Special weekend performances help support high school musicals

By Ken Kellar
Staff writer

A special theatre event is heading to the Townshend theatre this weekend, aimed at supporting and raising money for musical theatre at Fort Frances High School.

The concert, titled “All Together Now!” is set to run from Friday, November 12 to Sunday, November 14, is part of a special program by Music Theatre International (MTI), the organization that holds and releases the performing rights to the shows that high schools and other community groups put on around the world. The rights to shows are paid for up front, which causes problems when something like a global pandemic rolls into town and forces the cancellation of a show that is only a few weeks or days away from its debut.

Enter “All Together Now!” Show director Catherine Bruyere and musical director Renee Martin-Brown. They explained that because MTI didn’t provide refunds at the onset of the pandemic to keep themselves afloat, the organization came up with a way to allow school and community groups to recoup the costs of lost ticket sales for shows they no longer hold the rights to perform. All of the profits from this show will go towards helping to run musicals at the high school.

“In a very, I think, wonderful gesture, they are allowing us to perform this musical revue, which is essentially a playlist of musical numbers from the 1950’s all the way to the 21st century,” Bruyere said.

“We were very fortunate to have this opportunity to do this and not have to pay a licensing fee.”

Martin-Brown added that the license fees were waived by MTI only as long as the show was performed during the second weekend of November.

“That was the catch,” Martin-Brown said.

“You could do the show any other time, but you’ll pay the licensing fees. But if you do it on this weekend, around the world, globally, they’ll waive their fees.”

Bruyere said there will be more than 5,500 individual performances of “All Together Now!” across the globe this weekend.

Tickets for the show this coming weekend are available to purchase at Northwoods Gallery and Gifts. Available Dates are Friday, November 12 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, November 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 14 at 2:00 p.m. There is no assigned seating for any of the shows, and all COVID protocols will be followed, including volunteers checking for double vaccination status and ID at the front door, as well as requiring everyone to wear masks.

There will also be an option to purchase a ticket to stream the show virtually, which is being handled through rainyriver.schoolcashonline.com/Fee/Index. Tickets for the virtual performances can only be purchased up to 4:00 p.m. on the the day of that particular show. A link to the stream will be sent to the email address used to purchase the ticket

In addition to being able to help the high school musical make up for lost show revenue, Bruyere and Martin-Brown said the show benefits performers who have been unable to take to the stage in the past few years as restrictions prohibited gathering indoors, or even singing in groups.

“For many companies, I think that this will be their first time back on their home theatre stages,” Martin-Brown said.

Even though MTI had made the show available early in the spring, Bruyere said they didn’t learn about it until well into September, which meant that if they decided to go ahead with the show, they would have little more than a month to get it ready to go for the show weekend. That meant that there was no time for an audition process and they had to rely on their knowledge of performers they had worked with or seen in the past, many of whom had performed in musicals at the high school during their time there.

“We basically had six weeks to put this together,” Bruyere said.

“Renee and I got together at the Flint House and we spent three and a half hours going through the numbers and started thinking about people who would be interested in doing this, and who could actually do this in a very professional way, in a very limited amount of time.”

The finalized cast lists reads as an all-star pamphlet for talent in town from past musicals or performances, as well as a showcase for up and coming new talent. Performers like Martin-Brown and her husband Ken “Bud” Brown, Trevor Barker, Brittany Strachan, Joanna Empey, Brianna Eldridge and Callahan Armstrong are among the more established talent, while high school students Adrianna McCoy, Liam Dent and Cohen Ossachuk help to round out the cast. In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter was also invited to take part.

“It was just brainstorming who we thought was back in the area and would like to perform with us,” Martin-Brown said.

“As well as who would be able to do it in a 30-day timeline. We had our first rehearsal October 12 and we will open November 12, which is really quite phenomenal if you think about it. It takes a lot of dedication to the rehearsal process and their own private discipline to pull that off.”

Bruyere and Martin-Brown both added that a key part of the process, and something they hope to continue into the future, was providing a space for mentorship, where performers with professional training and background can serve to inspire, encourage and help students who might be interested in following the same paths in the future. Martin-Brown said she thinks that ambition has paid off already.

“It was important to Cathy to have a mentorship component for the high schools students who are participating in the show as well,” she said.

“I think that every rehearsal, that part of that mentorship is becoming more evident. The younger cast is rising to the occasion. I think we’ve set a good example as maybe the veterans of the cast about preparedness and diligence and dedication, and therefore they’ve showed diligence and dedication and enthusiasm. I think this is going to be a production we all take a lot of pride in.”

To help push that theme of mentorship along, and to qualify to perform the show in the first place, the group of performers have come together under the banner of a new theatre company called “Musical Pathways Theatre.”

Bruyere said the idea is to also have the group available for older high school students to “graduate” to after they’ve spent a few years doing high school level musicals.

Overall, Bruyere and Martin-Brown stressed that it’s been crucial to be able to keep shows going at the high school for the sake of the students who have taken part.

“From being in the high school and being part of the musicals in various capacities, I have had the wonderful opportunity to listen to the graduates give their speeches at the end of the year,” Bruyere said, getting emotional.

“The reason I feel it’s important to continue this is because so many students have evidenced how being a part of this artistic endeavour, the theatre and musical arts, has saved them they talk about the friendships that were made, feeling so alone and this offered them an opportunity to be part of something. We have students who do not get involved in sports, but choose to be involved in band and the fall play and the musicals because this is where their genius lies and what brings meaning to their lives.”

Martin-Brown said that from a community and professional perspective, having a group dedicated to putting on performances like this in the future allows for those who have talent and like to perform to have place to enjoy and exercise those passions outside of their everyday life and jobs.

“For me, I’m so excited to be on the stage again,” she said.

“It’s time for Bud and I to be together and to do something we both love. We haven’t had that since [True Up North Mamma Mia!] and that was eleven years ago. That’s a long time, and I didn’t know how much I was missing it until we were back. That’s been a huge gift, to be on the stage here in Fort doing something we love with a cast and crew that is really phenomenal.”