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Why You Need to See UFA’s Musical ‘Four Years’: A Conversation with Writer/Director

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Ottawa chapter.

A rehearsal space filled with bubbling excitement, half-empty water bottles, focused actors scattered along the edges, popped-open energy drinks, and graceful dancers practicing. This is the scene I walked into on Sunday evening. I just caught the act one closer of UFA’s student-run musical, Four Years, and from those ten minutes, I knew the rest of the show would be a must-see for several reasons.

United For Action (UFA) is a uOttawa club that is “using passions to create a positive change in society since 2011.” They have many different events that all help contribute to and raise awareness about different social issues. Making musicals as a fundraiser has been a long-running tradition for over ten years (minus the pandemic)—a student-written and run musical to help raise money for a charity. This year’s charity is the David Smith Youth Treatment Centre, an Ottawa-based non-profit organization specializing in supporting youth with substance abuse and related issues. Their services include live-in and continuous care treatments, family services, and assessments that all help promote long-term recovery. The David Smith Youth Treatment Centre supports a safe place for a fresh start—a great charity that is supported by uOttawa’s UFA club.

The director lead me into the rehearsal space, and I was instantly met with a warm embrace by the cast and crew. The first act ended, and the room broke into friendly banter and excitement for the upcoming show. The students in this club, although all different, share the same love for the community, the show, and the cause. Just sitting next to the director’s table and chatting with the crew, multiple cast members came over to ask questions or to say hello, and a cast member came over to give a hug to the justifiably anxious director. The passion blew the roof off the building, and even I was nervous-excited about the show as if I were a cast member myself. As a first-year student starting out my four-year journey, I felt real, raw emotion from the stories and songs—just from a rehearsal.

The show is about the four years of university, and the challenges that are so commonly faced alone: finding happiness in solitude, balancing school and work, and dealing with heartaches and breaks. The story follows four different plot lines, each dedicated to its own year of university.

The rehearsal that I saw was missing the first-year lead, played by Tegan Stassen. I had the immense pleasure of seeing the other leads practice, though. The second-year lead, Beth, played by Claire Donnan; the third-year, Callie, played by Kaia Bater; and the fourth-year, Daria, played by Frances Quilty. The cast is absolutely stacked and features a blend of dance, song, and acting wonderfully.

The show is a jukebox musical—which means it features songs that are already written and performed by other artists, so there is bound to be at least one song in the show that you already know. I personally had to bite my tongue not to sing along to songs like “You’re On Your Own, Kid” by Taylor Swift. Not going to spoil anything more, but my favourite number in the second act was “Here I Go.” The whole cast had beautiful blends and harmonies, but I couldn’t help but notice the standouts, which included Katrina Kearney playing Sadie, Jonas de Blois playing Ryan, and Kaia Bater playing Callie. The dancers were also fantastic as well, with the director Ann Lambert as one of the dancers.

As previously mentioned, the musical is student-directed and written. The entire cast and crew are also students from all different years and programs. Four Years is written and directed by the passionate and fantastic Ann Lambert, a fourth-year communication and sociology student whom I spoke with. Lambert’s passion is shown in every step she takes, every note she writes down, and every encouraging word she shouts out. Watching her dance in her own show is almost hypnotizing—her dance training shining through with every jump and roll. The script she has written is real and has pieces of her own life in it, a vulnerable test for any performance artist. The community she has cultivated and the show she has put together is both incredible, and you must see it to believe it.

This is the conversation we had about the show:

Her Campus: Okay so the classic question, why should people come and see this show?

Lambert: Well definitely because it’s been written to be relatable for anyone who’s ever stepped foot into a university before. So it’s called Four Years because it’s about the four years of university, and there are four simultaneous plot lines, one for each year. So really I have no doubt that everybody is going to feel very seen and entertained by this because it’s very much taken from like real-life experiences of a student. Like, it’s really created by students for students and on top of that it’s for charity so I mean you really can’t lose with it.

