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Convocating drama grad overcame shyness and learned humility

New York City internship has inspired him to pursue teaching through the arts

Photo by Riley Brandt.

It's a rare and brave thing when a painfully shy teenager takes to the stage as a way to deal with his timidness, but that's exactly what Dan Perry did, BFA '06, MFA '13, when he was 15.

"I was extremely shy," he says. “I couldn't talk to people. I really struggled socially, and drama got me out of my comfort zone, but in a safe arena.”

Perry says he wanted to be able to connect with people and thought drama might help. It did; his confidence grew and that following summer, he took part in a drama camp that got him hooked for life.

Perry went on to complete his undergraduate drama degree at the University of Calgary. After graduation, he worked for a few theatre companies and also taught English in China before returning to his alma mater. On Nov. 12, Perry will cross a different type of stage at convocation, marking the completion of his graduate program.

Finishing his master’s degree in playwriting – a program that typically accepts only one applicant per year – proved to be a great personal challenge, but one that came with great rewards. "Writing my thesis document – that was a big push. It was more challenging than I anticipated," he admits.

At the Department of Drama’s annual Taking Flight Festival, Perry arranged for actors to perform his thesis play. "To hear it read by professional actors, I thought, 'Hey, that's not that bad,’” he says. “It was a real boost. I felt like I could go beyond just meeting the requirements of the thesis program, and actually have a full production, and to also have my family there to witness that, it was great."

This past summer, Perry went to New York City as part of the drama school's inaugural internship program. There he participated at the 52nd Street Project, a non-profit theatre group dedicated to the creation of new plays for and by kids that reside in the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood.

"They connect at-risk youth with theatre artists, and they use theatre and drama not just for entertainment, but for active social change," Perry says. "It was a very profound experience for me."

The experience also helped ignite his passion for teaching. He's now planning to take the Master of Education program at the university in the fall. "I don't want to stop playwriting, but I do want to start working with younger kids. I want to use the arts to engage kids. After all, just getting up and teaching is a theatre performance!"

Ultimately, completing his graduate degree was gratifying for Perry, but also humbling. "I have this engrained theatre mentality of 'You're only as good as your last play or performance' so I am looking to the next big thing,” he says.

“I learned to be humble enough to recognize that I don't know everything and to genuinely listen to other people's perspectives. It's about finding the merit in differences."