Feature photo: KIM CHARBONNEAU
The stage was set, the costumes were waiting in the changerooms, and the student cast of over 160 was excited and ready to perform Aladdin Jr to an audience of nearly 700.
Without warning, heavy rain and flooding damaged the George Wood Performing Arts Centre’s professional sound and lighting equipment.
With only 90 minutes before the opening of the curtain, the show was cancelled.
Yet, what was initially a disappointing experience for Warrandyte Primary School (WPS) turned out to be an excellent lesson in resilience and the positive power of community spirit.
Only eight days later, on November 2, the theatre re-opened, and the many months of hard work, determination, and dedication resulted in another spectacular performance by WPS students.
“This production, from Warrandyte Primary School, was extraordinarily good”, 3AW’s Weekend Break host Peter “Grubby” Stubbs told his listeners on November 5.
You see, the whole school was involved.
The work that had gone into this — and these were just kids at one school — was wonderful.
The lighting, the sound, the production, the costumes — you just couldn’t fault it.
I was completely blown away, and that’s where it starts.
The principal of Warrandyte Primary School came out and said the same — this is where careers start.
Inspiring students to follow their passions in music, dance and drama, and to learn the joys of whole-school teamwork, is what motivated WPS Performing Arts teacher and the show’s director, Kirsty Wolters, to put in the many hours of choreography, singing rehearsals, and scene direction needed to produce her tenth WPS whole-school musical theatre production, in as many years.
Kirsty said the school productions always create a real buzz around the school — with dancing and singing heard from every classroom.
“This year was particularly exciting.
It was a real team effort with all teaching and support staff happily putting up their hands to take on roles ranging from rehearsal assistants to stage managers, costume-fitters and set transport drivers.
Every child in the school shared the stage, from our youngest Prep students to our graduating Grade 6s.
The final curtain call to Friend Like Me was a joyful celebration of what all the students had achieved together,” she said.
Kirsty is a former ARIA Music Teacher Award nominee with many years of experience teaching Performing Arts to students from Prep to Year 12 and working with industry professionals.
She says her biggest joy was watching the rehearsal process and how the lead cast followed the school values — providing a fun, safe and friendly rehearsal space by respecting and caring for one another.
“I loved how our students supported one another by jumping in to understudy sick cast mates or enthusiastically applauding a nervous student after singing their first solo.
They were always quick to enjoy and acknowledge one another’s skills and talents.
The students were having so much fun that they didn’t realise they had worked towards reaching the highest level of achievement in the Victorian Curriculum for Drama, Dance and Music.”
The confidence gained through participation in WPS productions and its positive effect on shaping student study and career paths was evident backstage at this year’s show.
Past students who have since gone on to perform in amateur and professional stage productions, as well as study secondary and tertiary courses in theatre design, production and performance at the Victorian College of the Arts, RMIT and Melbourne University Conservatory of Music, were on hand to help with cast microphones, side stage props and organising student movement to the stage.
Among them was Cameron Poole, who played The Beast in WPS’ performance of Beauty and the Beast in 2019, was a dancer in the Victorian State Schools Spectacular in 2018 and 2019, and has since performed as a featured soloist at the Victorian State Schools Spectacular, and is now studying at a specialist Music School.
Cameron explained: “It has been great to be able to help with the latest WPS production.
“I am grateful to have assisted, especially as I have so many wonderful memories of participating when I was in primary school.”
Another past student was Trixie Kneebone (Belle 2019 Beauty and The Beast, VSSS Mass Dance 2018, and Mass Choir 2019).
She added: “For the older students, it may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, having lead roles and responsibilities in a show like this.
“You really feel like you are part of a professional theatre group.
“I have enjoyed seeing a different angle from backstage and was keen to support the teachers and students as they put on yet another fabulous performance.”
Kirsty Wolters believes the key to the success of Aladdin Jr was including and guiding the student voice in all areas of the production.
“Both our current cast and past students have reflected that what allowed them to perform their best on stage, apart from the huge support from the audience, was being involved in every step of the show.
“They valued being trusted to manage their props, costumes, set changes and stage entrances and exits.”
The student voice was prominent this year, with senior students researching the preferred show titles to create a shortlist before the big show reveal, choosing which character roles to audition for, and offering directional scene suggestions and ideas for props, costumes, and hairstyles.
The junior grades chose their class songs and inspired much of their grades’ choreography.
The whole school community is looking forward to what’s next in Performing Arts for the talented students of WPS.
Many of the cast have not only starred on stage in Aladdin Jr but also performed in this year’s Victorian State Schools Spectacular at John Cain Arena — drawing special praise from the VSSS Director of Dance for their exceptional skill and energy.
You can watch the WPS Spec dancers on TV in a special broadcast on Channel 7 Melbourne Sunday, December 17, at 7pm.