The atmosphere at the Capitol Theatre on a rehearsal day in March resembles a middle school classroom: someone is late, someone is joking around, someone is reviewing homework by practicing lines.
As soon as director Teresa Drew calls for action and begins counting down, though, the joviality halts, and the young actors quickly get down to business.
These are students from the Stages Youth Theatre program, but the rehearsal is no class. These actors are preparing to bring their first large dramatic production to the stage this month: The Diary of Anne Frank. Opening night is this Friday, April 8 at 7:30 p.m.
It is a true story of a young Jewish girl who is given a diary for her birthday, then shortly afterward has her life turned upside down in Nazi-controlled Germany during the Second World War.
“The story takes place...when Jewish people are seen as inhuman,” says Gabrielle Eyford, who plays the character of Margo.
“Because of this, the Frank family, the Van Daan family and a dentist named Mr. Dussel are all forced into hiding together until the war is over. The play is all about these people trying to cope with living together in a small annex, while living in fear that the Nazis could come in and take them away at any moment.”
Anne Frank’s (played by Tyler Bangsund, pictured) story is one that thousands of high school students learn about as required English class reading. It is told through Anne’s voice and observations during the Holocaust.
This show represents the first time a Stages production is part of the regular Portal Players Dramatic Society season. And that is a milestone for director Drew.
Drew, a graduate of the theatre arts program at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) started the program in 2009, and now has 45 youth participating. Company 1, comprising 10 of those youth, are presenting The Diary of Anne Frank.
“When I first started this program, the purpose was to make theatre continue; because it seemed to be a dying art, and the way to this is to get the kids in,” Drew said. “Instead of it being acting focused, I wanted it to be theatre focused.
“Some of these kids have more theatre knowledge than some of our older actors.”
The Stages youth have been involved in every aspect of the play, right down to costume design and choice of props.
Company 2, an intermediate Stages class, will be crewing the show. “I hope to have as many kids running this show as possible,” said Drew.
“I really feel if you give them the opportunity to excel, they will take it.”
Company 1 took that opportunity and has knocked it out of the ballpark.
Stages has traditionally put on a season-ending comedy. “They told me they wanted something more, something they could sink their teeth into,” Drew said.
The Diary of Anne Frank opens this Friday, April 8 at the Capitol. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for students and seniors at the door.