Numerous farms dot the landscape around rural Errington. But residents have never seen a barnyard quite like the one that will grace the stage at Errington War Memorial Hall this weekend.
Nearly 30 students from the Heartwood Homelearners Cooperative will step into the spotlight in a cacophony of quacks, clucks, moos and meows for a performance of the musical Honk! Jr.
It is the second annual musical for the students, ranging in age from five to 12 years old. Last year they performed The Last Wild Witch, which proved as much of a hit for the youngsters as it did for the audience.
“I felt like the kids were sparked by the production, even after it was finished,” said Ashlee Sales, director for both the shows. “Throughout the rest of the year, on their own, there were kids making up plays.”
The debut performance proved such a hit that Sales and a battalion of fellow parent volunteers upped the ante for this year’s show with a production roughly twice the size of The Last Wild Witch.
Honk! Jr. is an adaptation for youth of Honk!, a British musical that has been produced more than 8,000 times since it was hatched in 1993. Honk!, in turn, is based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale The Ugly Duckling, and the musical score by Anthony Drewe (Mary Poppins) and George Stiles has proven ideally suited for children’s voices.
Michaela David, portraying a mischevious cat, peers around the corner of the barn during rehearsal for the Heartwood Homeschoolers’ performance of Honk! Jr. at Errington Hall last Wednesday. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS
As an offshoot of their home-school curriculum, this weekend’s production is teaching far more than singing and acting, said Sales.
“They learn how to act and sing, but also all the other parts of putting on a production,” she said. “They’ve interviewed each other for cast bios that will be in the program. They’ve learned promotions, sets, props. We have kids helping with the lights and sound.
“Through my own experience I see how much opportunity this provides for the students.”
Sales majored in music in school and also took “quite a bit” of theatre. The production taps into the artistic skills of other parents and members of the community, including Sarah David, a local artist who has been placed in charge of props, costumes and sets, and Shannon Cowan, a writer who was put in charge of publicity and who interviewed students for a professionally crafted press release.
“I like that the play is about poultry,” 12-year-old cast member Sam David told Cowan. “It’s really fun to play animals, especially animals who have their own personalities and who can talk like we do.”
As with most fairy tales and fables of Anderson’s time, The Ugly Duckling — and, by extension, Honk! Jr. — is a morality play with a message. In this story, a young “duckling” is shunned and ridiculed by its barnyard brethren for its odd appearance, as well as being sought for a meal by a conniving cat, before blossoming into a beautiful swan and earning the admiration of the other animals.
“I also like that it’s about being different,” said Sierra Foster, 6.
“I’ve learned that being different is okay.”
Sales and her team of volunteers have juggled 29 young actors, from those who just turned five up to “veteran” actors and singers of 12.
“There’s a whole spectrum of skills and talent that make it a unique challenge,” Sales said. “But this is a great chance for the home-schooled kids to get together for one big project.”
Honk! Jr. will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday and at 3 p.m. Sunday at Errington Hall. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children.
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