West Nipissing Dream Catchers, a local theatre troupe for young people, has not only been revived for its next production, Beauty & the Beast Jr. (Disney version), but is thriving more than expected, according to producer Kat Clark. With 60 local youth engaged in rehearsals, preparing for May production dates, it’s time to get your tickets.
Kat Clark has invested so much personal energy and love into Dream Catchers, but at the close of last year’s performance of Aladdin, she was somewhat worn down, overwhelmed by the effort to support her young thespians. “So, Aladdin, we had kind of hit a rut,” she recounts. At the time, much of the responsibility fell on her shoulders, and she felt the stress. “That show was going to be our last. I talked to a few of the parents and told them… this will be it when Aladdin ends. Dream Catchers just couldn’t keep going. We tried and gave it our all, but COVID took us out. But then I had some parents who hopped on, who didn’t want to see it go down, and now we have a solid team.”
Clark says there is now a core group of 8 parents consistently volunteering, backed by another half dozen who help when they can. It’s truly a revival, and a bit of a miracle for Clark – who is looking very well these days – energized, smiling, excited about her young people.
The revival has been so promising that, “We’re doing a dual cast!” There will be two separate performances of three nights each. One set will be cast with the younger children as the leads, who will be backed by the older youth, and the second set of performances will have the youth in lead positions, backed by the children. “We have 60 kids in this show; you can’t squeeze all 60 kids in. So, we’re using them in both shows. We had a pretty even split of kids from Grade 6 and under and kids from Grade 6 and over. We split it so we did one show where the mains have to be from Grade 6 or under… [and the older set] are going to be ensemble for them, so they’re going to sing the background stuff… Two weeks later, we’ll redo the show, again on a weekend, and the older cast will play mains and the younger cast will support them as ensemble,” Clark explains.
She believes this will not only be very entertaining for audiences who attend both, but it creates an environment where the youth and the younger children support each other — a nurturing and growing experience of cooperation that goes far beyond theatre. “It’s the same production. It’s beautiful,” Clark beams. “What’s really been so amazing about that is our older cast, who have already played mains a few times, are mentoring the younger cast now, so now there’s a Belle who is in Grade 8, and there’s a Belle who’s in Grade 6 and they work together every night. Every time we work with Belle, we work with both Belles – the older Belle can help the younger Belle — ‘I know you’re having a hard time, but you’re going to get there, let’s practice together’. They’ll go into the hallway; they’ll do their song together a few times. Then they’ll come back, and they’ll show what they learned together. It’s been kind of a beautiful experience getting to teach the kids to be the teachers. It gives them that whole new experience of theater.”
Kat Clark loves what she is doing, and she does it on a string. “It’s teaching them all to mentor each other… We have a lot of new kids this year, and those kids who were a little scared to come into theater, kind of buddied up with another kid. Now they’ve all got a mentor. We even have a 4-year-old in this show …and she has a mentor in the younger class who’s 8, [who] takes her everywhere with her.” When the 4-year-old first started, she wouldn’t even stand on the stage. “Now she’s running out for all the songs and, with her mentor, doing dances – the kids are really enjoying it.”
The rehearsals take place at Northern Secondary School / École secondaire Nipissing Ouest, which boasts a lovely theatre. Clark says both schools have been wonderful patrons and Dream Catchers intends to give back with two bursaries, one for each school, to be given to a student as selected by the Arts department on each side. “It’s not a lot, $150 each, but we don’t have a lot,” notes Clark.
Finances for this independently run, volunteer-driven theatre troupe have always been tight. Even though there are 60 kids involved and families pay $150 per spot, Clark says some families have more than two children involved, so they consistently give breaks. It’s too expensive for many of their families and she feels these opportunities should not be denied to those children. It costs a lot to mount any production. Consequently, Dream Catchers also does fund raising and gets involved in community activities. Donations of $150 to cover the cost of one child will get the donor a spot on the program, for example.