Playing just about every part
The professors in the Dalhousie theatre department shaped the building blocks of what has been a great career.
Shakespeare famously said, “all the world’s a stage,” and Janet MacEwen seems intent on playing just about every part.
Since attending Dalhousie’s Theatre program in the early 1980s, Janet has gone on to a spectacular and spectacularly varied career in show business. She has taken the stage in celebrated roles such as Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, Fantine in Les Miserables, Grizabella in CATS and Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables, to name just a few. She’s performed in historic venues in countless cities, from Neptune Theatre in Halifax, NS to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa; from the Kennedy Center in Washington DC to the 10,000-seat Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City; from US National Tours (Beauty and the Beast and Mary Poppins) to the bright lights of Broadway (Beauty and the Beast at the legendary Palace Theatre and Mary Poppins at The New Amsterdam Theatre).
Janet is also an accomplished musician, recording artist and singer-songwriter, with a reputation for lending vocal cool to studios in the Atlantic region and in Ontario, where she now lives and teaches Musical Theatre Performance classes at the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts.
Onstage and backstage at Dal
Though Janet describes herself as a natural performer from an early age, she credits much of her success to the Dalhousie Theatre department, where her focus on the behind-the scenes aspects of show business led to a well-rounded understanding of her field, including a solid respect for stagehands. “Without them, performers would be silently waiting on a dark, empty stage, naked and confused”, she laughs.
“The professors in the Dalhousie theatre department shaped the building blocks of what has been a pretty darn great career so far, and made me fearless to attempt something that was a little off to the left or to the right, because they showed me that with dedication and passion, success and gratification was possible,” says MacEwen, who, while many of her classmates were celebrating convocation, was out on tour for a re-mount of the World War II musical revue Meet The Navy.
Fearlessness has certainly been a staple of MacEwen’s life and career. She co-founded Another Theatre Company shortly after finishing her studies at Dal, and has continued to seek out experiences onstage and backstage, behind and in front of cameras. Whether singing back-up vocals for Zappacosta, or serving as a makeup artist for both CBC and CTV Halifax, or as backstage coordinator for Ralph Benmergui’s Friday Night for CBC Toronto, or as the coordinator of 800 extras for the massive opera Aida at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, MacEwen has continued to build and apply new skills.
Janet even applied her Dal Theatre education to a stint as an advertising account executive. “My experience doing commercials, jingles, recording and the theatre, plus my work in TV doing continuity, hair, wardrobe and make-up combined with my technical education at Dal made me a force to be reckoned with!”
Support builds independence
Among the important lessons MacEwen picked up from her mentors at Dal was time management and perseverance. For someone with her diverse interests, these are essential tools.
“I began as a technical and design student in overalls covered in sawdust and with paint under my nails. But I would audition for roles, and I would get cast - sometimes within the Dal Theatre department and sometimes on independent tours or TV or radio commercials. I still had to do the required technical work and keep up with my studies while doing the role. But you do it. You just work harder. And I had very supportive professors.”
“It taught me to be very independent and extremely disciplined.”
Independence, discipline and talent have allowed MacEwen to travel the globe, acquiring awards, applause and unforgettable experiences along the way. She fondly describes the Dalhousie Theatre department as a source of long-lasting friendships, and invaluable education and inspiration, and thanks to the patience and prodding of her professors and mentors, she’s been able to realize her dreams – even the ones she didn’t know she had.