making the move, Evans has had several successes. In addition to her work at Rock City, Evans is owner and artistic director of Red Dress Entertainment and co-artistic director of Theatre St. John’s.

“I wanted stability and security, and I think I have a smart enough business sense to be able to maintain a career in music,” Evans said.

“I have my friends in Toronto now who are calling me, going, ‘We need to come to Newfoundland!’ They’re working in restaurants and they’re working in bars, you know, going from audition to audition.”

A typical day for the new business owner involves working on Rock City programs such as vocal master classes, adult lessons, singer-songwriter workshops, beginner rock orchestra, and a percussion ensemble for kids who love rhythm.

“We have a lot of kids who’ve been doing lessons for years, and every September we get more and more people. The whole point is to make them feel like rock stars, and they certainly do,” Evans said.

Rock City School focuses on student showcases rather than putting on recitals.

The school has a band program and a summer jam camp that puts kids in rock bands based on their age, instrument and ability. After working with a coach and practicing, the students have the opportunity to play in front of friends and family in a rock show.

Evans said that teaching kids how to read and play music is an important part of her job, but the school also focuses on performance skills and microphone technique.

“It’s no good if you standup there, stone-cold,” Evans said.

“Kids come in and they learn two and three chords, and two years later, you see them playing guitar solos by themselves in a spotlight onstage. It’s so great.”

There are 12 instructors (two newly hired) at Rock City, including Music NL and ECMA award nominees, writers and producers. Evans hopes that with teachers who are active industry professionals, Rock City will continue to introduce young, trained musicians to the St. John’s music scene.

“Sometimes it’s not about how great they perform or how loud they sing or how many riffs they can do,” Evans said.

“It’s about seeing someone who, at the beginning of the year, was so scared to sing a note, and then at the end of the year they get up with a rock band and sing a song. It’s probably the most rewarding work.”

Of course, Evans is always thinking of the next project. She is currently working on a production of Grease with Theatre St. John’s for September, and a Red Dress Entertainment tribute to Rod Stewart with Newman Sound Men’s Choir for November.

But for now, Evans is dedicated to learning the ropes as owner of Rock City and is already thinking of ways to expand.

“I’d eventually like to franchise Rock City. I think it’s a great little program, so who knows?” Evans said. “That might be a fun little dream to have.”

Rock City School will hold an open house fall registration at their location, 687 Water St., on Saturday, Aug. 25, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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