Students from SMUS and a handful of other Greater Victoria schools returned to class a little earlier than most of their classmates this summer, all for their love of musical theatre.
Since August 20, the young performers have been working on staging a show for the 29th annual Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival. That’s right – the kids had just two weeks to familiarize themselves with the show, cast the characters, memorize their lines and the music, and get it all performance-ready for their opening night debut (Thursday, Sept. 3).
“I’m actually not that nervous,” says Grade 10 student Kelsey Taylor, taking the summer Musical Theatre program for her first time. “It’s because we know what we’re capable of. We know we’re not going to get a whole bunch of harmonies down, but we know that we still need to perform at a really high level. When you watch a Fringe performance, you automatically think, ‘Oh yeah, they know their stuff; clearly they’ve been practicing for a while.’ But two weeks ago we didn’t know anything about Band Geeks, so it’s kind of crazy.”
Band Geeks is the story of a high school marching band trying to save their program while aiming to put on a great show in a short amount of time. It’s a bit of art imitating life, says director Cam Culham, a former longtime SMUS boarding houseparent.
“Band Geeks is a chance to see a story about youth empowering themselves through investment in the arts and in their creative development,” he says. “It’s always empowering to see young people finding their voice and having a forum for expression, both in the show and here in the class. It’s got a message that’s quite profound, even though it’s quite light fair.”
The summer Musical Theatre program, led by Cam and music director Donna Williams (SMUS’s current Head of Music and a boarding houseparent), provides students with a uniquely intensive, collaborative and fun theatre environment unlike any other.
“It’s so much fun,” says Grade 10 student Ethan Ko, who is now in his third year participating in the summer program. “This is the most fun I’ve had doing a musical. Cam and Donna and the rest of the group help you improve a lot, they help you learn a lot. It’s not stressful to me because it’s just so fun and everybody knows it’s a learning experience more than anything.”
“For Donna and I, it’s about building skills and building confidence. We encourage kids to take risks – for some it’s their first time on stage. Audiences respond really well to our shows because they really like to see the students are maybe brand new to this, or they’re doing something they’re not used to doing,” Cam adds. “It’s all of us working on something creative as a collective – to me there’s a certain unique energy in that.”
The relaxed format of the intensive program, which probably helps make it less nerve-wracking, is non-audition; meaning students of all skills levels are welcome to join. Because of this, it’s up to each individual performer how big or how small of a part they want to play in the show. If you want a lead role with lots of solos, it’s yours. If you’re more comfortable a little less in the spotlight, a more minor role will be yours.
“We make this fun all the way through for them. It’s process as much as performance, but there’s still that deadline of getting the show ready for Fringe. The best part about it, though, is the bonding between them. They’re there for each other on stage; supporting one another through rehearsals and performances in any way they can.”
In addition to gaining theatre skills, leadership skills and confidence, students who take the summer program also get arts credits they can put towards their high school graduation.
Band Geeks debuts Thursday, Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. The show runs at 7 p.m. tonight, tomorrow and Saturday, with an afternoon matinee on Saturday at 2 p.m., in the lecture theatre on campus. Tickets for the Fringe show are available online or at the door. (Don’t forget you need to wear your Fringe button, too!)
For more info about the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, visit victoriafringe.com.
(photos by Kyle Slavin)