We were fortunate to have one of Fort McMurray’s verifiable entertainment celebrities on IMPACT back on March 22nd. Michelle Thorne is an actor, director, producer, and arts advocate working with Arts Council Wood Buffalo and Theatre; Just Because. Born and raised in this community, apart from a short stretch of living in Ontario when she was very young, Michelle has successfully found her voice and is making an impact.
When asked where this flare for performance might have come from, she shared that there are two possible sources.
“All of my family is incredibly dramatic,” she said. “Also, many years ago my mom’s oldest sister Veronique left Newfoundland for England to pursue a theatre career. She has worked all over Canada, Europe and the USA as an actress, playwright, journalist and teacher. There was an infatuation there of a person I wanted to emulate.”
Her first performance was in a Junior Kindergarten production of Chicken Little; she played the lead. She bounced around in the Fort McMurray school system before landing at Thickwood Heights Elementary.
“I knew that I wanted to pursue drama more seriously,” she recalled. “Westwood was the high school to go to in town for theatre, and being at Thickwood gave me a chance to make some like-minded friends and learn from the incredible Val Gondek. It’s so wonderful to see it 17 year later, now officially a fine arts school.”
It was student written one-act plays in Westwood that stand out as favourites.
“I was very blessed to be in a class with so many incredibly talented people,” she said. Students like Arlen Konopaki, Mike Robertson and David Zeglen factored greatly in this formative period of Michelle’s life, as did teachers Kristen Finley and Karen Towsley.
After a semester in Keyano’s drama program, Michelle transferred to the University of Lethbridge where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Her post-University dream of being a working actor in Vancouver ended up going in an unexpected direction. She was one of only 12 actors selected to work with Studio 58, a professional theatre training program. However, four years of training in basement rehearsal halls had taken its toll.
“Twelve, fourteen, sixteen hour days in a cement basement and I began to realize that it wasn’t what I wanted,” said Thorne.
She moved back to Fort McMurray and began working at the Blackhorse Pub.
“It became one of the most significant choices of my life,” she said. “It felt like walking into a family home with an inclusive, homey, family feel where everybody knows your name. My father was a regular at this pub and after he passed away, it was a chance for me to still feel close to him.”
Garry Fizzell, owner of the Blackhorse, saw something in Michelle, and not only gave her the opportunity to do some promotional planning, he gave her the flexibility she needed to pursue her art.
“He saw that spark in me when I first started, of a girl with a dream that was just a little lost at the time,” she recalled. “And when I asked for time off to do a show, he would tell me to do what I needed to do. They would work around it.”
Michelle was hired by Arts Council Wood Buffalo as their Program Manager and is a vibrant presence in The Redpoll Centre, where the Arts Council’s office is located, always adding her energy to the collective of 15 other organizations that work in the space. She is also the co-artistic director/co-founder of Theatre; Just Because and the director of Keyano Theatre Company’s Stage Two production of Steel Magnolias, opening in May.
“When do you sleep?” I asked during the 30-minute live interview on KAOS 91.1.
“Usually between the hours of 11 pm and 6:30 am…if I’m lucky,” she replied with a giggle.
To listen to our IMPACT visit with the effervescent Michelle Thorne, please click here. IMPACT is a collaboration of The United Way of Fort McMurray, FuseSocial and KAOS 91.1.