Dylan Thomas-Bouchier is about to start his first year at the National Theatre School (NTS) in Montreal.
He auditioned, along with hundreds of other students from across Canada, and was one of only a possible 14 who was invited to participate in the three-year intensive theatre training program.
The son of Russell Thomas, Kamsack Comprehensive Institute (KCI) graduate of 1985, and grandson of Charles and Loraine Thomas of Kamsack, Dylan was born into theatre. His birth mother, Nadia, went into labour while sitting in the theatre watching Russell performing in a Fort McMurray production of The Taming of the Shrew.
“That was in the second week of February,” recalled his father. “He wasn’t due until April. I guess he was excited to get onto that stage.”
Diagnosed with a high functioning form of cerebral palsy, Dylan, who is now 19 years of age, has grown up wearing orthotics, braces on both feet to give him stability, and some fine motor challenges.
“Dylan has always persevered,” said Russell. “When he was young, he often fell and picked himself up. In his early teens, he weathered several major leg surgeries and long stays at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton. He has never let his disability hold him back.”
With a father very involved in the arts world and very active with Keyano Theatre Company (KTC), a community theatre group in Fort McMurray, he was around performers. At the same time that he got involved with the local filmmakers community, he volunteered as a follow spot operator for Hometown...The Musical!, the largest production ever staged by KTC. The following year, he joined Russell and his younger brother Ben in a world-class production of Les Miserables, playing one of the young revolutionaries. He performed on that same stage in productions of Footloose and Spoon River Chronicles.
Dylan became very involved with theatre during his high school years, encouraged and inspired by Terri Mort, theatre arts teacher. He performed in a number of one act and full-length productions and even directed a one act play during his final year. He was a member of a one-act play that had earned the right to perform at the provincial high school drama festival in 2016. However, the wildfire and subsequent evacuation of the entire city, forced them to cancel their plans.
For three consecutive summers, he deepened his theatre skills and connections throughout Alberta by attending Artstrek, an intensive provincial summer theatre camp in Red Deer. Earlier this summer, he participated in an acting master class with Justin Shaw, a recent NTS graduate.
“After five days of intensive work, I saw huge leaps in his skills,” said Russell. “It’s hard to imagine how much three years at the most revered theatre school in Canada is going to add to his performing toolbox.”
Apart from his stage roles, Dylan has also appeared in a number of films, including The Good Survivor (2016), where he performed as one of the leads. He will also be appearing in a yet-to-be-released feature film called The Road Behind (2018) with Lorne Cardinal (Corner Gas.)
On July 10, Thomas-Bouchier was interviewed by his father who is host of a local Fort McMurray radio show called IMPACT. A link to the full interview is: http://www.fmunitedway.com/impact/impact-dylan-thomas-bouchier/.
“Our guest on the July 10th edition of IMPACT was local actor/volunteer Dylan Thomas-Bouchier,” said the introduction to the interview. “A young person who has overcome physical challenges associated with cerebral palsy, Dylan will be pursuing his theatre dreams this fall at the National Theatre School in Montreal. He is one of a only a dozen students selected out of hundreds from across the country who will begin a three year intensive program.”
In order to be accepted into the “conservatory program” Thomas-Bouchier had to go through “a bit of a process.” He indicated there was a nation-wide audition of 400 to 500 hopefuls. Out of those, 40 received a call-back, and then 12 to 14 were “invited” to join the program.
“It’s very rewarding just to get that nod,” he said.
NTS offers a conservatory program which Thomas-Bouchier describes as different from a regular university program, saying it is more one-on-one with a smaller-group focus.
“You stay with the same 12 or 14 people and work with your professors and instructors who groom you. They get to spend a lot more time with you and there are over a hundred instructors who come through the program each year to instruct the students.
“Then, as you get further along in the program you get to interact with students from your same year that are in different programs like production, technical design or directing, and you work on projects together. It culminates in the third year when you are working on production after production and there is almost no classwork.”
His father likens the NTS to the “Yale Law School of the theatre world in Canada.”
Arriving in this world two months early, Thomas-Bouchier was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that went undiagnosed for some time, and was “quite small,” weighing only four pounds.
“I spent many months of my young life in a hospital,” he said. He didn’t start walking until he was three-and-a-half years old, and required multiple leg surgeries which kept him in care units for extended periods of time.
Thomas-Bouchier has publicly said in a number of different ways and in different venues that “Theatre probably saved my life.”
His medical condition kept him somewhat socially limited, and all this was happening before he was 11 years of age.
“I didn’t have much to grasp onto socially, I didn’t have a large friend group that I could really entrust in, and so I was a bit of an outcast in a ‘social cocoon’ with a physical boundary. I didn’t have much of a grasp on who I was or what the world was about.
“Then I got into theatre and that was a new beginning for me in my life.
Although he has what he describes as “a very mild case of cerebral palsy,” he said, “I don’t look at cerebral palsy as being too much of a limitation, although I certainly did at one time.”
“I am very fortunate that I can walk and have strong control of my extremities.
“In some ways it may be limiting, but maybe not as much in the literal physical sense. Sometimes I allow it to limit me mentally, I get into a mental funk, but I have to remind myself that I am quite fortunate the way I am.
“When I was younger in a ‘social cocoon’ I thought people befriended me out of pity. Life experience gave me a bigger picture and I was able to take what I know and become a better human being because of it.”
Thomas-Bouchier is described as a “very recognized person in the Fort McMurray community.” In addition to his theatre work, both as an actor and director, he is a keynote speaker, playwright and stand-up comedian.
“The stand-up comedy came out of nowhere for me,” he said. “I went to an Open Mic Night to have a good time. Two weeks later I decided to try it and I didn’t ‘burn’”
He was asked to perform his routine in a comedy show called Spare Change which is a fundraiser. It was recorded by Shaw TV and is now on its YouTube page.
“It was a good experience. It is performance and something to pull out of my ‘toolbox’ when I need it. Every thing I do helps me to become a better-rounded performer.
“Earlier this summer I did a public reading of my play, Room 801, which is currently in development, at NextFest in Edmonton, an arts festival which showcases hundreds of different artists of all facets of performance.”
His reading can be found on the Internet, at the NextFest site.
When asked where the future will take him, he replied, “We will be thrown curve balls is life. After three years at the NTS I will have training under my belt, but none of that matters if I cannot connect with people on a personal level. That is most important.
“My intention is to work in the theatre, work in movies and TV, whatever facet I am able to pursue, and just do it with the best of my ability, connect with people and tell stories.”