When Chad Matchette and his wife Erin bought the Lindbjerg Academy of Performing Arts seven years ago, he was ready for a career change.
Then, he’d been working as a client account and employee engagement manager with Telus and, with Erin, ran an after-school performing arts program in Surrey and Richmond.
A theatre director, producer, writer and actor for three decades — who “learned at the school of hard knocks,” as he puts it — Matchette had seen several Lindbjerg students audition with Lower Mainland companies and was aware of their top-notch training. “As soon as they got on stage, you knew they were Lindbjerg,” he said, “so it was easy to cast them because you knew what you were going to get.”
At the time, though, Lindbjerg had classes scattered around the Tri-Cities (Kyle Centre, Evergreen Cultural Centre, and the Burquest Jewish and Glenayre community centres), which made it hard for the Matchettes to run their operation.
Shortly after the purchase, in 2010, they centralized the business in a light-industrial strip mall across from Ikea — in a 4,700 sq. ft. unit — that now runs six days a week for up to 250 young triple threats, per season.
And they have maintained the Lindbjerg legacy, offering a long list of classes for musical theatre, dance, voice and acting students with well-known, hard-working faculty members as well as opportunities to showcase their skills at competitions and festivals, Disneyland and New York City.
Matchette said the lessons they are learning translate outside the classroom, too: How to prepare themselves for an audience, how to handle themselves professionally, how to improvise and — most importantly to Matchette — how to be a team player.
“We tell them, It doesn’t matter if you have a solo or if you’re in the back,” he said. “Without all the people, the show doesn’t happen. It’s not about how great you are or if you have the spotlight. Everyone counts.”
Matchette’s focus on arts education crystallized a few years back following one of his after-school programs in Richmond. A Grade 4 student named Zach had become a recluse and his grades were slipping. By the end of the program, though, he had the confidence to speak up and his academics soared. His parents were grateful; so were his teachers. “He never spoke in class before then,” Matchette said. “Never.”
Matchette, a Port Coquitlam resident and father of two, employs the same teaching methods to his cast with Align Entertainment, an award-winning theatre company he founded in 2013 with Brent Hughes (the music teacher at Dr. Charles Best secondary in Coquitlam); Lindbjerg staff and Burquitlam residents Mark and Melissa Turpin; and Coquitlam’s Patti Volk, a former board member with the Royal City Musical Theatre.
At the time, “there wasn’t enough family shows happening around the Lower Mainland and we felt we needed something for kids to appreciate live, quality theatre,” Matchette said. “We wanted to give them something to remember.”
Today, Align runs its full-scale productions out of the Michael J. Fox Theatre in south Burnaby, with proceeds from its Family Day shows supporting the venue’s scholarship fund (its next show in November is a remount of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat).
Align uses the Lindbjerg space on Sundays to rehearse and to store its costumes in the loft.
Matchette, 49, said he’s not slowing down.
His dream is to own and operate a private school, with an emphasis on the performing arts. “Everything these days is so sports oriented,” he said. “There are many, many kids out there who don’t fit into that box but excel in the arts. I want to find a place for them to express themselves and excel.”