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Zac Flis: Piano player, musical director, and incredible Regina talent

October 23, 2012

Zac Flis

Last winter, shortly after Globe Theatre announced the lineup for the 2012-13 season, Zachary Flis sent “a casual email” to Ruth Smillie that would alter the course of his young life.

A pianist, Flis was studying classical music at the University of Regina, and midway through his second year, at the age of 20, he came to the realization that his heart “simply wasn’t in it.”

Musical theatre is Flis’s passion, and now, here was the Globe, planning to open with not one but two shows that require a piano player! First, A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline, and after that, Billy Bishop Goes To War.

The email was forwarded by the artistic director to the men who would stage those productions, Geoffrey Whynot and Max Reimer, respectively, and long story short, Flis was cast in both. From the piano bench, he led the small band that accompanied Devra Straker on her “Walk,” and as we speak, he is approaching the end of the runway as onstage accompanist/narrator/companion to Jacob James in Billy Bishop.

“It’s been an amazing kick start to my professional career,” Flis says, and it may also be his ticket to the Royal Conservatory of Scotland, in Glasgow, where he hopes to pursue a master’s at one of the few institutions that will accept experience as an equivalent to undergraduate degrees. “Now I know there’s a different path I can take to where I want to go,” he says.

That’s quite a turnaround for someone who, less than a year ago, found it difficult, if not impossible, “to keep the fire lighted inside.”

Born in Saskatoon, Flis moved with his family to Regina when he was seven. He took piano lessons for five years, until age 13, but he didn’t care for the exams, and so the lessons were discontinued. He did, however, play piano at home through his high school years at Winston Knoll Collegiate, and he became increasingly more involved with community musical theatre.

As a teen, Flis performed with the young people’s company Do It With Class. He was an actor, a song and dance man, but his eye was constantly straying to the piano. “I couldn’t keep my hands off it,” he says, and of course this was noticed by musical director Robert Ursan, who took him under his wing and provided encouragement and instruction. Ursan became his mentor, and he couldn’t have asked for a better one.

As an emerging professional, Flis’s youth is a factor, but not an obstacle. When he auditioned for the Patsy Cline show, he was asked by Whynot, “How well do you work with older people?” Very well, as it turns out. Flis has learned that the secret to this is gaining their confidence early by displaying his talent and his work ethic and, needless to say, his enthusiasm.

If it was indeed “a shot in the dark for the directors,” the risk they took and the confidence they showed has certainly paid off for Whynot and Reimer, and for Globe Theatre audiences.

“I don’t know if everything happens for a reason,” Flis says, “but this was certainly quite a chain of events.”

You can catch Zachary Flis and Jacob James in Billy Bishop Goes to War through Oct. 28.

For more information, visit the Globe Theatre website at www.globetheatrelive.com.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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