Lester B Pearson High School students going to the Big Apple

Published on Monday, 30 January 2012 in The Calgary Journal

A trip to NY is a rare chance for teens to see the fine arts at its ‘highest level’

NYthumbLester B. Pearson High School was closed due to the semester break but a group of 41 students had gathered in the school’s theatre none the less. They were excited and filled the room with energy — and for good reason.

They were planning their upcoming trip to New York in March.

Spearheading the trip are teachers Kathryn Riben and Joel Abrams, both are seasoned New York travellers. Riben remembers the experience as “the fine arts equivalent of a religious experience,” as Riben described it.

While school trips are common, it’s not very often that students get to experience a trip of this magnitude. The trip will include multiple Broadway shows and several backstage tours as well as sightseeing of all the major New York landmarks.

Although planning the trip was no easy endeavour, Riben thinks it was worth the effort.

“Abrams and I teach the music department, and both of us have been to New York just for trips by ourselves,” Riben said. “So we thought as an opportunity for our students to experience the highest level of the performing arts, we thought that’d be the place to take them.”

 Planning the trip

When it came to actually planning the trip, Riben went back to New York City again to get an idea of all the activities she wanted to do with her students.

“We spoke to our students to see who would be interested, and asked our tour provider, ‘What can you put together for us?’ and they’ve been fantastic,” Riben said.

After filling about 90 pages of paperwork and meeting with parents of the students interested in traveling, Riben and Abrams got ready to take their students to the big apple.

“It was momentous,” Riben said. “Until we had that final signature, we were always worried that it wouldn’t happen.”

NY2The teaching staff and painter Janell Bye are preparing for their trip to the Big Apple.
(From left to right) Joel Abrams, Kathryn Riben, Janell Bye, Mark Mason, Michelle Hornby, Shannon Lloyd.
Painting by Janell Bye.

Photo by: Jeff Medhurst

Getting the students ready

Now it’s matter of getting their students ready for the big trip.

The students themselves are the ones paying for the trip, which is no small charge. But Riben hasn’t completely left her students out to dry. Riben has given the students a few chances to fundraise money for the trip, but has left it to them to do it independently. Riben said that’s she done her best to make sure that even if they can’t fundraise that trip would still be affordable for students willing to work for it.

Shennia Shannon, Chantel Dixon and Caylie Kornelson, said they think it’s going to be worth the cost.

Shannon had to find a job and convince her father it would be a worthwhile investment, and Dixon and Kornelson poured hours into the paperwork for the trip to help smooth out the process.

Kornelson described it as, “It was a lot of homework. It’s not just fun. We’re all really dedicated towards this.”

Time and money well Spent

Despite the work that was involved in getting this trip together, teachers and students alike couldn’t be more excited.

“I’m excited to see the reaction of everybody else because I know what my reaction was and because I know when you see the lights of New York City for the first time, it’s one of those places that just doesn’t disappoint,” Riben said.

“There’s this café that Riben told me about where the waitresses sing to you, and I am really excited to go there,” Dixon said.

For Shannon it’s just simply going to New York. “I don’t think I could actually just choose one thing. There’s so much I want to do.”

“Now that we’re approved, the challenges are worth it because we can say ‘It’s okay. It’s worth it. We’re going to New York!'”

Students push themselves in high school’s latest theatre production

Published on Friday, 02 December 2011 in The Calgary Journal

Jane-Eyre copyLanguage and themes of Jane Eyre challenges young actors, teacher says

Starting early next week, Henry Wise Wood High School‘s young actors will be performing Jane Eyre, a play considered challenging by the students and its director for its sophisticated language and mature content.

“The language is difficult, it’s mid 19th century, when the language was much more sophisticated than students this day and age understand and are able to speak,” said Brenda Calnan, the drama teacher at Henry Wise Wood High School and the play’s director.

“That was a challenge, for them to find the meaning behind the dialogue.”

An old story

Calnan has worked for the past school semester to get this play up and running, and with the curtain going up in only a few nights, she reflects on why she picked a tough play for the students to do.

“It’s always been a story that has a lot of deep meaning in terms of relationships. It has always just been a terrific story, a heartfelt story and it always just struck a chord with me,” said Calnan.

The novel Jane Eyre was originally written in London, England in 1847 by Charlotte Bronte. Considered ahead of it’s time for its portrayal of a young independent woman, Jane Eyre has been adapted several times into movies, T.V. specials and plays.


The lead actors of Jane Eyre.

Photo by: Jeff Medhurst

The challenge for Calnan to adapt this gothic romance into a high school play stemmed from several factors, most notably from its time period.

