A group of local kids are getting rave reviews for their performance after taking centre stage at the Marigold Cultural Centre.

The 13 kids were selected to participate in a musical theatre March break camp which is the result of a newly formed partnership between Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colchester and the Marigold Cultural Centre. The kids spent five days learning a variety of skills that will help them pursue opportunities in musical theatre if they choose.

Jennifer Johnson helped plan the activities for the camp. She says the idea started with Farida Gabbani, the Marigold’s executive director and ended with the creation of the Marigold and Big Brothers Big Sister’s Musical Theatre March Break Camp.

“We wanted to find kids interested in a performing camp that otherwise might not have the opportunity,” said Johnson, a board member with the Cobequid Arts Society, which oversees the operation of the Marigold Centre. “It turns out we had 13 kids come to the Marigold who had never been inside the Marigold Centre which proved to be a real eye-opener for them.”

Over the course of the five day camp, the participants learned choreography, classic drama games and created sock puppets. They also learned how to do tableaus (living pictures) and watched ‘Singing in the Rain.’ The camp also included private voice lessons with well-known Truro voice instructor, Brenna Conrad.

On the final day, the students showcased everything they learned on stage, in front of friends, family and their Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

“The kids also designed their own costumes, which they wore during the final performance,” said Johnson. “They all got on stage and either sang a solo or duet. They also learned monologues throughout the week so several of the kids performed those as well. The show opened and closed with group numbers which were amazing and super funny. The theme of the camp was musical creatures so all of the songs or poems had to do with being an animal.”

Michelle Misener, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colchester, was thrilled when the organization was approached by the Marigold. She said forming the partnership was an easy decision based on the opportunity it presented the kids who attended the camp.

“The camp was so different than anything else these kids have been involved with before,” said Misener. “I looked at what they had planned and thought it was such an amazing opportunity. As it turns out, it was probably one of the best experiences of their young lives. To go to a musical camp that featured voice lessons, choreography and learn everything they did was just spectacular for them.”

The Marigold was responsible for hiring the staff, which in addition to Conrad included Cobequid Educational Centre students Tara Cashen and Cecilia White. That was made possible through a community wellness grant, courtesy the Truro and Area Community Health Board.

Big Brothers Big Sisters provided daily lunches for participants, who were aged seven to 12.

“It was just a good partnership for everyone involved,” said Johnson. “This was such a rewarding thing for us.”

Johnson adds everyone realized just how special the camp was when the kids took to the stage for the grand finale.

“What happened on stage that final day put everyone in tears,” she said. “It was so cool. The whole theory was to give these kids the skills they needed to make them confident enough to audition for their school shows. A song and a monologue, that’s all you need for an audition. That song and monologue can often be a barrier for kids going into an audition with a director. We wanted to break down some of those barriers so they can go out and find more opportunities in art and musical theatre. It was so neat to see this group evolve and learn so much so quickly. They learned a lot about themselves.”

Misener agrees. After speaking with some of the kids and parents, she says it’s clear the camp delivered on all levels.

“The kids were all raving about their experience,” said Misener. “They all had a great time. I was totally impressed with what they were able to learn in five days. That’s a sign of great instructors. To see those kids find the courage to perform in front of an audience in just five days was incredible. They were exuding confidence and pride.”

She adds the kids walked away with more than just lessons in musical theatre.

“They developed new friendships and learned how to respect and encourage each other,” Misener continued. “It was heartwarming. I definitely had tears in my eyes as I watched. Having known some of these kids, I don’t know what my expectations were going into this but I can tell you, whatever they were, they were exceeded on every level. They did such a wonderful job.”

Although nothing formal is in place, both organizations have expressed interest in working together again.

“We’d love to see this continue,” said Johnson. “We have the format now. We can even look at expanding it. We know how valuable this was. You could see that in each of the kids. For me, that is what’s always been rewarding about theatre. There’s a final product you can look at and assess.”

“This was an entirely different partnership for us and it’s one I have my fingers crossed will continue next year because of the wonderful results,” said Misener. “To have these unique experiences is so valuable. I give all the credit to the instructors who were able to harness the energy these kids brought and put it to such good use.”