Olivia Tsoi is an Arts Umbrella student in the Advanced Program at the School of Robert M. Ledingham Theatre, Music & Film, performing with the Musical Theatre Troupe. Her journey at Arts Umbrella began six years ago and since then, she has participated in programs such as Acting, Film Acting, Musical Theatre, Musical Theatre Intensive, Sketch Comedy & Improv Spring Break and Summer Intensive, and Stagecraft!

Olivia is also a Teaching Assistant at Arts Umbrella. We sat down with Olivia to learn more about her journey from student to mentor, and how her experience as a faculty member inspires her student performances.

What has your student experience been like at Arts Umbrella?

Since the first-ever class I took, I felt like this was a place I really wanted to be and I am always really excited to come every week. It’s a comforting and comfortable place but also somewhere where I feel safe to push myself and challenge myself as an artist.

In the past I have done some summer or week-long programs but never any yearlong programs until Arts Umbrella. Here, your teachers really get to know you and they know how to help you.

What Arts Umbrella teachers inspire you?

The two teachers who have inspired me the most are Erika Babins and Andy Toth. Andy can transform performances and has the eye to see what is missing to take our performance to the next level. They both help and guide us through bringing these different characters to life, and they are always there for us. I would say Erika is really inspiring in a way that she can do everything; she is so versatile. She choreographs and directs which inspires me to think about how I can challenge myself in different ways and be involved and train in multiple departments. The more I get to know each of the different aspects of theatre the more it helps; the things I learn in stagecraft transfer to acting and the things I learn in acting just from observing rehearsals translate into production.

How did the opportunity of being a teaching assistant come about?

I was asked by Andy in August last year after volunteering as an Assistant Stage Manager for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Summerstage production. This was a good segway from student to teaching assistant. I was there to help out and really get to know more about how Arts Umbrella works from a non-student perspective.

Which classes and programs do you assist?

I mostly assist with Creative Design and Stagecraft classes. During the upcoming Spring Session, I will also be assisting Creative Drama classes.

Being able to work with the other amazing faculty members, I have been able to learn so much from them. It’s been really rewarding working with children and learning how they see the world and what ideas they have. Particularly, with Creative Design and Stagecraft, the students have much more nuanced ideas. Their imagination is rampant and free so they can come up with all these cool ideas that I would have never been able to come up with. This has also inspired me to try new things that I wouldn’t have normally and to practice the skills that they are learning in class. I always try to help students in terms of their questions and if they want any help or extra ideas.

Why did you want to become a teaching assistant?

Being a teaching assistant, it’s a very different way of learning. You learn a lot about the craft that you wouldn’t normally be able to learn as a student. It’s also rewarding when you get to see the students have these light bulb moments when they have an idea and they’re really excited about it and they figure something out. It makes you want to keep helping them to develop these skills. I enjoy helping students to foster their imagination and become more involved in theatre. It’s amazing to be able to see more people gain interest in theatre too and pursue it further as they get older.

What area of theatre would you like to explore more?

I really enjoy lighting design; that’s something I want to learn more about and explore further. I have learned about lighting programming but I’d definitely like to expand on that. After participating in the Stagecraft Pro-D Day Workshops, I’ve become interested in both costume and prop design. They are very interesting and intriguing fields. Specifically with costume design, with the way that it influences the feel of a performance and how it also ties into props and lighting. The functionality of costumes is also cool and how costumes are constructed in a way that maximizes the performer’s abilities. I am interested in the upcoming Video Projection and Media Design Stagecraft Pro-D Day Workshop too!

How has being a teaching assistant at Arts Umbrella influenced your future?

Being able to work as a teaching assistant, I have been able to know a lot more about the faculty members and different teachers. This has been a great stepping stone in terms of making connections in the theatre industry, so I am really thankful for that. Being a teaching assistant has also taught me many skills that I didn’t have before that have aided all aspects of life. I would recommend that my peers become teaching assistants too as you learn a lot about your own craft by working with people of other ages that you wouldn’t normally work with in a collaborative setting.

Olivia is performing in this year’s Expressions Theatre Festival as Topher in Cinderella (Cast B). Learn more about the show and get your tickets here.