I went to high school in Richmond from 1977 to 1981, and both my schools — Hugh Boyd Junior Secondary and Steveston Senior Secondary — offered dedicated theatre courses as part of the curriculum. As part of the class, the students put on comedy shows, which allowed my friend Chris and I — both fans of British comedy shows — to perform some of our favourite Monty Python and Fawlty Towers pieces, and on one memorable occasion we did our own version of The Gong Show, where we were encouraged to be purposely bad, and then go one step further into true awfulness.
We also had an opportunity to appear in plays, where in addition to playing all the parts we designed, built, and painted the sets, constructed props, and did a bit of costume work; there was also an opportunity for more technically-minded students to work on lights and sound. Those of us involved loved every minute of it, and while I don’t know that anyone went on to pursue a career in theatre, I know that this student learned a lot and gained confidence, going from someone who was painfully shy to someone who could enthusiastically be a (very) bad ballet dancer in front of the entire school.
Sadly, performing arts are one of the first things to go when school districts are looking to trim budgets, and the situation is even worse in rural districts, which often don’t have the staff able to teach theatre or music. It means that many students go through their entire K–12 school career without any opportunity to experience the performing arts in school, and while some students can and do take private music or singing lessons, the cost puts this out of the reach of many.
That’s why I’m so pleased and proud that the Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society is able to provide the opportunity for local kids to get a taste, however small, of the performing arts. Its annual Kids’ Fine and Dramatic Arts camp has sessions where participants can act, design sets and costumes and props, write their own plays, dance, sing, make a video, and more.
WRAPS also does theatre productions, where children and youth are encouraged to take part either on stage or behind the scenes, depending on their preference. Nowhere was this more evident than the recent production of Shrek the Musical Jr., which involved 23 people aged 17 or under, two-thirds of whom had never taken part in a WRAPS play.
Herding cats? A little bit (although cats, in my experience, generally fall into line when you open a tin of tuna). But it was wonderful to see the change in everyone as the rehearsal process wound its way toward opening night. Actors who felt uncomfortable or self-conscious doing any kind of dance moves were enthusiastically throwing themselves around the stage by the time we were into performances. Children whose voices were barely above a whisper at the start were booming their lines out by the end.
When the entire cast went into the finale in the last performance, I found I was crying, tears of sadness and pride. Sadness because it was all over, and I’d seen it for the last time, and pride because it was as if 21 of my own children were up there on stage, giving it their all,. Knowing the journey to get to that point made it all the sweeter.
More than one person said to me, over the course of the run, how great it is that kids in our area have the opportunity to take part in something like this, and more than one new cast member has said that they want to come back for another production. Will any of them go on to a career in theatre? Who knows? But at least they have a chance to dip their toe in the water, take part in something different, and gain confidence in their abilities and potential. In the immortal words of Singin’ in the Rain’s Lina Lamont, it makes us realize that all our hard work ain’t been in vain fer nuthin’.