VANCOUVER â€” Itâ€™s not a typical experience for young people who are fresh out of post-secondary to land their dream job right away. But for Cloverdale-raised Kayla Dunbar, sheâ€™s been acting and dancing her way to success since before graduation.
The 26-year-old actress, whose most recent credits include playing the lead role of Kate Monster in this yearâ€™s Arts Clubâ€™s Avenue Q, a lovable â€” if raunchy â€” puppet-based adult play featuring Sesame Street-esque characters, is a recent graduate of Langara Collegeâ€™s Studio 58 program, but is already making rounds in the Vancouver theatre circuit.
â€œI kind of had a little bit of a foot in the door before, so I had contacts when I graduated,â€ Dunbar admitted, adding that she acted in a production of Hairsprayand the Wizard of Ozbefore graduation.
â€œI was one of the lucky ones. It doesnâ€™t happen for everybody, but I somehow just had everything lined up,â€ she said.
The statement, though it may be true, seems modest for the relatively young Dunbar, who hasnâ€™t stopped working at her craft since the age of 12.
Shortly after taking dance lessons as a pre-teen, she realized she could sing and got a scholarship to a musical theatre camp at Surrey Arts Centre. She then transferred from Clayton Heights Secondary to Langley Fine Arts School to pursue acting. And, when sheâ€™s not taking the stage, you can find her assistant-teaching acting classes at Granville Islandâ€™s Carousel Theatre for Young People or instructing dance at Surrey Arts Centreâ€™s musical-theatre intensives.
Working with kids, it seems, is something Dunbar just canâ€™t get away from.
â€œI think I just naturally gravitated towards childrenâ€™s theatre,â€ she said. â€œIt kind of found me.â€
Now choreographing at CTYP for the heartwarming James and the Giant Peach, the classic Roald Dahl story about an unwanted orphan who stumbles upon a giant magical peach and embarks on a fantastical adventure, Dunbar is finding her passion in working with kids.
â€œ(Carousel) didnâ€™t even know I had a huge background in teaching kids and wrking with kids a lot,â€ she told the Now. â€œI just think childrenâ€™s theatre is so important, itâ€™s something that Iâ€™m very passionate about now.â€
Her secret to making it all work? Treating the kids like theyâ€™re adults, she says.
â€œWeâ€™re not treating Julian any different,â€ she said of the showâ€™s star, 11-year-old Julian Lokash, who plays the role of James. â€œBut I think itâ€™s because Julian is really stepping up and itâ€™s because our cast is so professional. Itâ€™s made him really step up to the plate, but heâ€™s still a kid.â€
As with young Julian, Dunbar employs the same type of thinking when teaching intensives at Surrey Arts Centre.
â€œAt the intensive, we really try to treat kids as professionals,â€ she revealed. â€œWe give them a little bit more respect than is sometimes given in a fun, musical theatre class. I was pushed really hard when I was 15 and 16 and it made me really want to do it. I think itâ€™s a good thing for kids to know what itâ€™s really like. This is a hard business but if they can overcome that and actually still want to do it, itâ€™s really important.â€
And though the upcoming James and the Giant Peach, presented at Granville Islandâ€™s Waterfront Theatre, in centred on a classic childrenâ€™s story, Dunbar maintains that thereâ€™s something for everyone.
â€œThe music is so sophisticated for a kidsâ€™ show, itâ€™s so jazzy and uptown and Broadway, itâ€™s so fun,â€ she exclaims, speaking excitedly about the choreography that goes along with it.
â€œSometimes youâ€™ll find that, in childrenâ€™s theatre, thereâ€™s not a lot of money put into it or not as much thought and care, but this one really is a show for everybody. I can say that honestly.â€
James and the Giant Peach opens this Saturday (Dec. 6) and runs until Jan. 4 at Granville Islandâ€™s Waterfront Theatre. Tickets range from $18 to $35 and can be purchased online at Carouseltheatre.ca or by calling 604-685-6217.