On a Thursday afternoon at Takhini Elementary School, a class played dodgeball in the gym, seemingly unaware that, on the other side of the heavy blue curtain pulled across the school’s stage, was Paris.
It was obvious as soon as you stepped behind the curtain. There was a tree-lined street with tall, black gas lamps leading to a yellow chateau. In front of it sat Kamryn Ukrainetz, dressed in a black-and-white striped shirt with a beret and red ascot. Oh, and cat ears.
“I’m Toulouse,” she said, referencing her role in Takhini’s production of The Aristocats, about a crew of pampered felines who are unceremoniously relocated from their chateau to the countryside by a jealous butler and have to team up with some outdoor alley cats to get home. The school is putting on a 30-minute adaptation of the Disney story on March 6.
It’s something Takhini does every year, said teacher Amanda Bartle. As far as she knows, it’s one of the only elementary schools to mount a production outside of a Christmas concert. It’s a massive effort that begins with October auditions and ends with two March performances – a matinee that invites other local schools and a 6 p.m. performance for friends and family.
Of the 144 students at the school, Bartle said around 110 are involved somehow. And while all 25 staff at the school also participate, it’s really led by the kids.
“Our biggest thing is to make it as student-centred as possible, so the students are running the lights, the students are running the audio, the students are running choreography, the students are dancing, they’re the actors and the singers, they’re painting the sets.”
Not only does that build skills and a sense of community, the play helps accomplish another goal the school has.
“One of our big school goals for the last, well, eight years, has been increasing literacy in the school,” said Bartle. “And literacy comes in so many forms and this has been one of them, especially when you think of the kids learning their songs and learning how to read a script, learning how to read where they are onstage.”
“The arts have been proven over and over again to be something that brings a school together and helps some of those kids who don’t always succeed in the classroom and the academics, they tend to shine with the dance or they tend to shine with the technology portion.”
Bartle said there’s so many moving parts involved in putting the play together, that there’s a role for everyone.
“So I think people jump at that opportunity.”
Ukrainetz has been jumping at it for the last six years, first as a singer (where primary students start) and now as an actor, a role she enjoys. This is only the second year for Aven Sutton, who’s taking on the role of an alley cat as well as the role of what Bartle describes as “a courageous mouse.” She said she gets a little nervous before performances, but handles it by reminding herself that she has studied her lines and knows them well.
Both Sutton and Ukrainetz agree there’s something of a rush that comes with the March performances. It’s nice to see all the effort that’s been poured into the play over the course of the year (mostly recesses and lunch breaks) come together.
Bartle said families really seem to appreciate the effort as well. Some kids, she said, have family flying in from outside Whitehorse to attend the evening performance.
“It’s a big community-builder,” said Bartle.