Earlier this year, in the beginning of February, River’s Edge Theater put on a show of the beloved tale, Little Women – in musical form! The preparation for the performance lasted from September of 2022, spanning over four months before the show was revealed to audiences. It is only natural, then, that there would be some bumps in the road on the journey to a show that left both audience and performers wanting more. 

Ms. Nicole ‘Coco’ Roberge, Riverside’s drama teacher.

The first step towards achieving this is, of course, a director: Ms. Nicole Roberge, or Coco, Riverside’s drama teacher. Unlike her previous experiences directing the school musicals, Roberge had to work primarily on her own this year as opposed to having a group of teachers behind her to help along the way. “I really missed being a part of a team,” said Roberge. “Especially with Ms. Spicer, who so generously donated some of her own prep time to help us with some of the key songs of the show and to help me with things like staying late at the dress rehearsal or being at the matinee. I will always be so grateful for that.”  

Ms. Laine Spicer, who is Riverside’s music teacher, has always been an integral part of the musical theater department, but Roberge has stated that she hopes for the department to grow in the future, drawing from many more curriculum areas in the school to build the next musicals’ promotions and have more people around the school be involved, even if they aren’t cast or crew. 

Speaking of cast, no musical is complete without a talented bunch of people to make the story come to life. One such cast member is Scarlett Stratton, a grade 11 student who played the lead character Jo March in the Orchard House cast. Stratton reflected on the memories of the musical and the journey to the stage. “A high point of the show was when our show got put on the news. That was pretty crazy for me because I’ve never been on the news.” Stratton added that she loved how the news that there had been a small change to the play was shared – Professor Bhaer, Jo’s love interest (who, alongside Stratton in the Orchard House cast, was played by Serin Cheung, a grade 12 student) is a girl – and how special the show became because the story was able to showcase an LGBTQ+ diversity that has never been seen before.  

Roberge also mentioned that a high point of the process is getting to see a student passionate about acting succeed. “The most beautiful moments are always seeing students achieve something, and often that happens in front of an audience, sometimes it happens on opening night, where a kid comes off stage and goes, “I did it!”” Roberge also mentioned the smaller, quieter moments happen backstage, such as a student or a group of students forming friendships and relationships, and how they evolve over the course of the process. Roberge called it something beautiful to see.

The most beautiful moments are always seeing students achieve something, and often that happens in front of an audience, sometimes it happens on opening night, where a kid comes off stage and goes, “I did it!” – Nicole (Coco) Roberge

Unfortunately, with the high points of being part of such an endeavor, there are also the lows of worry and stress. Stratton wasn’t shy to admit that she had many moments where she felt swamped by worries. “I was really, really nervous opening night, to an extent where I wasn’t excited. So, the low point, for me, was probably how overwhelmed I felt and the feelings of anxiety that I was going to be the one to ruin the show,” said Stratton. “But thankfully because of the community I had with the cast, they always made me feel better and we had a great show.” 

Roberge also spoke about some of her personal battles while working on the musical, expressing that she sometimes escaped to her office to have a moment to herself. She said that she lets her emotions settle so she “can be the sunshine in the room, even if [she] feels like a thundercloud.” She added, “I cannot bring a thundercloud into the room – the rehearsal would be over.” Being creative, efficient, supportive and resilient all in one is the job of a high school drama teacher.  

On the bright side, Roberge discussed how she always knows the result of her work – as well as the work of her peers and students – will be worth all the challenges along the way. What really matters is that these are 30 or 40 or 50 or however many people that I’m in charge of, I want to take care of them, and I want them to take care of each other,” she said, “so it’s always worth it. Even from the first day.” 

From the support of the audience to the sadness of the student performers over it all being over, it is safe to say the musical was a success on many levels.