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Neil Cadger

December 2008

Neil Cadger

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Neil Cadger, an Associate Professor at UBC Okanagan in the Department of Creative Studies. He is in his fourth year of teaching at UBC-O. Neil was previously employed by the University of Saskatoon, and prior to that enjoyed a vibrant career as a freelance performer, director and instructor. His freelance career was centered mostly in Belgium and the Netherlands, with occasional work in other parts of Europe and Canada. UBC Okanagan is lucky to have a professor with such a wealth of experience to guide students in the Interdisciplinary Performance program.

Interest and curiosity stirred Neil to take a theatre class in second year university while doing a BA in English Literature. Prior to this foray into acting, Neil had never taken a theatre class, nor beento the theatre. But, taking a chance, he discovered that he truly loved it. The intimate class setting provided him with a community of his peers and a sense of social identity he had not experienced before.

Taking the next steps forward with this positive experience, Neil travelled to Paris to take professional acting lessons, eventually deciding to stay and attend school. Following this education, and with other students he had met during his three years in Paris, he travelled to Belgium and created a theatre company. Together with this group he devised performances and travelled extensively throughout Belgium, the Netherlands and England.

Initially expressing an interest in poetry, and then thinking he might write for the theatre, it is a wonderful turn of events that Neil became a performer. Through many performances he gained experience, eventually becoming a freelance performer, working in interdisciplinary performance work, which combines dance, music and theatre to name a few.


Neil eventually decided to return home to Canada, and pursue an academic career. He completed his MFA at UBC Vancouver, putting together The Fire Raisers as his thesis production. He subsequently obtained a post at the University of Saskatoon and has been in academia ever since.

Currently, with Denise Kenney, Neil is working on a performance piece entitled Ground Rules. They premiered the work last June at the Independent Media Arts Alliance Conference. Now, with fresh eyes, both Neil and Denise are looking at the work again, preparing to premier a revised version this summer. Neil hopes they will be able to take it on a small tour, including Kelowna, Vernon, Vancouver, Victoria, Nelson, Edmonton and Calgary. Of course this is not set in stone, but I recommend keeping your eyes and ears open this summer for performance dates.

I won’t give too much away, but Ground Rulesis a devised performance inspired by a number of contemporary concerns such as the plight of the global environment. It focuses on what Neil eloquently calls “the live body or the communicative body”. This performance will also address the “mediated body”or the intervention of technology in human communication - something that Neil finds intriguing.

“Who are we if we have pieces of ourselves all over the place –our understanding of place and identity is becoming unclear … is that picture of you actually you, or is that a picture of you? We have split ourselves up.”

Neil stresses that while Ground Rules and other performances have messages, concerns or theoretical ideas playing out, that he also wishes performances to provide “the beauty and delight of the theatre.” For Neil, part of creating a performance is the spectacle; the ability to take an audience out of their daily lives. He hopes his audience will forget they’re sitting in seats watching something happen, but become immersed in the fantasy and collective imagination created by the performance.

While Neil’s teaching is generally centered around hands on studio classes teaching physical theatre (in his words “ training bodies”) this year marks the first time he is teaching the Creative and Critical Studies Forum (CCS 100). It is “an overview of art - how it functions in different ways, functions in society, what it is, what it can do, what it has done, what do you think it should be – the what is artquestions.” For Neil it is a wholly different experience teaching a lecture class of seventy-nine students, but the material and energy of the students resonates with him.

“[For first year students] there is a general sense of being trained to get the right answer … and here [in University] when you say ‘what is art’ there’s not really a right answer to that, but a lot of different questions that come out of that. And that’s what I’m encouraging them to do; to learn how to ask questions.”

Neil is also teaching a studio course, Acting 1 Body and Performance, and a creative writing course called Drama. The Acting course is very much about training actors to create their own performances and the creative writing course is really about text for performance.

This Neck of the Woods

Both are essential to developing both the physical body and the intellectual depth of a performance. In discussing these courses, Neil imparted to me that you don’t have to be good at performance, but a willingness to learn and ultimately an ability to fail are necessary. In live performance, the audience is part of the uncertainty. If, as an actor on stage, you know everything, then the audience is abandoned. But, for Neil, if as an actor you embrace the uncertaintyof the audience and their reactions and wholly be in the moment, then a really amazing performance can unfold.

Neil Cadger

“In studio acting failure is essential. You have to actually fail, publicly. You have to do something that doesn’t work and be in a position where you don’t know what you’re doing in public … and that moment, if you admit that moment, as a performer you’re on your way to understanding performance … you need to be able to not know on stage.”

Neil is an excellent example of curiosity revealing a rewarding experience. By taking a chance he discovered something he could be passionate about, and something that was ultimately a satisfying career. Neil says if students are excited about the arts, UBC Okanagan is a great place to explore that interest.

In the first and second year, in the interdisciplinary performance program, a student can come in contact with creative writing, visual arts and performance. Neil relates that it is a good exposure to different approaches and a way for students to work towards finding their own internal creativity.

“UBC Okanagan [and the arts] provides opportunities for people to reflect on what they do, how they relate, how they communicate, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry … it’s about making art … make music, make poetry, make performances, make art and get it out to people … it’s not about moving people, it’s about stopping people, intervening with art … get out there and do something!”

Article byMelissa Larkin

Last reviewed shim11/14/2014 4:50:26 PM