Alex Bondensen, centre, works on the choreography for I Need a Hero, a song performed in St. Peter High School’s upcoming production of Footloose.
St. Peter High School students are performing Footloose, which tells the story of high school kids who just want to be allowed to dance.
But for the students at St. Peter, especially those in the first year of the high skills major program in musical theatre, their experience is the exact opposite.
“We perform all the time now,” said Drew Plummer, a Grade 12 student who plays the lead role as Ren MacCormac. “It’s a lot of work , but it’s extremely rewarding. And it’s all for the love of it.”
Footloose features 31 St. Peter students in the extra-curricular musical that tells the story of small town Bomont, its strict rules against dancing and the students who want to change it.
The musical will be performed Feb. 27 to March 2 at 7 p.m. each evening and director Bernie Leger expects 2,000 people to come through the auditorium doors at the school over the four nights.
The musical is a dance-focused pop-rock performance which students, who were selected through a competitive audition that saw less than half of those who auditioned chosen, have been preparing for since Thanksgiving.
Students from Grade 9 to 12 all act, dance and sing, showing off almost five months of preparation.
For Grade 10 student Morgyn Davies, who is too young to be in the high skills major program, playing her first lead role as Ariel Moore is exciting.
“It was a lot to get used to,” she said.
But she enjoys the Footloose-style of music, which is more pop and less classical than most musicals.
Both Plummer and Davies agreed that the musical is very fun and energetic.
“No one is going to leave without a sense of ‘wow, the energy they brought was really uplifting,” Plummer said.
They said they’ve been leaving the school’s dance studio dripping in sweat to prepare for the performance.
“Rehearsals are high-energy, it’s exhausting,” Plummer said. “It’s challenging everyone on a physical level.”
Tuesday through Friday and a handful of Saturdays in the winter are dedicated to the rehearsals.
Leger said Footloose was a good choice because it is heavier on dance than last year’s Les Miserables performance, giving students more diversity, and it also fits in with the school’s Catholic education.
“Footloose, it’s more about understanding part of being a Christian is dancing and rejoicing,” he said.
Leger will have a closer role inside the show this year, directing the rock-band style orchestra made up of music teachers from around the Ottawa-area and professional musicians from Orléans that the actors highlighted as one of their favourite parts of the show.
Tickets for the musical are $10 and can be purchased at the school or reserved in advance by calling the office at 613-837-9377.
More than half of the students in the musical are in the school’s inaugural year of the specialist high skills major program in arts and culture. At St. Peter, Leger has shaped the program into a musical theatre program, with students immersed in acting, dancing and singing.
Students spend five hours a day with him, with most taking part in the extracurricular musical, after-school dance classes and special workshops to develop their skills, both in and out of school.
It’s clear Leger puts in many more hours than required as a teacher, and the students put in many more than the required to get their high school credits. But they’re all there for the same reason: a shared passion of musical theatre and the arts.
“We’re all here for that one reason,” Leger said. “And if you don’t want to be here, don’t.”
The students put on Into the Woods already as a high skills major class, and most also in the musical and the show choir.
It means a student like Plummer can have 12 singing solos, 20 choreographies and hundreds of lines to learn in a year between the three performances.
Leger said intense and diverse training is the best way to prepare students who want to pursue theatre arts at the post-secondary level.
As a part of the program, students are also working within the arts with co-op placements through the city.
They also work with guest dance teachers on Friday evenings at Capital City Dance in a special prep class for post-secondary auditions.
“Most kids would kill for that opportunity,” Leger said. “This program promotes that it takes a village to raise a child.”
Next year, the school hopes to attract more students to the program, including some who may not have normally attended St. Peter High School. The program will also be expanding to include a production group, which will focus more on set design, costume and production than the performers.
“We’re going to make a lot more noise about the program,” Leger said.