St. Jacobs students go down the rabbit hole

The school stages its first musical in four years this week with its take on Alice in Wonderland


St. Jacobs Public School presents the wacky world of Alice in Wonderland this week. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
St. Jacobs Public School has awakened its students’ imaginations with their production of Alice in Wonderland.

More than 100 students from Grades 5 to 8 have been working to put together Lewis Carroll’s eccentric tale of quirky characters since January.

Music and drama teacher Katelyn Vanier is directing the show. She says it has been a real community experience for the kids. Students have been involved in everything from ushering to set building to designing posters to building props.

The group gathered on Easter Monday for their dress rehearsal to work out the kinks and get used to performing with new-to-them technology, like headset microphones.

This is Vanier’s first time directing a musical at St. Jacobs PS, something she says the school has been wanting to do for a few years.

“I feel like there’s so much adventure and imagination that sometimes in the modern age of technology, a lot of it is just fed to kids, and this allows kids to explore. During class I’ve been going through it with the whole school and we’ve been talking about imagination and what is nonsense and how does that relate to me and what can we picture in our minds when we think of these different quirky characters. It’s been a lot of fun,” Vanier said.

She says the biggest challenge has been finding time to get the full cast together to rehearse, since many of the students have other extracurricular activities which keep them busy. But for the students, she says they’d probably say memorizing their lines has been the steepest learning curve.

The music is also a good test for the students.

“Alice in Wonderland was written in a time when jazz music was getting to be really big and experimental in the ‘50s, so a lot of the music that is in the show is based on those original songs, but they’ve been taken and made more modern. So some of the timing is kind of tricky for the kids and the harmonies have been [tricky too],” Vanier said.

The last musical the school put together was The Wizard of Oz, four years ago. She likes that they both share a similar plot with a character travelling to a magical land that’s much different from their home.

The wacky world of Alice in Wonderland includes three Alices and three Cheshire Cats. From left: Rebecca Perry, Avery Leech, Braelyn MacPherson, Jaiden Krupicz, Kierra Martin, and Avery Lehmann. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]

“I think as well, especially with our refugees and people coming in, the kids might not have had those cultural experiences before. It’s neat to see someone experience something where everything is new to them and they’re just taking it all in,” Vanier said.

The kids’ version of the play has a few more characters than the original story. There are three Alices and three Cheshire Cats, instead of just one of each.

“[Alice] grows and shrinks in the show. One of them is small Alice, one of them is tall Alice, and one of them is medium. And there are three Cheshire cats because in the show the Cheshire cat is the narrator of the show, and because there’s so much text, that’s how it’s broken up so it’s not so much for one person to learn, especially for that age group because they are on stage for the whole show,” Vanier explained.

She says the biggest takeaways for the students have been the importance of team work and that there are no small parts.

Vanier would like audiences to leave with a sense of adventure.

“I hope that they leave with a smile on their face and a little feeling of adventure, that they’ve  gone somewhere fun with their kids and explored a land that is eccentric, where anything can happen.”

The show opened on Wednesday. There are two additional performances today (Apr. 20) at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for kids and seniors.