To say Caroline Mackenzie is getting to be an expert at staging a middle school theatre production is an understatement.
The Colquitz fine arts teacher is directing and handling various other responsibilities for Newsies, her 39th production since arriving at the school in 2004. On the day she spoke to Black Press Media, she tackled a job akin to wrangling cats – choreographing a fight scene with 70 student actors on stage at once.
“You have to take fight choreography really slowly and carefully. There’s a preparation for each action and a follow-through for each action. What the audience doesn’t realize is they’re all doing the exact same thing, just at different times,” she said.
It’s all in a day’s work for this enthusiastic educator, who truly appears to love what she does and the people she gets to do it with.
“They’re pretty awesome kids,” she said of the current group of Grade 5 to 7 students. “I am the luckiest teacher on the planet to be able to work with these creative, enthusiastic bundles of energy.”
Being around all that middle schooler energy might seem overwhelming to many teachers, but Mackenzie has a secret weapon: “I have a bell that I ring to get the students to freeze and refocus.”
This particular production has 82 students involved, including those working on sets, lighting and other non-acting roles. Mackenzie said this year’s stage crew, guided by University of Victoria student Rick Clough, is among the most talented she has worked with at Colquitz.
“They’ve learned how to program a lighting board, how to do sound and construct sets,” she said, adding that theatre brings out, for some children, previously untapped talents. “They can really find themselves – it’s really wonderful to see.”
Given her longtime dedication to children’s theatre, it seems appropriate that Mackenzie is at the helm for Newsies junior – featuring shorter scenes and songs, for younger actors. Not only does 2022 mark 10 years since Newsies debuted on Broadway, Colquitz is the first school in Canada to mount the repackaged version of the book, which has been adjusted to address diversity, gender equity on stage and accessibility for students with physical disabilities.
The shows, scheduled to run May 31 and June 1, 3 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Spectrum Community School theatre, mark a return to the high school venue for the first time since pre-pandemic. While they’ve run shows out of the much smaller Colquitz theatre room this year, those were at 50 per cent capacity, whereas this one will be 100 per cent seating availability.
Tickets for Newsies are $10 for all ages, available online at colquitzfinearts.weebly.com or at the school, 505 Dumeresq St. in Saanich.
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