Dean Armstrong: Actor and Teacher
By Andrew Stokes, Artsci'13, MA'14
Plans for a career in environmental law led Dean Armstrong, to Queen’s but when he left, he was headed to Broadway, television and film.
Always a charismatic and engaging person, Dean, who hails from Owen Sound, wasn’t exposed to the arts. Despite a burgeoning interest in acting that began in late high school, he enrolled at Queen’s hoping to champion the causes of soil quality, water purity and air pollution.
Living in residence in Victoria Hall, Dean was surrounded by people from all walks of life and found himself trending more and more towards those studying drama. “I kept finding myself in theatres, really excited, championing the work of my friends. I came to realize that if I didn’t pursue this passion it would be a huge mistake,” he says.
His talent was evident and Dean quickly moved from writing, to acting, to producing. In the final year of his drama degree, he found himself sitting in the director’s chair for a Queen’s drama production of West Side Story put on at the Grand Theatre.
“Having the opportunity to put on that play was immense for me,” Dean says. “It was through directing that I learnt I could teach, and so when I heard about the Artist as Community Educator (ACE) program, I was definitely interested. Being a part of it fundamentally reinvented the idea of being an artist and a teacher for me. It united the two in a way I hadn’t considered.”
As part of his placement at Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School in Kingston, Dean aided in the directing of the school musical, My Favorite Year.
Being able to work with students on that level was fantastic for me; it was great to be able to contribute in that way. People often claim that ‘those who can’t do, teach’ and I think that’s a false and harmful belief. It’s totally possible to take part in art while educating as well
After graduation, Dean moved to Toronto and continued his career in theatre, despite the warnings of his peers. “Everyone said it was impossible to start a successful acting career, but I believe any industry can accommodate you if you’re willing to work hard and if you’re talented.”
Landing roles in cities across Canada, Dean was constantly on the move, eventually performing in Rent on Broadway in New York. When he had the time, he taught acting courses and workshops at Toronto schools and soon developed an interested group of people who wanted acting tips and coaching. After a critically-lauded role on the Showtime drama Queer as Folk, Armstrong decided to devote more time to coaching.
The result, Armstrong Acting Studios, has since grown into an enterprise with more than 80 staff (including Jennifer MacLennan, Ed’08, herself a graduate of the ACE program) and has taught 14,000 students. Among Dean’s alumni are Miley Cyrus, Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries), Devon Bostick (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and many others.
With the opening of a second studio in New York and the upcoming expansion of a web-based acting program, Dean is appreciative of the experience he had at Queen’s.
“It was a total privilege to go to Queen’s — it was the place I wanted to go and I knew it would be best for me. The confidence I have today as an actor and a teacher came from my time there and the amazing faculty I got to work with. Aynne Johnston (associate professor in the drama department, and now ACE program coordinator) in particular was enormously inspirational. Taking part in ACE made me believe I could do both things, act and teach, and that I didn’t have to differentiate,” he says. “Every day I have an amazing chance to do both the things I love.”
Article originally appeared on the Queen's Alumni Review website.