Sandy Webster-Worthy (centre) conducts a pre-show meeting prior to the 2017 Christmas show. (Contributed photo)

Sandy Webster-Worthy (centre) conducts a pre-show meeting prior to the 2017 Christmas show. (Contributed photo)

PACE a program like no other

Theatre art program teaches more than music

When Sandra Webster-Worthy first came to the Sooke School District with her background in dance, a degree in theatre arts, and training as a high school drama teacher, she was determined to make a difference.

She saw the availability of existing theatre arts for the division’s students and realized that a broader platform was needed – one that would engender a love of music and theatre and build confidence and skills that would last a lifetime.

“In traditional high school musical theatre, and amateur theatre in general, if you’re not already good, you won’t get a part. At best you’ll get stuck in the back, in the chorus, while the stars are centre stage,” Webster-Worthy said.

“I wanted something different; something better. I wanted to open up a program for all ages and abilities where young people could grow and find their unique genius as they learn and develop.”

That’s when the Program for Academic and Creative Enrichment (PACE) was born.

RELATED: PACE concert raises $6,500 for Langford family

It’s a program that has operated under the umbrella of the school division and, twice a year, has staged two spectacular musical reviews to sold out houses at the Isabelle Reader Theatre. The program, since 2017, has operated as an academy for what Webster-Worthy describes as purely administrative reasons.

It provides students in grades eight to 12 school credits for their work in the program and, although there are arguably less time-consuming ways to earn those credits, the students will tell you that they do it for the love of the program. The same is true of the scores of students from kindergarten to Grade seven who, though they do not receive school credits, nonetheless give up countless hours for practices and rehearsal, simply for the love of PACE.

“When I started the program in 1986, I went to the musical revue format so everyone who cared to participate would have the chance to perform. The philosophy was, and is, that no matter what your natural talent may be, you’ll be given a chance to shine at some point in the program. Everyone gets their time at the front of the stage and you never know which of those kids are going to surprise you,” Webster-Worthy said.

She recalled one young man, five years ago, who had been with the program for a few years and had never really stood out.

“One day I heard this little voice during a rehearsal and took him aside and asked him to sing a solo. We worked with him a bit and, that year, when he sang Oh Holy Night at the Christmas show, he brought the house down. It was amazing. And I’ve seen that over and over again. The young people in the program blossom in their own time and every one of them discovers the magic inside their soul. Every one of them will have their moment, and it’s a moment they’ll remember forever.”

But the true magic of the PACE program is something even more intangible.

Webster-Worthy has created a community; one in which the 350 to 400 student participants are supported by a veritable army of parents, grandparents, and volunteers who are as close to one another as any family could be.

“The program couldn’t operate without these wonderful people’s support. They make it happen and they are truly like a family, responding to tragedies and challenges within the group. They support one another, and treat every young person in the program as one of their own,” Webster-Worthy said.

“We have a group of 400 cast members, from four year olds to young adults in Grade 12 and we never have a discipline problem. We have cast members with special needs who are seamlessly accommodated and who blend into the group without any problem. And we have the older students taking the young ones under their wing as “little buddies” and guiding them through their early years. Some of those relationships last forever.”

RELATED: Christmas character past and pressent keep the PACE

Webster-Worthy’s son, Calum Worthy, regularly returns to help MC the spring PACE concert, even though he now enjoys a successful career as an actor, writer and producer in Los Angeles.

“He was born in 1991 as we were working on the spring show. We had production meetings in my hospital room and, when I returned to rehearsals a few weeks later, Calum was in his basket under the production table,” recalled Webster-Worthy with a chuckle.

Calum regularly jokes about having been born in the wings of the theatre, but credits much of his success to the program. He also counts some of the his PACE friends as his closest and most enduring friendships.

“This program is about everyone being able to participate. We have never excluded anyone who couldn’t pay the minimal fee and we never will. And we’ve never told anyone they weren’t good enough,” Webster-Worthy said.

“And, oh sure, we could go to a format where students would have to audition, and have us select only the most accomplished performers, but we never will. If we did that, the program would lose its soul. It’s not what we are about.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

editor@goldstreamgazette.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A project on McCallum Road will add 227 residential units to Langford. (Photo courtesy of Highstreet Ventures)
Residential project slated for McCallum Road in Langford

Six-storey development will be built to highest energy-efficiency standards

The public will start to weigh in next month on the possible future uses of Oak Bay Lodge. In the meantime, a request to the province by the City of Victoria to intervene and allow use of at least a portion of the closed facility as temporary shelter space awaits an answer. (Black Press Media file photo)
Oak Bay Lodge redevelopment planning continues, request for temporary use awaits answer

Public consultation on future of CRD-owned site begins next month

Volunteer Anette Akouri is part of a vital service that connects clients to help them be less vulernable. (Saanich Volunteer Services Society)
Saanich volunteers up the friendship calls, grocery deliveries during pandemic

Saanich Volunteer Services Society helping vulnerable residents stay happy, healthy

Wild Wise Sooke is pushing to get local waste management companies to hop on board to provide bear-resistant bins as an option for residents. On Nov. 23, Sooke council voted to write a letter of support for Wild Wise to send to companies such as GFL Environmental Inc. and Sooke Disposal Ltd. (Black Press Media file photo)
Wild Wise Sooke continues push for bear-resistant bins as option for residents

Bins could cost anywhere from $150 to $300 or more, according to 2019 study

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

(AP Photo/Paula Bronstein)
POLL: Has COVID-19 changed your plans for the holidays?

The lights are going up, the stacks of presents under the tree… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Dec. 1

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Watch Messiah at home with the Sooke Philharmonic

Concert available to stream Dec. 12

Emergency crews used a backhoe loader to clear fire debris from the scene of a fire on Wesley Street Thursday as police and firefighters gathered up propane tanks, stoves and fireplaces used by camp residents to heat tents. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
City of Nanaimo dismantles downtown homeless encampment after fire

Four to six tents burned up in Wesley Street fire Thursday, Dec. 3

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

BC Ambulance Services reassures people that the service is well staffed and ready to respond. Photo by Don Bodger
BC Ambulance assures the Island community they’re ‘fully staffed’

‘Paramedics are not limited to a geographical area.’ — BCEHS

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

Most Read