Sylvia Kuzyk figures she owes theatre for how it transformed her from an introverted young woman into a Winnipeg television fixture for almost 38 years.
She gets her chance to give back Thursday at the inaugural So You Think You Can Act fundraiser when she performs in one of the nine scenes being staged by local luminaries in support of Sarasvti Productions.
"For me, theatre was my liberation," says Kuzyk, who signed off from the Winnipeg CTV newscast last September. "It sounds kind of dramatic but when I was in high school I was super shy and I would never have dreamt of speaking in front of an audience. I had no aspirations of going into television."
In the early '70s, the graduate of Red River Community College's nursing program attended a friend's workshop production at the University of Manitoba and became intrigued enough with the stage to enrol in a acting course with Actor's Showcase, the forerunner of Manitoba Theatre for Young People. She landed a small part as a saloon girl in a docudrama about the Canadian West being shot at CKY-TV where she heard about an opening for a weather girl.
"Since then, I've had a soft spot in my heart for theatre," she says, during an interview this week. "No, absolutely I wouldn't have had a TV career. It started me on my journey."
Kuzyk is being joined in the spotlight at the Gas Station Arts Centre tomorrow by former MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, TSN's John Lu, Hot 103 DJ Ace Burpee, CITI FM's Howard Mandshsein, Free Press movie reviewer Randall King, performer Al Simmons, Shaw TV personality Tracy Koga and Laurie Mustard.
The trio of Winnipeg Studio Theatre's artistic director Kayla Gordon, Prairie Theatre Exchange artistic director Robert Metcalfe and Lee White of The Crumbs will be the on-stage judges dispensing their assessments of the performances. The audience will ultimately determine the winner of a large, garish trophy topped by as Oscar-like figure.
"Our judges are going to be a little ridiculous," says Sarasvti artistic director Hope McIntyre, who hopes to raise $5,000 for an upcoming production. "They're arguing over who's going to be Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. Our three will be spoofing the judges we all know and love. Bob doesn't want to be the mean one, but he's so good at it."
All the scenes being staged the day after Valentine's Day deal with love gone wrong. They are lifted from plays like I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change and Mom, Dad, I'm Living with a White Girl.
Kuzyk will be performing (script in hand like all the actors) a scene from Ferenc Molnar's A Matter of Husbands, in which she plays a haughty, famous actress who is being confronted by an earnest young woman who thinks her spouse is being stolen from her. She considered a couple of scenes from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but thought the material too heavy for a fun evening.
It's a long time since she last acted in a serious production. Her fringe festival debut was in 1989 as the title character in the comedy, The Prettiest Girl in Lafayette County, and returned the following year in The Time and the Place.
"I'd do it again," says Kuzyk, who is enjoying running her own communications business. "I don't claim to be a good actress but I'm passionate about theatre."
That ardour does not extend to reality TV shows like American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance."
"I don't like those shows," she says. "I don't watch any of them. I can't stand them."
Showtime is 8 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $25 and can be reserved by calling 586-2236.
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Michael Nathanson's drama Talk will be presented in Israel in April.
The Winnipeg Jewish Theatre production is the only international participant in the Stage One English Theatre Festival to be presented in Jerusalem April 8-10. Talk, about two longtime friends who find themselves on opposite sides of the Middle East conflict, debuted at WJT in 2007 and was performed at the National Arts Centre last year as part of Prairie Scene 2011.
"I've never been to Israel," says Nathanson, WJT artistic producer. "The fact that this play is taking me there makes the experience all the more overwhelming."