“Life is about so much more than safety, and doing what’s expected,” says drama teacher Kali Weber. “I don’t want to live a typical or ordinary life.”
The 30 year old has been following a less-chosen own path and says she would tell anyone who asked her advice, “do what you believe in, to do what feels right, to take risks and to follow your heart in every way.”
This past school year Weber, who has been teaching at North Battleford Comprehensive High School for six years, coached the high school drama club to regional and provincial levels of competition.
“My drama club, the past three years especially, we’ve got a lot of praise,” says Weber. “We have won our regional drama competition for the past three years, and moved on to provincials where, in those three years, we won best visual production three years in a row, and that’s basically like coming in third in about 10 or 11 plays.”
But it’s not all about winning awards, she points out.
“We’re very proud of those accolades and getting that type of recognition, but, really, for me, what it’s always been about is a place to fit in, a place to call home within high school, which can be a complete turbulent, tumultuous place where you are trying to figure yourself out,” says Weber. “I think drama club, in part, helps you do that.”
Even if her drama students never pursue it as a career or even a hobby, she believes the experience will help them in life.
“This spring I actually had my former students and current students write me a little poem about what drama club meant to them. We published it in a book and gave it to our graduation students to keep with them … a lot of them spoke about having a place to belong, having a place where people supported you, listened to you and where your ideas and your thoughts and your actions weren’t shut down, they were celebrated and used,” says Weber.
The creation of the book of poems came at the end of what may be Weber’s last year at NBCHS, which was also her own high school.
“I have decided to leave the Battlefords to pursue a diploma in arts and cultural management at Grant MacEwan University. The program will train me to run a non-profit arts organization – museum, art gallery, concert venue or, in my case, a theatre company.”
It’s a two-year diploma course and when she’s finished, she would eventually like to work in the education department for a theatre, ultimately starting her own company.
“I only ever taught at the Comp,” says Weber. “I went to school and taught there. That’s why I think I need to branch off and go to other places and try other things.”
Weber, who has lived here since she was in Grade 1 when her family moved here from Canmore, Alta., knows she’s been fortunate in being able to work in her home town.
“I am very grateful,” she says.
She describes the opportunities she’s had here as opposed to working in a bigger city as phenomenal.
“Basically, since I was 23 years old, I’ve been running my own drama program. I’ve never had an administrator tell me I can’t do something.”
The Living Sky School Division teachers says her administrators have been supportive and trusting.
“They’ve given me a lot of independence to teach what I want and create the type of shows that I want to. I’m not sure what it would be like in another school and another administration, but here in this community of this size, with only having the three high schools, you are going to become well known, so you are not just a small fish in a big pond.”
She knows it will be different once she leaves, however.
“That’s one of my biggest fears going to Edmonton. Here in this community I have a lot of people that support the things that happen at the school or with my drama camp … and to not have that is a little bit scary,” she says, however she adds, brightly, “But that’s all part of the journey, right?”
Weber’s journey in drama started when she was in Grade 8 at Alexander Junior High School, where students could take art in one semester and drama in the other, or band in both semesters.
“I wasn’t interested in taking band so I chose art and drama. I really liked art and then we got into the second semester drama and I just really, really enjoyed it,” she says.
Then her drama teacher, who left after her first year, did something that changed her life.
“One day I was walking down the hall and he came up to me and said, ‘Kali, can I asked you something?’”
She said, “Sure.”
He said, “The girl who has the lead role in our school play has broken her leg? Would you do it?”
She was surprised, to say the least, but she went to a few meetings and, although the play didn’t work out in the end, she has been involved in drama ever since.
“This one man who taught me for one year, that was the entire reason I got into drama,” she says. “I never sought it out, I was never really interested or wanted to go into the club. He just asked if I would be a part of it.”
Not only was it the turning point for her future, she has been inspired to pass it on.
“I have always taken that idea of what happened to me and I do it with kids all the time,” she explains. “A kid that I think would be good in drama club who isn’t in it, I always just tell them, ‘You’d be perfect.’ Maybe one out of the five of them will come, but most of those students’ parents tell me, ‘you changed my child’s life.’”
That is the most fulfilling part of her job, she says.
“I remembered him doing that for me. I don’t know what he saw in me. Up until then I sort of didn’t know who I was, I was not really shy, but sort of this mousey kid,” she says. “I played hockey, soccer, did gymnastics. I was never really good at anything, I didn’t stand out in any way, I was just like an average student – and then I found drama.”
