After months of preparation by a cast and crew of 60 kids supported by a group of adult volunteers, the West Nipissing Dream Catchers’ performances of Beauty and the Beast Jr. came together perfectly on stage. The last run of the production played to a packed auditorium from May 22 to 24, with the older youth playing the lead roles and the young children playing supporting roles – a role reversal from the previous run two weeks prior. It was impossible not to get caught up in the exuberance and joy expressed by both cast and crew. It’s not a secret that these kids are loving what they do, and building bonds in the process.
West Nipissing Dream Catchers is guided by Director Kat Clark with a supporting crew of adults in every area from vocal coaching to costumes, set design and everything in between. For anyone unfamiliar with the story of the prince who is cursed to be a Beast until he is set free by the love of the beautiful and independent Belle, Disney’s version is a cheeky rendition of the classic. With dancing, music, singing and some saucy characters who inspire laughter – like Les Filles de la Ville (town maidens) mooning over the village hotshot Gaston, enchanted singing furniture and more, the young actors brought the story to life. The audience was engaged and enthusiastic throughout, with notably rousing applause for the solo of the Beast, played by Gabriel Giguère, as he belted out his tune. The smaller children were delightful in their eagerness. Costumes were lovely, and the sets were enhanced by two spectacular backdrops provided by sponsor Jason Gagnon Construction. It was a real community effort, and it showed.
The cast afterparty, a few days later, was the opportunity to speak to some of the young actors. The 60 kids got together to celebrate their success in the cafeteria at Northern Secondary School / E.s.p. Nipissing Ouest, with appreciation gifts to honour all their helpers, and special tributes to each other. The young people echoed each other in their praise for what the theater means to them and the need for sustaining youth theatre in the community. Jett Lavallée, who played the village “Mob Boss” and “Lefou”, who slayed the Beast at the end, said with perfect candour, “I like having fun things to do after school… ‘cause there’s not many things in Sturgeon Falls to do, artistic stuff like dancing, artistry and plays and stuff like that.” This was his first year in theatre and he plans to continue.
Sadiel Subero, aged 7, experienced his second play with the troupe. He played the prince in the younger cast and the bookseller in both productions. Asked what was his favourite part he responded, “I would say at the very end, (the finale) that’s one of the songs I sing almost by myself with Belle.” He also noted there wasn’t much to do in Sturgeon, “and I figured out this was the funnest thing.” He wants to keep on going.
Anisha Clark played Belle in the younger version. She’s Katherine Clark’s daughter, and one of the reasons Clark started the Dream Catchers. She also played a supporting role as one of Les Filles, drawing laughs from the way they all acted love-sick for the conceited Gaston. “You get a lot of new friends in theater, ‘cause you meet a lot of new people that you wouldn’t necessarily meet in life and you kind of just get really close with people. And sometimes they let you stay after, sometimes to help you with roles and everybody’s usually really nice,” she described. She also noted there were hard parts. “In theater there’s a lot of drama ‘cause you have to stay with everybody for five months and you are all together for a really long time. (…) About my role, the hardest part was all the lines because there’s so many.” But Anisha is good at memorizing her lines, and singing is fun, even when she loses her voice.
Romie St-Onge, aged 10, played the Enchanted Rose in both productions, a very important role because as she lost her petals it indicated the Beast was losing time. If the last petal dropped, he would remain a beast forever. The Rose was the symbol for Love. She didn’t have any lines, “I only sang”, she said, but Romie gained confidence as a result of her first production, in her stand-alone role that was a bit off to the side. “I couldn’t be in the middle! … It’s just really fun. If you enjoy talking to people and you’re really outgoing it’s for you, very fun and enjoyable. The people are very kind and we work together.” Plus, she learned some skills – memorization being one. “It took me a while to memorize it!” She learned to take an audience in stride, overcoming her self-consciousness.
Olivia Gareau played the enchanted candelabra Lumière in the younger cast, a demanding role with lots of lines and singing. “I like theater because you can make a lot of different friends; you can learn a different experience and you can know how to undo your nervousness.” Olivia is a bit of a veteran, she’s been in three productions. One of her roles was to help the younger set. “I help kids … sometimes they don’t remember their lines and I can help.” There is a trick to it, said Olivia. She plans on staying with it, and says when you’re in theatre, you learn to get along with others. As for her role as Lumière, “It was a big role for me, actually my first time having a main character.” Olivia’s mom got involved as well as one of the directors. “She’s a big part of the theatre now, taking care of the props.” Olivia’s siblings are also involved, making it a family affair!
Olivia Lewington played one of Les Filles in both productions, to the great amusement of the audience. “I was the one who died in the mob scene when they were fighting the castle people. I was the one who fell and got dragged out. It was a little detail, but it was fun. We just added it in ourselves,” she said, highlighting how the production incorporated the ideas of the cast. Olivia Lewington got involved because her sister was a friend of another actor, and “I thought I might join because I wanted to get into theater and stuff.” Did it meet her expectations? “I like it because, well, I got a lot of friends and I am shy.” Was the audience intimidating? “A little bit… I used to sing a little bit, but I was surprised that I wasn’t so intimidated by the crowds because I’m a very shy person. I still am. But the crowds, I wasn’t really fazed by them for some reason.” She says she would do it again and yes, she would recommend it to others. “I think you can get a lot of skills from this theater group especially, because they’re really nice people running it and lots of fun kids too. I think the main skill is social skills. I didn’t have a lot of socializing before because I was home schooled.”
Rylee Barnes also played one of Les Filles in both casts. It was also her first foray into theatre. At her school there were posters adverting the play, “So I told my mom I really want to look into that and she said okay… I was very nervous for my audition.” She’s become very good friends with one of her cast mates. Rylee said she had confidence before entering theatre, but she’s even more confident now. Although it was a minor role, Les Filles had some very funny lines, and did a fair amount of singing.
Thirteen weeks is a long time to prepare and it takes commitment and discipline. Rylee said everyone was there for 5:30 and started practice at 6 on weekdays. She learned all the lines of the play and would sing them at home, and even her mom would wake up in the middle of the night singing the songs. She’s going to audition for the main role in the next play, Into the Woods, saying that she’s very comfortable on stage now. “The first one I was a bit nervous – not shaking and about to pass out; you can’t really see the people unless you’re really close to the stage because the lights kind of blind you.”