Chelsea Preston. (Photography by David Cooper)

Former Parksville ballet student Chelsea Preston earns lead role at prestigious Stratford Festival

Being cast in ‘Chicago’ is ‘very much a dream come true’

By Lissa Alexander

Chelsea Preston moved away from the Parksville Qualicum Beach area in Grade 11 to pursue musical theatre, and she has now secured a lead role in one of the world’s premier festivals of classical and contemporary theatre.

“It’s very much a dream come true,” said Preston from her residence in Stratford, Ont. “Still every day it doesn’t feel real because I’m working with some of the best actors and performers in the country.”

Preston is scheduled to play Roxie Hart in the Stratford Festival’s production of Chicago, slated to run May 26 to Nov. 1 (schedule will depend on COVID-19 restrictions). She will also star in Here’s What it Takes, a brand-new musical with original score by former Barenaked Ladies lead singer and co-founder Steven Page, and book by award-winning playwright Daniel MacIvor.

Preston said it’s amazing to have this opportunity and to be able to challenge herself to the fullest. But it almost didn’t happen because of a mishap that took place during auditions.

Preston attended French Creek Elementary School and Kwalikum Secondary School. She also took one semester at Ballenas Secondary School, before heading to the mainland to attend the Richmond Academy of Dance.

She took dance classes at Parksville Ballet School (now Innovate Dance Arts) at the age of three, and then began an intensive dance program at age six. She also performed with Dancestreams, a youth dance company for elite dancers.

“She would never walk around the house, she would dance around the house,” remembers her father, Bill Preston. “Lotte [Chelsea’s mother] and I would look at her and say, ‘I guess we should see if she would like to take a dance class’.” They took her to Parksville Ballet School to meet Mrs. Klassen, the founder and then director of the dance school, and she began lessons. She loved it right from the start, he said.

During Grade 11, one of her dance teachers at Parksville Ballet School, Suzanne Ouellette, encouraged her to attend a summer school in Richmond for musical theatre.

“So, I went the summer before Grade 12 and did that summer school and realized that that’s what I wanted to do,” she said. When she returned home, she told her parents, “I think I need to move to Vancouver to do this more.” They agreed she could go.

Bill said he and Lotte didn’t give it a second thought.

“I was in the school system for 30 years and I believe very seriously that if all kids could find their passion and pursue it, they would be better off,” he said. “We always said to Chelsea and Nicola, our other daughter, ‘pursue your passion, go do what you love, and hopefully, you can make a bit of money.’”

Chelsea moved in with one of her ballet teachers and continued to work hard, this time with a focus on musical theatre.

After graduation, Chelsea moved to Edmonton and completed the Theatre Arts Program at MacEwan University with distinction. Since then, she has performed in dozens of productions. Some of her favourites include an ensemble member in the production Spamalot at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton and playing Sandy in Grease last year with Drayton Entertainment in Cambridge, Ontario.

She said she’s been wanting to audition for the Stratford Festival for several years, and finally had the opportunity in 2019. But it didn’t go quite as she hoped.

The first step of the audition was dancing, which Chelsea thought went well, she said. But her name didn’t get called to stay and sing in the second round.

“So I was like, ‘Oh darn, I guess I wasn’t what they were looking for,’ so I thanked everyone — kind of the old school way of auditioning — and then one of the organizers came and was like, ‘Oh, you’re staying to sing right?’”

Chelsea explained that her name hadn’t been called but the lady insisted she was meant to stay and sing. Turns out, they were calling out the names of performers who would move on from a pile of head shots (photos). But it was warm out and Chelsea’s photo had stuck to the one on top of hers.

“It was one of those actor nightmares,” Chelsea said with a chuckle.

Playing Roxie Hart is a lot of fun, Chelsea said, especially since she was a real person who Chelsea has been able to research.

Her parents are very proud of her accomplishments and were so pleased when they got the call about Chelsea performing at the Stratford Festival.

“This has been the highlight of her career,” Bill said. “And the exciting thing is, once you get that sort of a profile and you have that on your resume, then it opens up more opportunities.”

READ MORE: COVID-19 forces cancellation of Vancouver Island MusicFest

Her dream has always been to perform on Broadway, Bill said, and in Canada, Stratford is our Broadway.

When asked about her future, Chelsea said currently, she’s just trying to enjoy the ride.

“I’m just trying to focus on the work at hand and do my absolute best every day,” she said. “I’m trying to absorb and enjoy every moment and try to not think so much about the future because I’ve waited a long time for this, and I’m excited to be here.”

Chelsea’s advice for local young, budding performers is never give up, even if you don’t get the roles you want, it’s just one person’s opinion. If you love something and you’re passionate about it, keep going with it, she said.

Chelsea wanted to thank Parksville Ballet School for giving her an incredible education in dance, she’d like to give a shout out to her sister, who is getting married this year, and she wanted to thank her parents for being extremely supportive.

“They are the best in the world,” she said. “They have always let me run and do my own thing.”

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