Gleek Week going virtual to help connect young performers

By Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
kkellar@fortfrances.com

It’s been a difficult year for musicians and performers across the globe. Doubly so for the younger ones among them, who have seen traditional outlets for their abilities like talent shows, Christmas concerts and high school musicals being postponed or outright cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although COVID-19 restrictions may have made the last year feel like a wash, local music teacher and performer RenĂ©e Martin-Brown says she won’t let that continue while there are safe alternatives. She wants to get young musicians, actors and dancers back doing the things they love.

“This year it can’t be a wash anymore,” Martin-Brown said. “We have to find new and innovative ways to make connections with people in general, but also with our kids who aren’t with like-minded kids.”

While Martin-Brown noted that kids with all kinds of different skills and talents are missing out on the camaraderie their activity or sport might bring, she and longtime friend and co-director Erin Bree were in a somewhat unique position to help young performers in the area.

“Bree and I were chatting and I said ‘we have to do something, but we can’t meet in person, it’s not safe,'” Martin-Brown recalled.

“We knew the traditional Gleek Week wouldn’t be happening, so we thought of how we could connect like-minded artists. We now have an obligation to find a way to reach out and to connect our artists, and if we had to do it virtually from our living rooms, what would that look like?”

The answer, as it turns out, is to take Gleek Week virtual and expand their offerings with three online workshops aimed at different age groups and skill levels. Offered over the course of a week this summer, each workshop will allow young performers to have fun and reconnect with friends new and old, while also developing their singing, dancing and acting chops. 

“We have our three programs,” Martin-Brown explained.

“We have our Broadway Princess Party, which is just fun, one hour per day, and our little princesses will join us and sing a medley of Disney songs and they’ll learn some enthusiastic choreography to go along with their songs. The Musical Theatre Performance workshop (ages 7 to 13) is designed with our Gleek Week program in mind. If you’re looking for online Gleek Week, this is your program. It’s fantastic because we’re working on the three elements of musical theatre; the singing, the acting and the choreography, and they’re intense three day workshops.”

The last virtual workshop Martin-Brown discussed is actually the second one being offered chronologically, and perhaps the most unique for our corner of the region. Aimed at teens between 12 and 16 years old, the Performance Portfolio Building workshop will help young performers learn the ins and outs of creating a portfolio, which is essentially a performer’s resume, as well as to learn about and prepare for the audition process, which usually encompasses a monologue, a short song and a dance routine.

“I think this is the one people don’t understand right now because it’s difficult to know what we’re doing there,” Martin-Brown said.

“They’ll have to create their own music performance resume, and the thing is that kids probably don’t realize they have one, but they do, because they have been singing at this concert or this talent show, or this festival, or they’ve had this role in the Christmas play or high school musical. We’ll help them get a great headshot and how to submit it, and then have a mock audition.”

One of the most exciting things about each of the workshops is that the performers won’t lose out on the big show that usually ends off the in-person Gleek Week. Each of the participants in the workshops will collaborate and record themselves singing, dancing or acting out a part at home that will be submitted and compiled into a final performance and keepsake by Bree, who has experience doing professional video and audio editing. The Gleek Week show has become a popular event in the past handful of years, so Martin-Brown, along with Bree and newcomer Callahan Armstrong, who will be choreographing each of the workshops and providing tips from her years of dance training, have ensured that even while they can’t all be together, the workshops will be a fun and worthwhile way for young local performers to do their thing, likely for the first time in a long while.

Still, Martin-Brown stressed that even though the workshops will be asking kids to spend even more time in front of a computer screen this summer, being able to interact with others in the workshops will be a positive experience, and each one will still have plenty of hands-on learning for participants.

“I think people don’t really understand what these online programs look like, ‘do I just stick my kid in front of a screen again in the middle of summer?'” she said.

“I know that makes parents hesitant. The last thing we want is our kids indoors on a screen in July. I get that, as a parent, but I think it’s important for parents to know there is a final project, a keepsake at the end, and every day they’re online with our team of directors. It will be interactive, it’s not just ‘sit and listen to us give tips and tricks.'”

For more information about each of the three programs on offer, and to register, go to www.awesomeproductions.ca and click on the “Summer Workshops” header.

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