Shaped by P.E.I.'s Confederation Centre of the Arts

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Sally Cole
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Amanda Hancox, left and her brother, Rick, stand at the main entrance of the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. The siblings, who were guest speakers at a recent Circle Around the Centre luncheon, spoke about how much the arts institution helped to shape their lives.

Siblings Amanda and Rick Hancox reflect on how growing up with an arts institution in their city helped to influence their lives

Growing up in the Brighton area of Charlottetown, the Confederation Centre of the Arts played a major role in the lives of Amanda and Rick Hancox.

And the P.E.I.-raised siblings, who now call Toronto and Ottawa their respective homes, gave credit where credit was due during the Circle Around the Centre luncheon in Charlottetown last month.

Organized by Catherine Hennessey and Norma Lee Storey and their committee, the continuing series shines light on the people and the stories of the organization, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“It reminds us of the great history of the centre and it’s teaching the new generation of what a rich history we have,” says Hennessey, during a telephone interview.

For Amanda, that history centres around the opportunity to perform in the Charlottetown Festival where she worked her way up, starting with being one of the children of Avonlea and eventually landing a role that touched peoples’ hearts as a deaf-mute girl.

“I loved performing in Johnny Belinda. There was something about it that touched my soul. It was the most extraordinary experience of my life,” says Amanda, who recalls learning sign language for the role.

For Rick, it was more of a humble beginning. He was one of the construction workers who built the Confederation Centre of the Arts in the 1960s.

However, three years after the centre opened in 1964, he became a public relations assistant, working under Jack MacAndrew, who was then the executive director.

“The centre really opened me up to a bigger world, a world of culture and education,” says Rick, adding that around the same time, he took a one-year filmmaking course from George Semsel at Prince of Wales College, which introduced him to what would become his life-long passion.

“So the centre had an enormous effect on me. But I didn’t realize how much until I started going through the old boxes, after (the organizer) Catherine asked me,” says the Concordia University communication studies professor.

At a time when it was difficult for young people to find work in the arts, the centre created some career-building opportunities for Amanda.

“After ballet school, I was set to go to York University to do the dance program and two weeks before I was supposed to leave, (then artistic director) Alan Lund called me and told me he had lost one of the company members for Les Feux Follets and if I could get to Montreal in two weeks (for rehearsals), I could have the part.

“Then I thought, ‘when I get out of York, this is exactly what I want to be doing and now I’m getting the offer of a job, so I better just go.’ And it was wonderful,” says Amanda, now the executive director of the Dancer Transition Resource Centre. But Rick, who also credits his parents, Mary and the late Bill Hancox, for exposing him to opera, ballet and music as a child, is convinced that he and his sister weren’t the only ones who benefited by their involvement with the arts organization.

“There must be hundreds of people, like ourselves who, who were influenced by the centre.”

AT A GLANCE

If you are going

What: Circle Around the Centre.

Who: Actress Maida Rogerson who, after getting her start at the Charlottetown Festival in shows like Aimee and Anne of Green Gables - The Musical, went on to act in movies like Millennium, January Man and Heart Sounds.

When and where: Aug. 26 at noon at Studio 1, Confederation Centre of the Arts.

Tickets: For more information, call the box office at 566-1267.

Website: www.confederationcentre.com.

Organizations: Prince of Wales College, Confederation Centre, Concordia University York University

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Brighton, Toronto Ottawa Avonlea Montreal York Green Gables

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