Happy 10-year anniversary to the teacher who put together some of Riverside’s best musicals!
Newsies, Chicago, the Big Boo Hoo and The Drowsy Chaperone – four musicals that have found their home at Riverside Secondary School with director and musical theater teacher Nicole Roberge leading the charge. The 2021/2022 school year marks Roberge’s 10-year anniversary of her contributions to the programs here at Riverside, cementing her legacy at the school.
Roberge got her theater degree from the Phoenix Theatre Program at the University of Victoria where she spent two years. Though she didn’t get follow the program into the third year, Roberge didn’t let that stop her and decided to take a gap year; it is during this time that she decided to move her teaching goal up on the timeline. The teaching idea came from her father, who was a teacher, and she wanted to follow in his footsteps. “I want to be the kind of teacher that sees and hears students, meets them where they are and helps them through whatever they are going through,” said Roberge. “It’s not about teaching the subject matter; it’s about teaching people.”
Roberge had got lucky, and after only eight months of being back in Canada from her backpacking across Europe with a close friend, she got the call from the school district to be a replacement for the drama teacher at Riverside, who had to leave for personal reasons. She swooped in, and though Zombie Prom was halfway done, she made the show her own. She worked harder than ever to produce her first musical, Zombie Prom, by herself here at Riverside in 2012. “I am really lucky that they did not waste any time testing me as a new teacher,” said Roberge. “They essentiality opened their arms and said, ‘Okay, this is what we’ve got for you; what do you have for us?’”
Riverside alumni, Denisa Doftoreanu, who is a 2021 graduate, had nothing but praise for Roberge. “The thing about her is that she takes chances on people,” said Doftoreanu. “If she sees something special in you, she will put her trust and faith in you, which motivates and encourages you to be a better person and performer, and to give it your absolute all.”
On top of teaching the drama classes and the theatre course, Roberge also offers Directing and Scriptwriting, Theatre Company, and Performing Arts Leadership. All classes are a way to engage and interact with students who enjoy theatre or the theatre atmosphere. Another alumni, Ruby Verona reflected on the impact Roberge had on her. “She gifted me the opportunity to learn and grow my love for other aspects of performing arts, such as directing, script writing, choreographing and set design.” Verona is now at Simon Fraser University where she is studying both Theatre and Dance programs.
Grade 11 student Claire Bernat is also appreciative of Roberge’s impact on her learning. “Ms. Roberge has taught me how to love what I do and reach for my goals,” said Bernat “Along with how to prepare and work my way through the world of theatre.”
When starting a new year, and with that, a new musical, Roberge has made the decision over the years to meet her students and use their personalities to best choose the show. “When I choose a show, it’s about what it can teach the students between the lines,” said Roberge. “And then, who is in the class and can everything they offer be maximized in this theatre selection? How can their talents and skills be amplified in this piece of theatre?”
Of course, on top of that, Roberge looks at how many people are in the class, does the show that was picked have enough roles, or can she write some in for everyone. Then Roberge looks at the last time a school has done a show like that before: what decade, for example the 1920’s? Or what style of said show, a jukebox or a book musical? As producer, mentor and teacher, Roberge wears ‘many hats’ and has many decisions to make that will best pull out the unique talents of her students.
Most importantly when choosing the shows that Riverside theatre program puts on, Roberge is most interested in what little messages are hidden underneath the singing and dancing. For an example, The Drowsy Chaperone was about finding the joy while stuck at home and using your imagination to create the story in your head.
No matter if you are part of the first class Roberge had, or the last, the theatre program and Roberge herself, are always happy to see you.