Performance students rally as McPherson show cancelled

When administrators at Oak Bay’s Canadian College of Performing Arts informed students of their decision to indefinitely suspend classes on March 16 over COVID-19 concerns — prematurely ending the school year in the process — the class of 51 was crestfallen.

“The emotion in that room was palpable,” said managing artistic director Caleb Marshall.

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The weeks since have been a unexpected journey for all involved as the school tried to deliver the remaining 180 hours of performance curriculum, which normally would have been associated with the staging of its year-end musical, Newsies. This is the first time in the school’s 23-year history that it won’t have staged a traditional year-end production for the public.

Students at the performing arts school were tasked with creating a new batch of online-only content instead, including numbers from Newsies, which was originally scheduled for April 17-25 at the McPherson Playhouse. The school year will now effectively be over for the students when the footage premières on ccpacanada.com.

Marshall is proud of what the students accomplished under such stressful circumstances. “Nothing we present online is quite going to measure up to being on stage at the McPherson Playhouse with a full orchestra. Initially, there was a bit of disappointment. But as we talked to them, and understood the pressure and anxiety everyone was dealing with, we turned it into a creative challenge. We watched them, in a short period, go from a bit disgruntled to actually excited.”

Some students who aren’t from Victoria — including one from Toronto and another from Whitehorse — went home to be with their families after the school was closed, so some of the material was challenging to put together, from a technical perspective (rehearsals were done digitally through the video conferencing site Zoom, according to Marshall). In a perfect world, the students would have been on stage this week at the McPherson Playhouse.

But the process was a very good experience amid a very strange turn of events, given where performing arts jobs are likely headed with new social-distancing measures, Marshall said.

“This is a career that doesn’t always work out the way you want, and has a lot of challenges and disappointment. I think that the lesson they have learned in the past few weeks has been to rise to the challenge and overcome disappointment, think creatively and reimagine things.

“I think it’s a lesson they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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