Go behind the scenes with Virg Iredale, as she learns stage management and gains real-world theatre experience

When it came to choosing schools, Virg Iredale picked Dalhousie twice. 

The first time, she was thinking of enrolling in Dal’s acting program. She then switched programs, schools and provinces on an entirely different venture. But after receiving a message from one of her favourite teachers, Virg went back to Dalhousie because she knew that the instructors really cared. She soon enrolled in their Stage Design and Technical Theatre program. 

“They are all hands-on classes where you actually get to work on the shows that are happening that season,” Virg explains. 

Dalhousie’s Fountain School of Performing Arts offers the Stage Design and Technical Theatre program which focuses on all aspects of behind-the-scenes stage work. The program has been remodelled since Virg attended, but the Fountain School kept the three main class sections.  

Each section hones in on different skills through projects such as mold making, sewing, upholstery, scenic paint, props building, and lighting and sound. 

Virg’s first project for props was making a head on a spike out of a mask, wig and rubber latex. 

“My personal focus in the program is stage management and scenic paint,” Virg says, having spent her three years working alongside guest directors. “They are working professionals in the theatre community and it was a great learning opportunity as well as a way to make good connections in the real world,” she adds. 

Virg’s stage management instructors weren’t just teachers at the school, they also worked within the industry. But regardless of their off-campus professional obligations, they were present and supportive throughout the entire process of stage managing a school show. 

The instructors would even go the extra lengths of recommending Virg for a variety of shows outside of the university. 

For her honours project in scenic painting, she assisted in Neptune Theatre’s shop painting the set for Mamma Mia last May, and this year she was called in to help paint a really large set.  The instructors truly know what they’re doing, and are constantly pushing for their students’ success. 

While this program had so many practical elements and opportunities for real-world experience, it also had serious academic portions. 

“I really struggled to care about some of the required reading and writing courses that weren’t my cup of tea,” Virg says about the balance needed in the Fountain program. There were times where she had to sacrifice sleep during her tech weeks for writing papers, but thanks to her understanding professors, Virg made it through.  

The Stage Design and Technical Theatre program is not the average academic program. “It’s really hard to sleep through lectures when you are painting and building a show in your class,” Virg jokes. Students work on four productions a year, building sets and props and lighting, on top of traditional classes with papers and lectures. 

Any project that her instructors presented her with, Virg said yes – whether it was part of her skill set or not. “Because when it isn’t, there is a fun, fast learning curve to deliver,” she says. 

Virg is now an assistant stage manager on an immersive collective called Great Harbour that will be at the Alexander Keith’s Nova Scotia Brewery at the end of February, and she is stage managing Brundibar, an opera for Halifax Theatre for Young People, that will happen in May at the Dunn Theatre.