When Andrie Nel first became involved with theatre in high school, she knew she had found her passion in life. She dove in head first, scoring a role in every play her high school offered. Once graduated, the job market was calling and Andrie did not continue in theatre until her mid to late twenties. This time, her love of theatre blossomed even more and she became very passionately involved with several drama groups. In one year, she was doing up to nine plays, sometimes rehearsing three at one time.
She knew when she left the stage to raise a family that many years later she would come back to it. “I had plateaued and I didn’t mind stopping at that point. I said I would return, but I would return in a way that encourages kids [to learn drama]. “I only discovered in high school that I loved this,” she says. What might have happened if I discovered it earlier?”
With a family in the works, Andrie pursued her MBA and opened a business consulting firm that worked with the high tech sector. Andrie and her husband, who she met in theatre, took turns playing the role of the stay-at-home parent. “I knew I could be successful at the job and I enjoyed it for many years, but I also realized the assumed goal of being a president was not what I wanted to do,” she says. “I was not going to go where I was programmed to go.”
Out in the country, where Andrie was born and raised, there was not a lot in the way of formal drama training. In schools, children were limited to sports as an after-school activity and there were not many businesses nearby offering alternatives. While she pulled back work-wise, she quickly became involved with the school council and the community. It was there Andrie realized that the arts were severely underrepresented.
As the mother of two children with learning disabilities, it became obvious to her that there was no place for her kids – and others like them – to shine. Her notion of returning to the stage slowly turned into a reality, and in the capacity she had always dreamed. Andrie formed a drama club and put on several plays in the next year. The program grew too large for the school and Andrie’s hunger to have a drama program for kids from all across their rural town made moving into the
a logical choice. Old Metcalfe Town Hall
Just Kiddin’ Theatre was born December 2006, out of Andrie’s fervent passion for theatre and the drive to deliver a quality dramatic arts program to kids of
Ottawa’s rural south. It continues to thrive thanks to her dedication and the support of volunteers, parents and the children. Andrie does it all – runs the non-profit organization, writes, directs and produces the plays, and raises a family with three teenage daughters. “I have modeled to them that regular people can do this and nothing is out of reach for them.”
Andrie has always lived by the motto “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Andrie is living proof that those who pursue their dreams wholeheartedly will one day live them out. “It comes down to passion. If you’re passionate about it, listen to that passion and let it lead you there,” she says. “If you’re not passionate, then think twice, because then it is work.”
Keeping all of the balls in the air to run Just Kiddin’ may seem like grueling work. If you asked Andrie on any given day, she would agree, but with that comes many rewards. “It’s always the kids that keep me going – cliché but it is true. There are days when I am exhausted, but the enthusiasm and the innocence of the kids absorbing and doing their stuff energizes me,” she says. “It is self-sustainable because they bring as much energy back every time.”
Most days, Andrie feels she is living an ordinary life complete with its ups and downs but also feels like she has had a bit of an eccentric life. “I went against the grain. My husband and I traded traditional roles and I didn’t feel boxed in by mainstream thought,” she says. “If I only had the option to pass down one value to my kids it would be that. Just because other people do it doesn’t mean you have to. Don’t be afraid to take risks, challenge the norm and try new things. Nothing is a waste of time if you believe in it.”
Written by Daria Locke
Edited by Kristine Scarrow