Ever notice how a show tune never leaves you? Show tunes never leave Brampton Music Theatre – when one show sets, another rises. On the heels of their five-show run of Evita, they are now in the final weeks prior to raising the curtain for three shows of Bye Bye Birdie Jr. on May 8th & 9th at Lester B. Pearson Theatre.
This full-scale youth musical boasts a cast of 40 between the ages of 6 and 17. They are young talents from BMT’s Youth Troupe, an extracurricular performing arts program which helps 120+ students to develop their performing skills while keeping them challenged and entertained as they learn to entertain. Some may grow up to be professional singers, dancers and actors, but the real purpose of BMT’s Youth Troupe program is to strengthen transferable skills, from building confidence to voice projection, or just having fun and getting along with like-minded peers, learning to sing, dance and act together. Besides developing their interest in the performing arts, they are developing socially.
For most of the Bye Bye Birdie Troupe, this is their first musical. Born into this new century, what do they know of musical theatre?
Surprisingly … a lot!
“I love singing, dancing and acting,” begins an exuberant Meadow and, when I ask how early she wanted to do this, “Two years ago, when I was eight!” Melia chimes in, “I joined BMT because I enjoy everything we do here.” Amelica adds, “I enjoy seeing new people and making new friends!”
Though some go to school together, they are closer here at Youth Troupe. Here there is a sense of belonging, and here they are encouraged to be themselves. “I feel different, as everyone here has a different talent, a different voice, and we all can do different moves,” Melisha explains. They see themselves as being different, yet all the same, for they are all part of the same musical production; a diversity of talents united as one.
During rehearsal, everyone is animated and singing proudly. However, while we chat casually, some shy away. Does singing give you a super power? Laila shares with a little encouragement, “It’s not a ‘super power’ per se, but I feel when I’m singing or acting that I can actually voice myself better than when talking.” Though it’s other people’s words, it’s their own voices they are finding; their own words will follow when the time is right.
“I grew up in a very musical household, and my Dad got me into music in the first place,” says Abby. She confirms that he was a rocker and he has been a huge role model for her, teaching her to embrace her inner self. Throughout vocal rehearsal, Abby was flaring her unique half blazing red, half dark brown hairstyle to the beat. If only all parents were rock musicians!
Bye Bye Birdie is a story most of their parents don’t even know. How can they relate? “I’m a sucker for the old musicals like Turner Classics. I knew of Bye Bye Birdie but never watched the movie,” explains Grace, alias Conrad Birdie. “Playing a male character was really funny as, every time Conrad was on screen, my mom would laugh, ‘That’s you!’ I’ve done Seussical, which is a newer musical, and Bye Bye Birdie is my first classic, as well as my first cross-gender role,” Grace is getting a modern sense of life balance.
Being part of BMT’s Youth Troupe is a calling for most. “I dragged my mother,” says Lily, “In kindergarten, my teacher told my mom that she should put me into an acting program as I was different than the other kids. I have been with BMT since 2007. I really enjoy it here, and I love it!”
“Everyone should be part of theatre,” begins Gabby. “Personally, I used to be so shy before, and when I first came here, I knew no one. Now all these people are my family and I love them so much! I really feel the culture and the art we put in these performances are important, and people need to see and be a part of it, as we’re having the best time!”
“I wish people respected and understood that more,” chimes in Lily. “What people don’t understand is how it’s such a sense of community. I have learned so much, not just about acting, but life. This is where I feel comfortable. I do not feel closer to anyone as I do here.” And it’s not just unique to musical theatre, as the same magic is felt in a concert band or orchestra, as Grace confirms, “I play double bass at school; sometimes you’re the freaks, yet the coolest people ever!”
“I’m in the drama program at school and they single us out as weirdos but, at the same time, I like being different than those people. So I’m different than you; I’m better for it!” declares a young lady who, earlier, was shying from questions, yet now is taking a stand for what she believes. From a young gentleman, “I find it funny as outside of here I am considered a weirdo, yet here I’m not the weirdest person,” and everyone laughs. Without any assistance, more and more find their voices as they explain how, when elsewhere with peers, they feel not wanted and singled out as weirdos, or don’t feel accepted because they aren’t as ‘cool’ because they don’t do the same things. Here they feel acceptance, here they are family, here they are not alone.
The friends made here are completely different than those made at school as another young man explains, “When you go to school, you’re kinda forced to go. You may not have the same interests as them. My relationships here are much stronger than those at school ‘cause we’re here because we want to be here.”
“Arts bring you closer,” says Jenna who is playing Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie and was part of the ensemble in Evita. “BMT has this Breakfast Club effect. We all come from different areas of Brampton, different cultures, and we come here to create something magical. It really is magical, for what we do can really WOW people. It’s great to have the freedom to express yourself in the way you want to.”
“We all connect,” Lily provides as explanation, “Drama makes you understand others better, for when you become your characters you have to understand them, you have to feel what they feel. I feel I can now do this with people in real life, as we’ve been taught how to feel what another feels. I think this is why we’re so close, because we can understand and empathize with each other.” Laila adds, “Put 20 drama people into a room and we all will soon become friends because we all want to know each others’ characters.”
It is not only the sense of community that is strong with this cast; they excel at doing their best as they learn their lines and choreography. There is a lot of laughter. Mistakes are made yet, at the same time, encouragement and helping each other build a great show are also very evident.
BMT is probably one of the best things that has ever happened to some of these kids. With each new season and each show, they meet new people and their social spheres expand. They are empowering themselves to become better citizens. As their vocal talents are developing, their sense of community is evolving. They don’t sing because they are happy; they are happy because they sing.