From the desks of Lisa Norton, DAREarts Program Coordinator, and Laura MacKinnon, DAREarts Lead Teacher.
From behind the scenes, the word “daunting” couldn’t do the DAREarts Spring Showcase evening justice; with over 150 kids from 23 Toronto and Scarborough TDSB schools converging together on one space, the sight was enough to take your breath away. Knowing that all of these kids just sat on a bus for close to two hours in summertime heat and city traffic, it’s understandable to have spotted the flood of relief on their faces as their feet land on the sidewalk in front of the Brockton Centre.
The mood quickly changed as Laura MacKinnon, DAREarts Lead Teacher, raised her hand and called out, “DAREarts!” Complete silence. Three hundred eyes focused ahead. A warm smile greeted the group, and Laura introduced the DAREarts Delegates to their big day. The kids are ready, now. They know that it’s time to work, and it’s time to show how far they’ve come.
Laura’s joy from the respect shown by the group is a reward that has developed through hard work, both from the DAREarts Teaching Team and the Delegates themselves. Chosen as representatives from their individual schools, each student has joined us with their own unique challenges and expectations. Starting off is never easy, especially when each class consists of only two students per school, but it does not take long for the kids to learn that this is their big chance. This is the opportunity to redefine themselves, not by who others have told them they are, but by who they want to be. It takes a lot of work to make it to this point, but the results change the world for these kids.
In the hours leading up to dinner, each grade rehearsed their performance pieces on stage while their art was being carefully set up in the foyer, proudly displayed for the parents, guardians, siblings, and teachers who would soon be arriving for the show. The rehearsal is where jitters began to set in, and at times the practicing became rocky. With so many Delegates, so many performance pieces, and time running out, the kids shared empathy with each other as they pushed forward through their own fears. This empathy followed them out of rehearsal and into their change rooms, where idle discussion turned into practicing routines again, again, and again. Caring about their success made them worry, but striving for perfection slowly dissolved the pre-show nervousness. By the time our volunteers began leading the students backstage, grade by grade, the hum of excitement was purely positive. They had it, they knew they could do it.
Laura summarizes the view from behind the stage curtain beautifully:
“As the house lights go dark, the excitement backstage is palpable. Students dressed in brightly colored costumes stand in quiet, orderly lines waiting to burst onstage to begin the performance. In a situation where it would be so easy to be distracted or let nerves overwhelm, I am impressed with the quiet self-discipline of these delegates backstage. They showed their leadership in the first of many ways.
Our grade 8 delegate emcee, Austin, opens the show with thoughtful, well-spoken words about his experiences at DAREarts; he tells the audience that he loved working and learning as a team with his fellow grade 8 students. From my place backstage, I look on with pride – it is no small feat to speak so confidently in front of a large audience.
The grade 4 representatives are announced and the performance begins. From this point forward, I have the privilege of simply watching and enjoying the show as the students run the show themselves. They introduce the pieces, cue the music and organize and execute their own transitions, entrances and exits. These students are not in performing arts programs, nor do they necessarily have any onstage experience, but they have transformed into confident, vibrant performers, who work as one company of artists, supporting one another to present the best version of themselves onstage.
As the showcase continues, excellence is the word that best captures the performance. All the students sing with volume, clarity and confidence, move with energetic physicality and speak and act in a way that engages and entertains the audience. As the music is cued for the final song, the students completely own the stage. And knowing these young leaders, that feeling of ownership and power is going to spill over into their home lives, schools and into their wider communities, igniting and spreading positive change.”
The children’s performance was a genuine celebration of all the types of diversity they have celebrated in their time at DAREarts. In addition to a diversity of art forms, each class encountered sweeping diversities of cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, world viewpoints, personalities, skills, and strengths. Through embracing their many differences together, the students’ eyes were opened to a wider world where differences are appreciated and seen as the assets that make a team effective. Building empathy and acceptance are ways to break down the challenges of bullying, ignorance, and hate. The kids learned that, as DAREarts Delegates, what is unique to each of them is what makes the team strong together.
By the end of the evening, the “daunting” nature of putting on a show was gone. There was no anxiety, no fear, no nerves. There were just kids who took on a mountainous task – and blew everyone away with their inner strength and leadership.
We’d like to extend our deepest gratitude to our generous sponsors, including lead sponsor Northbridge Insurance, and major supporters Guy Carpenter, Scotiabank, TD, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and the Ontario Arts Council.
Photos kindly provided by Alan Dunlop.