Naomi McGowan waited with a welcoming smile as her blonde hair brushed her cheeks. The fourth-year English with a concentration in drama and fine arts student sat comfortably on the bottom floor of Margaret McNorrie Hall outside the Kinsella Auditorium.
As an integral piece of Theatre St. Thomas, it’s hard to find something Naomi McGowan hasn’t had a hand in. From TST’s recent production of As You Like It to her role in organizing the Miramichi River Community Theatre Festival, McGowan radiates a palpable passion for theatre.
“I’ve participated in every TST show that’s happened in the last four years in one way or another, whether it be backstage or on the stage,” she said.
McGowan’s interest in theatre and music began young. She said her parents have been nothing but supportive of her career choice. She said their support is strong because both of her parents followed their own dreams.
Her father is a painter and a musician. She would spend a lot of time at the market where there would always be stages.
“I think that’s where my singing sort of started,” said McGowan.
She did her first play in Grade 5 where she played The Judge in The Trial of the Big Bad Wolf. She hasn’t stopped since.
She’s headed for graduation but McGowan still remembers the feeling her first university production Chicago, gave her.
“It was just such a higher calibre than I had experienced before, and I really felt like I got the chance to experience a professional environment, working with professionals and dedicated people.”
She recalled her experience with the show Urinetown, which she performed in during her second year of university, and how she bonded with the rest of the cast while planning scenes together.
“That’s one I can remember in particular and probably what I’ll enjoy looking back on the most. Those moments of creation and collaboration, and excitement to be there, to be making something,” she said.
Live theatre is a high-stakes game though, and it leaves many opportunities for disaster. McGowan cringed while describing a dance practice mishap during last year’s production of Newsies.
“During one of our dance practices someone kicked someone else in the face and they broke their nose, so that was funny in retrospect but horrific at the moment.”
Although she describes herself as a performer at heart, McGowan had difficulty choosing her favourite aspect of theatre.
“Coming to St. Thomas, I’ve really learned to fall in love with theatre as a machine.”
McGowan added to that machine back in 2018, co-founding the Miramichi River Community Theatre Festival with her friend Samuel Crowell to bring theatre workshops to their hometown.
The two got the idea when they volunteered at the New Brunswick Drama Festival and wanted to start something similar back home. Then, their favourite drama teacher from Miramichi, Lloyd Cameron, passed away and they decided to start the festival in his honour.
“We worked with him on several shows and honestly the development of the festival came from everything he taught us.”
“Theatre felt like family with him so we tried our best to embody that energy. The festival is named after him actually … it doubles as Mr. C in [his] honour.”
McGowan has big plans and will be heading to audition for the Randolph College for the Performing Arts in Toronto and the National Theatre School in Montreal.
“I’m so excited for the next thing, the next experience, so I think that’s overshadowing any feelings of doubt or nervousness that I have, because I’m just so excited to connect with new people and make new types of art.”
She also wanted to pass on some advice for those pursuing a career in her field.
“You will never be the perfect actor. There is no cookie cutter version of who you are supposed to be. Becoming an artist is about becoming you. Find ways to challenge yourself, be open to new experiences and cherish connections with others. It’s a lifelong journey so don’t forget to enjoy the ride.”