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F.P. Walshe Grade 9 drama students stage play

Live theatre returned to the Empress Theatre stage with three performances on June 23-25.

The Grade 9 drama class from F.P. Walshe school staged The Velveteen Rabbit.

“This production began as an experiment to see if we could put on a production casting and rehearsing out of a normal Grade 9 drama class, without auditioning for any of the parts,” drama teacher Graham MacBean said.

“As such, most of the cast had little dramatic experience before this play, and many likely would not have been involved in community theatre at all were it not for this opportunity.”

The cast featured Zoe Nelson as Velveteen Rabbit, Hope Gouchie as Skin Horse, Kaleb Shaw as Boy, Dakoa Blood as Nana, Abbie Bisschop as Nursery Magic Fairy/Ragdoll, Tyson Hearn as Doctor/Toy Soldier, Ace Clarkson as Wooden Lion/Wild Rabbit, Corban Many Chief as Model Boat/Sam the Gardener, Isis Featherstone as Wind-Up Ballerina and Migs Duran as Furry Rabbit.

The backstage crew was Ryan Gray as stage manager, Destiny Weasel Moccasin and Carter Smith as technicians.

The Velveteen Rabbit is a story about a stuffed toy rabbit’s quest to become real through the love of a child.

MacBean said The Velveteen Rabbit remains as relevant today as it was in 1922 following World War One and the Spanish Flu pandemic, with the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine dominating headlines in 2022.

“I chose this play as it was one of my wife’s favourite books growing up and so in a way it is a gift to her,” MacBean said. “As I was re-reading it however, I discovered many beautiful themes in it the students could explore, and the multiple levels the play works on.”

“Superficially, it is a cute story about a boy and his favourite toy, but it also is a story about how to live and love in a world filled with loss and suffering, and finally a meditation on gradual transformation to becoming ‘real,” a process we are all on. Moreover, it does this by sending a message to the heart, and never ventures into becoming preachy or pedantic. I have always felt if a play is going to be memorized and rehearsed for hours on end, it has to have the depth to sustain it, and I am still discovering new things in the play each day we rehearse.”

“It is this journey of transformation through love and loss upon which the Velveteen Rabbit embarks, one which I hope you will all join in on. As we travel through life on the path to become real, we would be wise to listen to the words of the Skin Horse, who informs us, ‘Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you’.”

The children’s book by Margery Williams, which marks its 100th anniversary this year, celebrates the power of love and its ability to transform lives.

MacBean chose The Velveteen Rabbit for the varied themes the students could explore.

“As the book is already brilliant, I made an effort to find an adaptation which stuck as close as possible to the original language,” MacBean said. “I believe the story, the dialogue, and most importantly the heart of this play is faithful to the book, which makes our job easier. The main change is that the character of the wise old Skin Horse also serves as the narrator in the play version. As a toy that formerly became real, she transcends the boundaries of the stage and as such can exist both in the world of the play as a mentor and in our world as a storyteller.”

For many of the students this is their first time serving as cast and crew of a production. Most have never performed before.

“The age of the students is perfect to encapsulate the themes of the play, as they are not so old as to have forgotten being small children playing with their toys in the garden, but old and mature enough to understand the world of responsibility, suffering, and love,” MacBean said.

The production team has committed many hours at home and after school to bring the play together.

“I would like to thank the Empress Theatre for graciously affording us this opportunity, without which this production would not have happened,” MacBean said.