Audience members could be forgiven for believing Victoria High School’s spring musical, Runaways, was developed using real-life local scenarios.
Any similarities between the plight of local youth experiencing homelessness and/or a less-than-healthy home life, and the street-entrenched youth who inspired characters in the original New York Broadway musical by Elizabeth Swados, are purely intentional, says director and Vic High theatre department head, Kimberly Sholinder.
Besides offering her theatre students a chance to creatively tackle some intense subjects, the production – it opens with a preview night Feb. 27 at the school – has created an opportunity to promote greater understanding, she says.
“We’ve partnered with our social justice class at the school and we’ve reached out to community agencies that deal with people who struggle with those issues,” Sholinder says. Representatives from such agencies as Child and Youth Mental Health, the Mobile Youth Services Team and the Stigma Free Society spent time with the Vic High students during rehearsals. “The hope is that it would inform the characters so (the students) could be more authentic in their portrayals (of individuals in this situation), which can often be more over the top and melodramatic.”
Using a combination of monologues, dialogue, songs and slam poetry, the musical covers such difficult topics as child abuse, addictions, sexual exploitation and youth criminality. Such themes are relevant, though often hidden, in Victoria, Sholinder notes.
She knows of what she speaks. Before entering teaching she worked in drama therapy and theatre for social justice. “That was one of the reasons I felt brave enough to tackle a project like this in the first place.”
As she does every year, Sholinder gave her students a choice of five musicals to take on. She wasn’t sure whether they’d be interested in tackling this type of material, but says they were “super eager.”
The preview night for Runaways (7:30 p.m. showtime) will have two special elements. Not only is admission is pay what you can – free if you can’t – the audience will learn about services available for young people in crisis or needing to talk, from the groups that presented to the students, and some of those groups’ clients. A list of services will also be published in the program.
“We’re hoping to have a bit of a back-and-forth dialogue and really start to engage the community a little bit more,” Sholinder says. Using a platform like theatre to pursue activities that are impactful and meaningful, and do that in a way that supports students in their musical theatre pursuits, is a good way to “educate them as human beings and help them be sensitive to other things going on in our community.”
Regular shows run Feb. 28-29 and March 6-7, all at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the school, or by calling 250-388-5456.