Sunday, January 11, 2015

Trickster helps Livingstone School develop character(s)

Trickster Theatre's Brett Gartley (centre) in "The Great Adventure"
Chris Davis

Trickster Theatre provided Livingstone School students in grades 1 through 8 with an unforgettable experience last week, guiding them through the process of creating and presenting an original theatrical production in just four days. Titled "The Character in Me", audiences at two shows were treated to dynamic skits connected by an encompassing theme. The theatrical becan with a black light "Lost in the Forest" skit by grade 5/6 students, and from that starting point we were treated to many memorably funny moments. The scripts were witty, and the action was relentless as the presentation flowed from scene to scene, using minimal props, some of which were created by the students, some provided by Trickster, and "found" objects such as a large gym mat. The lampooning of teachers and administration included many gentle in-jokes. The dynamism of Tricksters Jamie Northan, Brett Gartley and Natalie Buckley was contagious throughout.

A nice touch was the original artwork on the programmes for the show, making each a one-of-a-kind memento.

The enthusiasm of the participating students was both obvious and contagious.

Lost in the forest
"I am just an old dog," said Trickster's Jamie Northan as he helped pack away the gear after the show, in response to my question as to his official role in the production. From northeast Calgary, Northan has been with Trickster for 12 seasons, while also expanding his resume in many other theatrical productions, most often in light comedies. "I am the Technical Director on a lot of residencies."

Sometimes you have to ask yourself "What would Mrs. Paton do?"
"The company has been doing residencies in schools like this for about 25 years, and touring as a company to do children's theatre for almost 25 years. In this school we were able to put the show together in four days. We had a show last night (I attended the second show) for the parents, and another one this morning for the school. It was great."

You have to use your noodle in the forest
This was the first time Trickster worked with Livingstone School students. "The biggest challenge can often be convincing the administration in the school that a production using every child in the school, based on their ideas, can work in a week," said Northan. "I can make them a little nervous, and every school is a little different. The second time we are in a school, everything moves a lot more smoothly, because everyone believes it's going to work. It always works."

Props are supplied by the residency and the school, in addition to those created by the students.  "It's a mix," explained Northan. "Things like the crash mat, every school has one, so we come in and use that."

"We did have a kid that did not want to be on the stage in black light, so we pulled him over and had him run all the sound effects during the black light piece. It's a rare occurrence, because of the time factor, and our technical expertise. We can do it (sound) quickly, it can be challenging for somebody else."

Jamie Northan 
"This is a good experience, I would say," said Livingstone Vice-Principal Mrs. Krizan. I asked her how the educational experience differed from that offered by Theatre Prospero, the much beloved company that has directed theatrical presentations at Livingstone in the past. "This one is a little more student directed, whereas when Prospero comes they do a Shakespearean production. This one, they cater to whatever theme is arranged in advance. Then the kids write the play under the guidance of them."

Mrs. Krizan explained "The Character in Me" relates directly to ongoing character education at Livingstone. "It is one of the focuses for the school, and one of our school's goals. Just improving character - integrity, respect, honesty, all that sort of thing. It was kind of a concrete way to learn about those concepts."

"We always appreciate how many parents come out to support us. This one was very reliant on parent volunteers, and parent participation. They stand up, all the time. They have fantastic kids. The Parents Association kicked in a little bit, but otherwise it was primarily funded through the Alberta Foundation for the Arts."

Finale with Natalie Buckley

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