Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Cynthia Hicks - a life in the theatre, the theatre as the life

Cynthia Hicks is one of those people who one can say was born to be in the theatre. She jokes about starting her dance career while still in her mother’s womb. Mom is Maria “Nanette” Hicks, who was the co-founder of Philippine Barangay Performing Arts Society, and Dad is Graham Hicks, writer and former columnist at Edmonton Sun.

Cynthia’s childhood was steeped into dance - Philippine folk dance, highlands, ballet, jazz and tap. She then discovered drama classes via the Citadel Theatre School, eventually taking over her older sister’s role in the Christmas Carol at age 8, and then moving to the Edmonton Opera’s production of South Pacific. She remembers having so much fun at the theatre and being treated so well by other actors that she naturally kept on performing - in dance and musical theatre all the way to junior high, an opera production in the summer for the Fringe festival, and eventually challenging family tradition with her desire to study high school at the Victoria School for Performing Arts.
as Maid Marian in Robin Hood

It was during this time, her Grade 10 year, that my husband Jojo and I worked with Cynthia. She joined our dance company, the Chameleon Dance Edmonton, in our performances at the Aberdeen International Youth Festival in Scotland. At this time, aside from Chameleon, which had already a rather rigorous training and rehearsal schedule, Cynthia was also committed to Philippine Barangay, mostly as leader and choreographer, and the St. Albert Musical Theatre. I remember her rushing from one rehearsal to another. No matter how much I wanted to shake my head with what I then regarded as her “suicidal and masochistic” artistic tendencies, I couldn’t help but commend her for her dedication, enthusiasm and persistence. Cynthia as a dancer was like a sponge and clay - having the capacity to absorb corrections,  and the malleability for our coaching. As one who has grown in the theatre, her approach to her art was and is intelligent and respectful.

Cynthia as dancer
At Grade 11, she joined the Citadel Theatre Young Musical Company. It was at this point, constantly surrounded by like-minded individuals, and having acting, directing & dancing included in her daily curriculum and after-school activities, did she consider theatre school for post secondary studies. After high school, she spent a year at the University of Alberta, applied for six theatre schools across Canada, and got accepted in all six. No mean feat. She elected to go to the National Theatre School in Montreal, which was such a pipe dream in the first place, and graduated in 2015. In between all these, she underwent training at the Performing Arts Project at North Carolina, the Banff Centre Musical Theatre Intensive, and the Broadway Theatre Project in Florida.

Based now in Toronto, Cynthia’s life consists of the valleys and peaks of an actor’s life - endless auditions, back to back bookings, indeterminate lulls. It is exciting in that it is unpredictable, varied, nomadic and competitive - the exact same traits that one may hate about it. She has done commercials, workshopped plays, performed in a pantomime musical, works in a restaurant and babysits during lean months, and is the General Manager of Hataw, a Philippine fusion dance company in Toronto. In the immediate future, a web series and a tour production are lined up.
Caucasian Chalk Circle at the National Theatre School

Cynthia has a very strong sense of community and civic commitment, which she says is her Mom’s big influence. Since her 16th birthday, she has been doing personal fundraisers to benefit orphanages in the Philippines, requesting for donations in lieu of gifts. She
dreams of eventually going back to school for an Education degree, and teaching drama at Victoria School as a way of paying back; to write a play and be an advocate for stories that are not told enough; and to build a community of minority artists, people who are trailblazers and breaking barriers in their art, in Edmonton. The passion is gradually turning into a vocation.

Child Cynthia with 2 older siblings
I like keeping tabs on all our dancers. I hope that they live their dreams and especially for those who are instill into the arts or theatre, I worry when or if they live a precarious and "starving" artist's life. I reflect on what I know about Cynthia and I see images of someone finding a calling at a young age, propped up by a supportive family; a determined and hardworking girl who will stop at nothing to achieve her goal - availing of every possible grant, bursary, scholarship, training program, working odd jobs to save money; smart and introspective using her art experiences and work to unravel her layers as a person; and courageous in following her bliss. Cynthia has dedicated her life to her art and lives her life through her art. It is one rollercoaster ride where she revels in all it has to offer. Oh yes, Cynthia Hicks knows how to live her life and at the very least, she will just be alright. To quote John Wooden, "Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out."

This article was published in the February 2017 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

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