Being a kid again at Canterbury High School’s Children’s Theatre Festival

Being Ottawa’s arts high school, I’m sure that singing and dancing in the halls is a regular thing at Canterbury High School. On Saturday, May 12, 2012, I had the pleasure of checking out their Grade 11 Children’s Theatre Festival. There was face painting, arts and crafts, a magic show and a good old game of pin the tail on the fish. Plus, of course, theatre.

What is the Canterbury Children’s Theatre Festival?

Every year is different, says Rory O’Driscoll, one of this year’s producers, and it depends what the students want to do, “Last year, for example, the students did Charlotte’s Web. This year they are all student written plays.” Hunter Delorme, director for William Wallaby the Water Waster, said they picked their script because it looked like it would be fun for both the kids and the actors, “This script had things we can like as well; we are legitimately having fun too.” Alecks Charron, director for Dr. David Allen Stern’s Correctional Academy for the Institutionalization of Unnaturally Odd Children, picked it not only because it had the longest title known to man, but because she could relate to the idea behind it, “[...] that it’s okay to be strange. Kids shouldn’t be afraid to be different.”

For more information on the festival, I was told to track down the tallest guy in the school, David Scott, who is the supervising teacher this year. Track him down I did, and he gave me the low down, “It’s a lot of fun and energy to see the kids put this together. [...] Students need to know working with children is unlike any other audience they will ever work with. Usually you don’t have the audience stand up and yell, but you may with children. There’s a huge X factor. The actors must be on their toes at all times, they have to be aware and acknowledge their audience and work accordingly.”

The students agree that doing a children’s production is very different than other genres of theatre. Delorme thought it an interesting adventure, “For most shows, if things get off track, that’s considered a mistake or a mess up but with a kids’ show the whole point is we take what the children are saying and go with it. As long as we can keep the basis of the blocks going forward.” Actor, Tia Belle-Isle enjoyed the variety that came with every show, “It all depends on how the kids react.”

The added benefit of doing a project dedicated to children is that the students are introduced to a genre that is one of Canada’s true job options for actors. As Scott explains, “Many students have dreams of being in Broadway or the movies but that’s not always realistic. [...] Children’s theatre is a very big part of our theatre community.” When I asked students if they would consider working in children’s theatre, many said they would consider it.

The best part of Canterbury’s Children’s Theatre Festival is that the shows are free. You are invited to make a donation but you’ll easily make it back with the fun you’ll be having with your kids. Not to mention the memories and conversations you’ll have long after. To be honest, I was a little saddened that there were not more children on Saturday, but fortunately the students were able to spend the week leading up to Saturday performing for various other schools who came to Canterbury to check out the plays. My message for the parents of children three to eleven: Next year. Be there. It is well worth it. Nice job, Canterbury.

Check out our video preview to hear about the 2012 plays from the Grade 11′s themselves.

REVIEW: William Wallaby the Water Waster

Sadly, due to other work commitments, we were only able to get people - me - out to see one of the three plays put on for the festival this year: William Wallaby the Water Waster.

Director Hunter Delorme said they picked this play because there was a lot of opportunity for colour and energy to captivate the children. The colour and stage design gives the sense that you are near water, starting with two huge blue tarps hanging as curtains (shower curtains) which are pulled apart to reveal a great set of blue, green, and yellow, with a cool boat and other elements showing us we’re on a shore or underwater.

Editor’s note: If anybody wants to tell us how the other plays went (or even add their two cents about the Water Waster), we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Lead actor Dan Johnston has great energy and charm as William Wallaby and has comedic timing similar to Jerry Lewis in the 1970’s. His portrayal instantly grabs your attention. Another strong actor is Marguerite Hanna as Christina Catfish. Her facial expressions, body language and interaction with the audience are charming and fun to watch. Tia Belle-Isle’s character, the Turtle butler, is slow moving and deliberate but it wasn’t until half way through the play that this became noticeable as funny. What cut the joke short was that the turtle only had a short distance to walk and is almost hidden way at the back of the stage. If she had to walk a bit farther, it would have built to a funnier punch line and would have given the cast a lot of opportunity to improvise impatient pantomimes while they waited.

There were a lot of funny moments in William Wallaby the Water Waster and a good energy overall. Standout moments included a vaudeville-style chase scene, a musical number and some fancy accents; a British accent employed by Eamonn Cueboy, “At first I wasn’t sure about an accent but with the wardrobe and character it made became an easy choice,” and a festive Spanish accent by Samantha Memedoska the Wise old Crab.

For the most part the play is great, the sets, the characters and music all worked really well together. There were several times I felt some of the funny was rushed and easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention, but the cast’s energy was great and performances top notch. I’m going with three and a half starfish out of five but I’m betting all the kids in the audience - the target market after all - left happy.

What did you think? Did you get out to see Canterbury’s Children’s Theatre Festival, or were you involved with it? Tell us your experience in the comments below.

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All photos in this article were taken by Ken McDavitt.

Ken McDavitt

About Ken McDavitt

Ken has been a reviewer of children’s theatre and movies with Production Ottawa/Should You See It for about a year. He is also a professional children’s performer and can be seen around the Ottawa to Kingston area in musical and magical productions for Mystic Drumz, The Abra-Kid-Dabras or Out Of the Box.

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