John Rao is a familiar face in the St. John’s theatre scene.
As Holy Heart of Mary’s theatre arts teacher, his students are on stage in several shows every year. Between 1998 and 2012, Rao operated his own theatre company, and now he’s bringing it back to life — with a twist.
The ARC Program will audition participants and produce one mainstage show per year, but the 16 people selected for the program will also participate in free mentorship workshops in which they’ll learn from industry professionals.
For the first selection of mentorship opportunities, performers will complete mask workshops with actor Chuck Herriott, a Shakespeare workshop with Perchance Theatre artistic director Danielle Irivine, ballet with Kittiwake Theatre artistic director Martin Vallée, musical theatre with performer and musician Dana Parsons, jazz dance with choreographer Pamela Pittman, and aerial workshops with iFly Aerial Arts’ Ananhareo Dolle.
“The mentors have the same philosophy as I do,” said Rao. “They think everybody deserves a chance.”
Auditions are open to anyone age 13 to 25 with or without previous theatre experience.
Rao said offering a free mentorship-based program that anyone can audition for is important to him.
“As soon as you put a fee you limit the kind of person that can participate in it, and for me growing up I could never do it if there was a fee because we didn’t have much growing up.
"There were no opportunities like this for me. So, this is about providing opportunities for everybody. If they have experience — great. But they have to prove it the room. And if they don’t (have experience), I’ll see if we can find the ability there and give them a chance.
“It’s the teacher in me, and the kid who came from nothing in me. If I had had an opportunity like this, that would have been amazing for me. And I know lots of people it would be life-changing for them.”
The ARC Program is accepting audition submissions this week and is expecting to have auditions completed by mid-March. The company will then begin rehearsals and workshops by the end of March.
"As soon as you put a fee you limit the kind of person that can participate in it, and for me growing up I could never do it if there was a fee because we didn’t have much growing up." — John Rao
The goal is to have a show on stage sometime this fall.
One person looking forward to helping Rao with ARC is Ethan Bickford, a business student at Memorial University with a passion for the film industry.
Bickford participated in Rao’s previous program several years ago. He said the old program offered mentorship on a per-show basis, whereas the ARC Program will have continuous mentorship while also working on a show.
Bickford said the mentorship he received in the previous program was “huge”, and he’s happy to see the program return with an even greater focus on mentorship.
“Coming from a not-too-well-off family, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do any productions where you have to pay for costumes, or you have to pay for auditions. The only way that I really made it into the community and got a start and found this passion was through that opportunity that John offered me.”