How a former UCC student became a professor at TRU
Courtney Dickson, Arts & Entertainment Editor Ω
When he started university, he didn’t really know what he wanted to be when he grew up. As it turns out, he still doesn’t really know.
Wesley Eccleston is not only one of TRU’s theatre professors, but he’s also a former student of the University College of the Cariboo (UCC), the name of TRU before it became a university.
Eccleston grew up in Kamloops, where he attended Westsyde Secondary school. The community provided him with the opportunity to get involved with theatre, choir and music from a young age. Eccleston’s family always encouraged him to embrace his love of the arts, as they were also interested in music and theatre. His father, who became a physician, toured as a blues musician during his younger days.
When he started at UCC in 1993, he had no idea what he wanted to do. He enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts program in general studies.
“I had to effectively flunk out of perfectly good psychology and math classes to find out what I really liked,” he said, “which is arts.”
He completed his undergrad at UCC (which, at the time, was supported by the University of British Columbia) and went on to the University of Alberta to work on his master’s degree in theatre and performing arts.
While he was working on his master’s, he was actively involved in a theatre troupe that he and some friends had started in Kamloops. They called it 3 Men of Sin Theatre Productions, and started it to create their own opportunities for theatre in Kamloops. Rather than waiting for something to come to them, they wanted to make it happen for themselves.
3 Men of Sin used cafés and small spaces in the Pavilion Theatre to produce shows in an attempt to put their names out there and gain experience. It must have worked, as they are all working professionals in the performing arts in one way or another right now.
Though he was in Edmonton during most of the year, he was able to work with his friends on this project when during summer months.
When he finished his degree at the U of A, he came back to Kamloops with no real plans of what exactly was next.
An opening came up at UCC, and one of his former instructors encouraged Eccleston to apply to teach an acting class.
While teaching performing arts wasn’t necessarily what Eccleston had in mind as a career path, he said it was meaningful work in his field, and he wasn’t going to pass up that kind of opportunity.
“The provincial government is not pouring money into the arts, so opportunities and jobs are not easy to find in the performing arts,” Eccleston said.
He’s been at TRU/UCC for almost 15 years now. While this isn’t what he had pictured for himself, he has the outlook on teaching that all students hope their instructors will have.
“There’s nothing like getting to know your craft and facilitating the material for someone else to absorb,” he said.
Eccleston does not shy away from acknowledging the role his mentors, David Edwards, the founder of the performing arts program at UCC and the late David Ross or Western Canada Theatre, and instructors, particularly his first drama teacher at Westsyde Secondary, Daryl Chow, played in his success.
“The Davids gave me an incredible amount of opportunities,” he said, “I am indebted to them.”
Eccleston said it’s nice to think that he’s now one of those people coaching young people with a similar passion for the performing arts as his.
“In some small way I get to do what my mentors were doing,” Eccleston said, “Lighting the fire for many young actors. It’s tremendous. It’s a tremendously rewarding responsibility.”
While teaching is, of course, what pays the bills, Eccleston is still very much involved with the theatre scene in Kamloops. He’s worked on summer projects for BC Living Arts with Alan Corbishley, he also sings in a choir and has worked with Western Canada Theatre and TheatreBC. As if he wasn’t busy enough, in his spare time, he likes to write songs and scenes for plays, as well as attend as much live theatre as possible.
“You get involved with the arts because you love it and you have to do it. I try not to pass up any opportunity and follow my bliss, wherever that leads,” Eccleston said.
It’s passion like Eccleston’s that inspires young actors to go out and pursue everything and anything they can, which will hopefully one day land them a few jobs, too.