Kaylee Harwood is a rising star. Just weeks after graduating with a degree in Theatre from Trinity Western University, Harwood is playing Cosette in the Arts Club Theatre's production of Les Miserables.
"It's been a whirlwind," Harwood says, laughing. "I never had a chance to wonder what life would be like after graduation."
Despite having barely graduated, this is not Harwood's first professional role. She spent last summer on Vancouver Island in Chemainus Theatre Festival's production of South Pacific. Along with playing a nurse in the ensemble, Kaylee understudied the role of Nellie and served as the production's dance captain. When she completed her coursework in December, Harwood headed back to Chemainus to play the ingenue Dinah in the comedy Mr. Pim Passes By. Rehearsals for Les Mis began the day after Pim closed. Then, at the end of the second week of rehearsals, Harwood was excused to attend her TWU graduation ceremony.
When asked if she was intimidated by working with established professional companies so early in her career, Harwood demonstrates the maturity and confidence that is likely contributing to her success. "When I started South Pacific last summer, I was incredibly nervous," she says. "Moving away, first professional show, understudying Nellie, and being dance captain, - it was a lot. But you learn pretty soon that you know a lot more than you think you do and at the same time that you don't know anything," she says.
As part of Chemainus Theatre's successful summer musical, Harwood rehearsed eight hours a day, six days a week and then performed eight shows a week for 14 weeks. Most shows at professional theatres have runs of between 10 days and four weeks, so this was an intense initiation. In the fall, Harwood returned for her final semester at TWU, where she played the role of Dorine in Tartuffe, before returning to Chemainus.
"Each experience has built on those before," Harwood says, "Kudos to the training I got at TWU. Everything I learned there really prepared me, so I never felt out of my league."
The Arts Club is the largest professional theatre in Vancouver, with two stages and more than a dozen productions each year. To play a central character in one of the world's most famous musicals can be daunting for a young actor. Particularly with the calibre of talent director Bill Millerd assembled for this production. With actors from across North America, Harwood is aware of the privilege she has been given.
"I feel so incredibly honoured every single day," she says. "When I was going after this, I had a lot of positive energy from Chemainus, from other auditions, and from my professors at TWU, so I felt I was equipped to do this."
According to audience and critics, Harwood is up to the task. Opening night received an enthusiastic standing ovation, reviews are positive, and tickets are selling fast. In order to keep up with the demanding pace, Harwood has adopted a strict regimen that includes a healthy diet, lots of water, regular exercise, and most important, rest. With eight shows a week and only one day off, Harwood is aware that it is important to take good care of her voice so that she can give one hundred percent to each performance.
She has also learned a lot from living inside the story. "Working on this show has brought to mind a lot of huge things for me as a Christian and as an artist," she says. "Les Miserables is so full of grace and redemption; I can't help but be moved by the story and by the performances of my cast mates."
Working continually since graduation, Harwood is careful not to worry too much about what happens after the show closes on July 19. She has been auditioning frequently in the past few weeks, but hasn't yet landed another role. "I do find it difficult from time to time feeling the pressure of what's next," she says. "That's the most important lesson I'm learning - to take it one day at a time and to focus on what I have. I know that opportunities can arise when you aren't expecting them, so I want to enjoy each experience while it's here."
As for the future, Harwood has dreams as big as her talent. Two years ago, she set a goal of working at The Arts Club within five years. Having already accomplished that milestone, she is looking to a future beyond Vancouver. Of particular interest is the Birmingham Conservatory at the Stratford Festival. An advanced theatre training program for talented young professionals, the Conservatory offers graduates an opportunity to be part of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival season. Although she does not have much classical experience yet, she welcomes the opportunity to study and work with the best classical actors in the country.
"I would love to work at Stratford but there are so many places I'd like to travel and roles I'd like to play," Harwood says. "I've known since my very first production that this is what I am meant to do, so I will happily go wherever the work takes me."
There is no question that for this rising star, that will be a great distance.
Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C., is an independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers 42 undergraduate majors, ranging from biotechnology, education, nursing, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 16 graduate degree programs include counseling psychology, business, theology, linguistics, and leadership, and interdisciplinary degrees in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Dead Sea Scroll Studies, Developmental Genetics and Disease, and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.
Last Updated: 2009-05-26