Drayton Entertainment’s Youth Academy high school musical production program stages its first offering next week in the form of Legally Blonde The Musical.
The show, which runs at the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse from February 15-26, promises to be an explosion of youthful energy, sass and the colour pink.
The high school musical production program brings together young performers from across the region to prepare for and stage a musical.
For Ella Way, a Grade 11 student at Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School, the experience has been a fun one.
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“It’s just the fact that you get to work with other people who just love doing it. And just love being there and are just happy to be part of this team,” said Way, who is involved with the costume design team.
“Drayton’s been something that my family has been participating in and going to watch shows since I was really, really little. So when David [Connolly] started talking about and planning the Youth Academy, we thought, ‘Well, might as well do it,’ because I enjoy doing theater stuff and being involved in the backstage stuff.”
The play follows character Elle Woods and her adventures as she enters Harvard Law School, despite the stereotypes that she doesn’t belong there.
“It’s an iconic musical that has stood the test of many, many years because I think the themes of shattering stereotypes and being true to yourself are more important now than when it first came out. It came out in 2003, but I think with the advent of social media, these themes, to these kids, especially, post pandemic are really, really vital,” said Connolly, the associate artistic director for Drayton Entertainment and director of education for the Youth Academy.
From Way’s perspective, the costumes reflect how fun the play is. “Well, we’re doing lots of early 2000s costumes. So a lot of the actors are wearing capri pants with six different layers. And none of it really matches. It’s kind of like pulling them back in time. I love it because you get to create this kind of basis for a storyline with just what they’re wearing.”
The kids have been rehearsing since January, with four rehearsals each week: four hours on two weeknights each week, and longer rehearsals on the weekends . The play’s actors and backstage crew include 50 kids from across the region.
Connolly says the musical is an opportunity for the community to show the next generation their support.
“The pandemic was terrible for all kids, but I think especially for high school kids – to have missed that many years of their high school development is something that we wanted to address and make up for lost time as best we could.”
The play is sponsored by Brad Carr of West Montrose. Carr sits on Drayton Entertainment’s volunteer board and is the CEO of Mattamy Homes Canada. He chalks a lot of his success up to his experience learning drama at Elmira District Secondary School from teacher Gord Davis.
“Great teachers imprint their wisdom on their students. And, you know, not just for myself, but for literally hundreds and hundreds of other kids. Individuals like Gord, teachers like Gord, I’ll forever be grateful for the role he played in my development. So the chance to not only support youth but to say thank you to someone who did this for so many years. It’s a nice secondary benefit,” said Carr.
“You get into the arts because you find a place of inclusion. You find something that allows you to express creativity, to experience the stage, all those reasons. But what you realize is you’re learning work ethic, self confidence, public speaking, time management, productivity, there are so many things that I use in my day-to-day life in business that I attribute to the teachings that I got from the time I spent with Gord and the Elmira District Secondary theatre program.”
Gord Davis, who Carr honoured with the sponsorship, was touched by the gesture. “Theatre involving young people is my first love. The magic is real,” he said.
“Students taking drama classes or taking part in extracurricular rehearsals work together to attain a common goal. Varied ages, varied backgrounds, varied interests, all cooperate to create the magic of theatre, sometimes for themselves, sometimes for an audience. Personal differences melt away and through drama they imagine and create worlds they might never enter in real life. They become more sensitive to the world around them. This impacts their daily living,” said Davis.
“We need kids who have balanced educations, who have opportunities to experience all kinds of different things in our region. And I think arts is a big piece of that. Arts, sports, education, you know, all of these things contribute to well-rounded people. And as we continue to deal with funding gaps that are happening in all kinds of areas of society, we can’t just pull back in one area and not have a belief that it will have an impact. So you know, I’m a huge advocate of continuing to fund the arts,” said Carr.
Participating in Drayton Entertainment’s Youth Academy Highschool Musical Program is free of charge for the students.
Connolly says anyone who is looking to be inspired by the next generation of young performers should check out Legally Blonde The Musical.
“Anyone who wants to celebrate the return of [kids’] spirits. Whether [the students] fully realize it or not, they do have an inkling that it is a healing art, and that they get to make a difference in the lives of the people who come and sit in the dark and give us their most valuable resource. We’ve tried to instill the importance of that in them. And so that’s my wish for them, is that they have as many people out there as possible to experience that transformation.”