When she moved on to NBCHS in Grade 10, she was too timid to join the club in the first semester, but she mustered her courage for the second, ending up playing the role of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland at regional competition.
“That’s when Sherron Burns became my teacher and it sort of rolled from there.”
But soon the time came when she had to think about what was going to happen once she finished Grade 12.
Weber, whose parents are Dennis Weber and Debbie Miller, says “My mom is a realist, and … if I said I want to be an actor and she’d say, ‘What are you really going to do.’ I’d say, ‘I don’t know.’”
She says she was confused. She didn’t know what she should do.
“I thought about physiotherapy, then I took a year off before going to university. I wasn’t quite ready,” she says. “I was thinking maybe Edmonton, Victoria, and then Sherron started talking to me about arts education, becoming a drama teacher, the program she went through the University of Regina.”
She didn’t quite know what to think about that idea, she said.
It was while she was watching a Battlefords Community Players performance that her decision was finalized.
“Linda Lyon Walls was in it and I’ve always respected her and thought she’s a fantastic actor, and it was in that moment [she thought], ‘You know what, I need to secure drama in my life for the rest of time. How am I going to do that? If I can’t be an actor, I want to be teaching it to somebody.’”
So Weber applied for the five-year arts education program at the University of Regina.
“My first year or so I was really enjoying it,” she says. “I loved the people that I went to school with, I loved my program, but it wasn’t until I was about 21 or 22 when I really started working with kids, that I [knew], ‘Yes, this is what I need to do! I need to work with kids.’”
Then, she said, it became a passion.
“I interned in my final year, my sixth year of university, with a wonderful woman in Moose Jaw named Debbie Burgher, and I had to go back [to university] for a final semester after that and I hated every minute of it because I knew that I wanted to be teaching.”
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Weber now has a double degree, a bachelor of education and a bachelor of arts in drama. She majored in drama and minored in literature. Her teaching career since completing university has been primarily drama [except for the year she backpacked around Europe] but she has also taught some modified math, some modified English, English 9 and English 10.
She’s also held her own drama camp for the past several summers for children aged seven to 12. The camp would run for a week with a final performance for family and friends at the end.
There is no drama camp this summer, however, as Weber is working full time elsewhere saving money for her relocation to Edmonton this fall.
Weber, who says she is always on the lookout for new things, was sitting around drinking coffee one Saturday morning and looking through positions with theatre companies across Canada.
“In the job descriptions it was talking about ‘must have experience in arts administration,’” she says.
“So I Googled that and I found the program at Grant MacEwan ... I instantly knew I had to do this, so Monday morning I was in my principal’s office.”
He helped her arrange a leave of absence, which means there is the possibility that she could come back to a teaching job in North Battleford, but that probably won’t happen, says Weber.
The course she will be taking is a two-year diploma program, but one can exit the program with a certificate after one year.
“That’s why I decided to take the leave of absence,” Weber explains. “I promised myself even if I get to Edmonton and think this isn’t what I really thought it was going to be, I will finish the year so I have a certificate, some type of credential.”
While she has the option of returning to North Battleford if the course isn’t what she’d hoped, she does believe she will enjoy it and stay the two years,
“I turned 30 this year,” she says. “I look at my life and I don’t have anything stopping me from doing this. Why wouldn’t I do it?
Weber says she doesn’t regret making the decision.
“I’m not really scared of anything,” she says. “It wasn’t a hard decision to make, it’s just been a little bit of a difficult decision to follow through with. I made it the day I found it. I said, ‘I’m going.’”
Weber looks back at her first career decision, to pursue drama, with no regrets as well. It was the right thing for her and she knows it could be the right thing for others like her. But even without following drama as a career, the opportunity to be involved is an important one to many young people, she believes.
“I think drama empowers you. I think a lot of kids that wind up in drama club, even if they never take further like I did … they are looking for a place to belong,” says Weber. “Sometimes they are a little different, they are unique, they don’t think like other kids, they are creative, they might be considered by others weird or unusual, so are just looking for this spot like a family, so that’s what it becomes. It becomes a group of people that support each other and cheer each other on, that challenge one another, where you get to get silly and weird and different without being ridiculed and criticized. And that’s what drama club is.”
For those who would follow it as a career path, Weber has these words.
“I would tell them to pursue it no matter what anyone told you, no matter how hard it was. You have to have a thick skin if you are going to go into performing arts or arts in general, but I would say, ‘Go for it! What have you got to lose?’”
She didn’t take the safe route.
“I found my own path and I think that’s what everyone has to do. I don’t think you should ever give up on something that you want to do.