Most would likely recoil at the thought of having to take 300-odd school aged children and mould them into a polished musical production, but for PACE musical director Sandra Webster-Worthy it’s all a part of the magic.
And once again this magic will be on display to the public with This Is Our Story, which starts its run at the Isabelle Reader Theatre on April 16.
The Program for Academic and Creative Enrichment has been putting on productions with West Shore students from kindergarten to Grade 12 since 1985. It is always an inclusive production, with no auditions and no rejections; everyone is welcome to participate.
“I take everybody,” Webster-Worthy said.
The students work with professional choreographers, musical directors, vocal directors and others, giving children a real chance to learn the ways of theatre. Children who participate in PACE throughout their schooling end up with a considerable amount of formal training.
“It’s not quite as haphazard as you’d think, because you’re getting a fair bit of training,” Webster-Worthy said. “It’s very polished.”
Webster-Worthy picks her material to suit her cast and to make sure the show has equal opportunity for all to shine. A typical scripted musical doesn’t really work for PACE, as they tend to feature one or two leads and then a handful of bit players. By taking numbers from eight different shows, more children are able to share the spotlight.
This Is Our Story is a collection of eight popular Broadway shows, meaning eight sets, eight costume changes and plenty of chances for students to take centre stage. Incorporated into the show are selections from Shrek, The Addams Family, Bring It On, Catch Me If You Can, Little Mermaid, Fame and Matilda.
“Matlida (is) great for our K to 8s because that show is that age group,” Webster-Worthy said. “Whereas Bring It On … is about high school cheer teams, that’s great for the high schoolers.”
The youth have been working on the show since January and Webster-Worthy said they have been having a blast. They’re participation is purely by choice, so they are a committed and interested group, which helps when it comes to keeping them focused and on task.
It’s a family affair too, with about 40 volunteers, usually parents, helping to organize the show and even a team of grandparents who come out every Sunday for rehearsals to barbecue and make a meal for the cast and crew.
“When you start an experience like this when you’re five or six or seven and you do it every Sunday until you’re 18, those kids become pretty tight,” Webster-Worthy said.
Alumni are even being asked to come up and sing a group number during the set and costume change for the finale. Webster-Worthy said she has core group who will be there for every show and any others who show up will have a chance to rehearse 15 minutes before the show starts and then perform for the crowd. So far about 60 people have expressed interest in participating.
Webster-Worthy’s son, PACE alumnus and current Disney actor Calum Worthy, best known as Dez on the show Austin & Ally, will be joining the cast for a few shows (April 17 to 19) and will be available for photos and autographs.
This is Our Story runs at 7 p.m. from April 17 to 19 and 23 to 26. There are 2 p.m. matinee performances on April 16, 18 and 19. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors. Call 250-391-9002 to reserve tickets.