HC: The David Smith Youth Foundation?

L: Yeah the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Center. It’s an Ottawa-based nonprofit that provides free addiction and mental health services to youth aged 13 to 21.

HC: What character do you relate to the most? I know you’re in fourth-year.

L: Yeah so funny enough, like, this play was largely informed by my own life. Like not to be like…

HC: No I get it, classic for an artist.

L: Exactly. Like, it’s not like perfectly autobiographical, but I’d say the ones that are most based on my life are like first and fourth year.

HC: Well yeah, those are the big changes.

L: Yeah definitely. Like they’re definitely the most, like, there’s just the most going on because in first year, you’re adapting, and in fourth year, you’re figuring out like what comes next. And I found that both of those are very formative experiences for me, and I was inspired to write it because like I had a really rough go in first year. I felt like I was the only one who just like really did not find my people and find my place right away, and that’s largely what the first-year storyline is about. It’s kind of like closure to get to talk about it. Like now that I see myself at the other end—I have like all my besties now and I love uni—but I didn’t start out that way. And that really inspired writing this because I feel like we don’t talk enough about just how much it is to be a student you know. It’s so much—like you have all of these academic pressures but then you’re still like taking care of yourself for the first time, and trying to make friends, and things don’t always go to plan. Breakups happen, situation-ships happen, friends do you dirty. It’s just a lot, you know? We’re all trying to figure ourselves out while maintaining all the pressure that comes with having a student workload and that’s really what this is all about.

HC: Yeah I can see that. Everybody seems so passionate.

L: Oh my god they’re so passionate.

HC: Yeah? What’s your favourite part of the cast just in general?

L: Oh my god, I adore every single one of them. They seem so easy to work with. They all have so much talent—like, they can all sing. Yeah, they all sound fantastic. They’re so enthusiastic and they’re so easy to work with. That’s the thing is I’ve never had a bad rehearsal. I have always left rehearsal in a good mood…And it’s so hard to believe that this is actually real because I dreamed about this for so long. I was actually in a UFA musical in my first year, and it got cancelled one week before its performance dates because of the pandemic. Like it was supposed to go up March 21st and 22nd, 2020…And you know, like, the UFA musicals (the student-written musicals for charity) are a 10-year tradition. They had the first one in 2012, but they haven’t had them since 2019 because of the pandemic, and I never got to see one [or] experience one come to life right. I was in first year when I was in that show that got cancelled and I came up with this plotline for four years in 2020, but obviously, it wasn’t possible to make that happen in second or third year. So here I am in fourth year. It was my last chance. COVID’s largely behind us, so it’s been a long time coming, but I never could have imagined the amount of passion and talent I would get.

HC: Yeah you can feel it definitely. So what’s been your favourite part of the process just in general?

L: Oh my gosh. Probably just watching everything come together into one cohesive piece during the run-throughs. Yeah. Seeing it come to life. Because I was really really stressed last week—there were just so many logistics to plan out, and I had to change the date of my dress rehearsal two weeks before the show so that was like a big stressor. And then we had our first run-through just yesterday, and it went so well. It was so insane to see everything come together into one cohesive whole that all my stress went away, like, all of it went away. I just saw how talented, how dedicated, they all are and I’m like I’m not gonna worry about it because I know these people have the talent and passion to bring it together when it counts. I have full faith in them

HC: So exciting. Okay, so when’s the show? Where is it?

L: Yeah it’s March 25th and 26th in the evening and that’s at the UCU Alumni Auditorium on campus.

Definitely, definitely, definitely see UFA’s fundraiser musical written and directed by Ann Lambert. Tickets are on sale in the bio of UFA’s Instagram, check out their cause, and enjoy the show!

Avalyn Kwai Pun

U Ottawa '26

Avalyn is a first year joint honours Political Science and Feminist and Gender Studies student. She's passionate about social change and feminism, and has hopes to become a lawyer in the future. She enjoys reading, spending time with her family, music, and writing!