Riverside’s Drama teacher, Nicole Roberge’s musical theatre class has performed at another annual MET Fest Competition in front of their first live audience since COVID began. This competition took place November 25, 2021 at Riverside’s Rivers Edge Theatre, and the winner will compete in the provincial competition.
Roberge has spent the previous couple of months preparing and planning to host this year’s MET fest. The festival includes students from Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, and Port Moody; six schools participated, but many did not participate due to their plays not being finished and prepared for the competition, according to Roberge.
This year, Roberge had been able to plan MET Fest with an audience in mind; this audience only consisted of students in the drama department of the schools that participated in the productions. “I have a quite large audience, in fact we’re right at 50 % capacity for the theatre, at 135 and that’s very, very exciting because it has been 21 months since COVID began and we’ve been without the energy of an audience,” said Roberge.
The MET Fest is a crucial part of the drama curriculum according to Roberge, you cannot begin to learn about performing until you actually perform. She believes this, as performing live can be very different from a rehearsal with minimal pressure.
Over the course of the MET Fest, Riverside performed two, one act musicals. One of them was called Lives of the Great Waitresses. It included songs from the musical Waitress, and the other musical was written and directed by Riverside grade 12 student, Alyssa Mawji;this musical was called “Second Chance.”
The MET Fest competition was judged by a professional adjudicator, and owner of Art Umbrella in downtown Port Coquitlam, Paul Moniz de Sá, according to Roberge. Moniz de Sá was the last adjudicator for the MET Fest before COVID shut it down for a year. “We selected Paul as a team of drama teachers because he knows what we can do. Before masks, before mandates, before numbers dropped in our departments, and we figured that that was the base line of his understanding and was a great place to jump off,” said Roberge. With Paul’s experience in singing and acting, he was able to not only judge these musicals, but help the students improve their performing skills.
Ten musicals were put forward by the six schools participating, but only one will make it to the provincial stage to represent all schools in the zone of Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, and Port Moody. Although only one school will make it, students from the other schools often show their support for the winning school at the provincial competition, which will be held at Douglas College in late April, according to Roberge.
While preparing in MET Fest, Roberge has also been planning and preparing for Riverside’s school musical. This year Riverside’s musical is called The Drowsy Chaperone, and it will take place starting on Tuesday January 25 until Friday January 28, and it will only be 75 minutes long without and intermission, according to Roberge.
The Drowsy Chaperone was chosen by Roberge as she says, “The Drowsy Chaperone is a family friendly, funny, Canadian musical, that can be performed in one act.” The musical first opened in Toronto, and has now been performed across the world at places such as New York, Japan, and Australia, according to Wikipedia.
Roberge says that one act performances, such as The Drowsy Chaperone, are becoming increasingly popular, due to no intermissions taking place between acts. “You can be more confident about the safety of your audience without people stopping to eat a bag of chips or drink some water or whatever they’re doing during intermission that is probably not allowed with COVID regulations,” said Roberge.
The Drama department is hoping that COVID restrictions in January will allow an audience to watch the show live, as their plan counts on it, according to Roberge. “I don’t have a plan B, I decided that plan A would take all my energy as it is, but if we wait until the directive, if we have an audience then it’s too late to make a play,” said Roberge.
The only back up plan for the musical if audiences are still not allowed in January is to record the musical. Last year the drama department had to record their musical, The Big Boo Hoo with help from Riverside’s media teacher, Mike Schoenhals. This is an option again this year, but Roberge and many people involved in the musical are really hoping for a live audience.
Roberge is confident that she can handle an audience. “I know I can make this work, especially because I would only do pre-sales, so I would have the contact tracing and in the ticket sale page I would have built in questions: have you traveled, are you sick?” In the River’s Edge Theatre there is a 275-person capacity, but Roberge plans to only have 130 people in that space, so that all groups can be physically distanced and safe.
Roberge is under a lot of pressure to accomplish such a big task, but she is also being helped and supported by her teaching partner, Laine Spicer, and grade 12 student Ara Christie, as the stage manager of the musical.