Students make theatre look like child’s play
In the interests of full disclosure, yes, that is my son in the photograph accompanying this story.
And, no, this article will not have much objectivity in it.
There’s a reason for this and it goes beyond the fact Sean has attended Western Canada Theatre’s Stage One performance class every summer for the past several years.
It’s because the students who go there are, each and every one of them, truly amazing.
In 10 days over a two-week period, they will go from receiving their script to performing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Every year, they do the same thing: In two weeks, they learn their parts, get their costumes, rehearse their lines, practise the songs, learn the choreography, deal with the opening-night flutters and amaze their audience with the calibre of their productions.
Anyone who has seen any of the plays — The Emperor’s New Clothes, Charlotte’s Web, The Wizard of Oz, among others — knows this.
Ask them how they do it and you’ll get shy smiles and shrugs.
“We just learn our blocking and movements the first week,” said Serena Bergstrand, who will play Willy Wonka.
“And then, the second week, we go off-script and we just work at it.”
Carter Grice, who plays Charlie, really isn’t sure how it comes together — he just knows it will because he knows everyone else is studying their lines as determinedly as he is.
Co-director Melissa Thomas, who just finished directing another Roald Dahl story, James and the Giant Peach, for X-Fest, said the students are serious about their craft.
“There’s a lot of homework. It’s hard work.”
Serena, 17, interrupts to note “it doesn’t feel like work.”
She and Carter will be on stage for most of the 90-minute production and they have a lot of script to learn.
It’s not something either of them had planned to do.
Serena, who has been with the summer program for three years, was encouraged to join by her grandmother.
“I was leery. I didn’t want to do it,” Serena said, “but she made me sign on and I loved it.”
Carter’s mother convinced him to try the introductory course offered last fall — a first for WCT as it expanded its children’s-theatre programming — “and I liked it the first thing.”
Even Thomas wasn’t eyeing the theatre as something she would choose for a career, she said.
Describing herself as a child and teenager who loved to try different things, she found herself at one point taking up wrestling.
Her parents, used to her moving on to new pastimes every year or so, told her they expected she would give it up to.
“So, I stuck with it,” Thomas said, competing nationally and even taking on American wrestler Randi Miller at one point, an athlete who went on to win the bronze medal in the 2008 Olympic Summer Games.
It wasn’t a family member who redirected Thomas’s interests.
Rather, it was a friend dancing on a bus who fell on Thomas’s knee and hyper-extended it, putting an end to a blossoming wrestling career.
She cast her thoughts back to her Grade 10 theatre class and the two school plays she had been in — and, years later, has just successfully completed a master’s degree in theatre at the University of Calgary.
Thomas hasn’t been with Stage One since 2010, when she directed Charlotte’s Web.
Many of the students she and co-director Terri Runnalls are working with were involved with that play, too.
Thomas said she’s thrilled to be doing back-to-back Dahl stories and loves Charlie because it provides lots of opportunities for the students.
It also allowed for more students this year, with 25 in the performance class.
“Once we decided on Charlie, we knew it was OK to keep adding people,” Thomas said, “because there are so many roles in it.
“And, it’s the most I’ve ever directed on stage, with some scenes having as many as a dozen actors on at the same time.
The students will give two performances, one on Friday, Aug. 24, at 7 p.m. and another on Saturday, Aug. 25, at 2 p.m. at Pavilion Theatre, 1025 Lorne St.
Admission is by donation to the Henry Vanderberghe Memorial Bursary, which provides financial support for Stage One students.
A word of advice: As the mom of one of the performers, I learned quickly these students have a habit of filling every seat, so it’s best to get to the theatre early, because seating is limited.