Teenagers in love

A greater challenge arose from the meaning behind the dialogue. The students and Calnan have both struggled to tackle themes that many would consider beyond a high school student’s understanding.

“The students performing in this play have never been in love themselves,” said Calnan. “So for them to draw upon those feelings, they have to go different places to try and draw up that type of emotion.”

The students, some of whom are more used to doing comedy roles as opposed to dramatic ones, admit to struggling.

“I haven’t done many roles that have been serious, or serious in a romantic way. Especially because it was a big role, and I had to learn to do it quick,” said Maria Georgescu, a Grade 12 student who is already a veteran of 11 productions. Travis LeBaron, a fellow Grade 12 student who marks “Jane Eyre” as his fifth play agrees with his co-star.

“I’m usually going for the laughs as opposed to the tears. It’s a really serious play, it’s really emotional, and just trying to find that emotion and project it, it’s been a struggle. But we’re getting there,” agreed LeBaron,

Determined to make it happen

However despite the challenge the play presents, students such as Jill Moch are confident that people will enjoy the production.

“It’s so heartfelt and you feel so much for the characters. You can connect with every character in the play, whether you love them or hate them,” said Moch, another rising theatre veteran who has done eight plays prior to Jane Eyre.

Determined to make the play the best they can, students continue to rehearse every day after school until the production hits the stage to help ensure a high quality production.

“We put so much into these plays. We’re here day-in, day-out, you know we put so much effort in and we’re looking for this outcome and we’re not going to accept anything less,” said LeBaron.

The play opens Monday, Dec. 5 at 4 p.m. and then plays Dec. 6 – 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for those under the age of 18. To get tickets visit the drama room at Henry Wise Wood during their lunch hour at noon or call Brenda at 403-253-2261, ext 2138.

Lord Beaverbrook High School drama reaches out to the community

Published on Friday, 18 November 2011 in The Calgary Journal

Students put on two plays aimed at families and children

lordbeaverbrookthumbAt Lord Beaverbrook High School the drama teachers and a group of students are hard at work rehearsing for two upcoming plays set to go up in the first week of December.

The two plays, “How to Eat Like a Child,” a play about a group of kids teaching the audience how to act like children, and “A Promise is a Promise,” a play based off the children’s story by Robert Munsch and Michael Kusugak, are aiming to bring in a large draw for the community with a focus on families.

“It’s two shows designed for families and children,” said Owen Chan, the director of “A Promise is a Promise.”

This year Lord Beaverbrook High School’s fine arts department is working hard to try to get the community aware of its program.


We have a department goal, not just drama but all the performing arts, of bringing the community into Lord Beaverbrook more. So it’s more of a community school, and not just the place where ‘those teenagers’ go to school,” said Karen Towsley, ,the director of “How to Eat Like a Child.”

“There are amazing things going on this school, and you never hear about them.”

Community Awareness

Last year, after having built up their program, the fine arts department realized that they weren’t getting as much of a draw from the community as they wanted, or as they were used to when they were teenagers.

“When I went to school, the community was in the school. Everyone went to the football games, everyone went to the plays whether your kid was in the school or not,” said Towsley.

The challenge that the drama teachers have faced however, is how to get the word out there to the community. Aside from putting up posters and getting their students to take brochures door to door, the drama teachers haven’t been able to do much more to advertise their plays. It has been recommended to the teachers that they hold a fundraiser, but when they get home at 8:30 every night it’s hard to find the time.

“We do everything for the show, so to do marketing when it’s not our area of focus is quite difficult,” said Chan.

Working Hard to Impress

Despite this, the excitement for the upcoming shows hasn’t been quelled and the teachers and students remain positive and hopeful for a strong community turn out.

“I think that we do put out really good work and it’s something that I’m proud,” said Emma Patterson, a student in Grade 11 acting in “A Promise is a Promise,” a story about an old Inuit legend.

“People really enjoy our shows so I think that if we get more people in, more people will be more aware of our program and more people will enjoy theatre the way we do,” said Patterson.

Every day after school the students go back and work hard to make the plays the best they can, with the hope that their efforts will pay off with a big audience full of kids and families on opening night.

“I’m looking forward to 400 people, excited to see the work and very satisfied at the end,” said Towsley.

The plays go up Thursday Dec. 1, and go until Friday Dec. 9. Tickets cost $5 for anyone under the age of 12, and general admission tickets are $10 and can be bought in the office at Lord Beaverbrook during school hours, or at the door before the show. Both shows play on a single night, with a twenty minute intermission between them.