It was raining on Avery Fehr’s first day at the Canadian College for Performing Arts.
Rain isn’t unusual on the west coast during the fall. But for this energetic young woman from Saskatoon, Sask., the memory sticks out for one reason.
“It was my first time in Victoria. I was biking, and I had to wear my rain jacket, which felt a little strange to me,” she laughs.
Next, it was time to meet her classmates. “Us new students awkwardly grabbed our orientation binders, and went off to the side to sit by ourselves,” Fehr remembers. “But soon everyone started talking, asking whether you were a dancer, actor, or singer. Within a week, we were all good friends.”
The Canadian College for Performing Arts, or CCPA, is a post-secondary school located in Greater Victoria. Students audition for limited spots to attend a two-year diploma program where they develop the performance and management skills they need to be successful in a career in the performing arts. Then, after graduation, a few are selected to continue their studies for another six months through the immersive ‘Company C’ program.
Students are expected to attend group classes and private tutorials, in addition to dedicating time to rehearsals for special performances in the community. It’s a grinding schedule, but one that gives students striking out on their own for the first time a sense of home.
“The other students are like a second family to me,” explains Fehr. “All of us are together for 12 hours a day, six days a week. We see each other more than we see or talk to our families [laughs]. We really rely on each other, and we build each other up.”
Fehr moved to Victoria on her 18th birthday. “I had to grow up really quickly,” she says. “Suddenly you have to cook, do laundry, pay rent… all of it. There’s a maturity that comes with that.”
It’s pretty common for students living away from home for the first time to have to adjust quickly to adult responsibilities. But Fehr’s transition from teen to adult was made more sudden by her mother’s death.
“My mom passed away from cancer three days after I left. She really wanted to see me come here and pursue my dreams,” Fehr pauses. “The end of my mom’s life was a new start for me, and that’s what she wanted.”
Fehr keeps in touch with her father and brother in Saskatoon, but considers Victoria her home now. This is due in part to the focus her school puts on developing strong relationships in the community.
CCPA is owned and operated by The Canadian Heritage Arts Society (CHAS). This non-profit society has a mandate that includes fostering arts and culture in the larger Victoria community. A charitable organization, CHAS is supported by grants, private donors, and corporate supporters, including TELUS.
“We are so grateful for the relationships we have with various branches of TELUS,” writes Heather Burns, Artistic and Education Director of CCPA.
In addition to grants from the TELUS Community Board, the TELUS PureFibre program has made donations towards silent auctions for several key fundraisers. Also, a team of TELUS volunteers known as the TELUS Community Ambassadors are a regular fixture around the campus, assisting with events and stocking the Student Food Bank. These volunteer hours are matched by donations from TELUS, as well, as part of their ongoing community investment initiative.
After CCPA, Fehr would like to go on to pursue a teaching degree and become a drama teacher.
“Kids are creative,” she says. “Maybe they get frustrated during science or math. But give a kid a picture, and all of them know how to colour. Or give a kid a blank piece of paper- they’ll start writing, and what’s in their mind is so different, everything they create is so unique.”
“Everyone has the potential. They just need the encouragement,” Fehr says.
But for now, Fehr is focused on expanding her own potential, and enjoying the ride along the way.