Editor’s note: As the Juno Awards 2013 prepare to celebrate the best of Canadian music this weekend, Western Journalism students help us celebrate the best in Western Music. Read the full Music Issue.
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A blonde, middle-aged, former showgirl was the perfect role for actress Kristina Baron-Woods.
In 2010, Baron-Woods’ friend asked if she’d like to play Sally in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Follies. Baron-Woods response was a resounding yes.
“I just went, umm, okay. Written for me or what?” she said. “There aren’t that many roles for washed-up, overweight, middle-aged, blonde showgirls. So we take them when they come.”
Baron-Woods performance in Palace Theatre’s Follies was the first time she’d acted in 13 years. She was a professional actress in her 20s, playing Carrie in Carousel and Laurey in Oklahoma! in Vancouver. (She always wanted to play – but never had the chance to – Anne in Anne of Green Gables.)
But long days of rehearsals became unrealistic when she had a baby at 30, she said.
So Baron-Woods took her love of musical theatre to the classroom. She’s now a sessional professor in the Don Wright Faculty of Music, while she finishes her PhD in Musicology at Western.
Even though she’s no longer on stage full-time, Baron-Woods said teaching is like a performance.
“You can have a really, really amazing day in the classroom,” she said. “Then other days you might have a class where for some reason students aren’t as responsive and it’s really like doing a one-woman show for three hours without an audience.”
Baron-Woods teaches the Musical Theatre course. She said the best teaching moments come when someone new to musical theatre falls in love with it.
“I had a student come up to me at the end of the term last year,” Baron-Woods recalled. “He said to me ‘I was only taking this class at first because there was this girl in res who I wanted to get with and she likes musical theatre. But I really liked it.’ The fact he fell in love with it made me feel like this is worth it, I’ve done my job,” she said.
As a “big, stupid romantic,” Baron-Woods can’t help falling in love with the drama of musical theatre. But she understands why some people aren’t fond of a world in which actors break into song. “I think people are ashamed sometimes of really big dramatic emotion,” she said.
One of Baron-Woods students from last year, Amber-Rae Pealow, credited Baron-Woods’ passion for musical theatre as comforting. “She makes it very clear that that is who she is, so you don’t have to be afraid to be that person around her,” she said.
Baron-Woods not only shares her musical theatre knowledge in the classroom, but in the London community as well. She has produced and directed shows for Musical Theatre Productions, London Fringe Theatre Festival and Original Kids Theatre Company.
But being backstage is a challenge for Baron-Woods.
“You do all of this stuff that’s really crucial to the success of a show but then at the end on that opening night you’re not up on that stage,” she said. “For somebody who’s come from being a performer, kind of feeding off reaction and applause and that kind of stuff, it’s a difficult role.”
Despite being backstage, Baron-Woods said she’s happy to still be indulging in the fun of musical theatre.
“Who, at some point in time, has not, if they’re out in the country, run out in the field and spun around like Julie Andrews and started singing The Sound of Music?”