It's been a tough couple of weeks in this community, people. Just under two weeks ago another horrific accident on Highway 63 claimed the lives of seven people, including two children and a pregnant woman. Two survivors lost their entire families, including a very small boy who lost his parents and only sibling. That accident created shock waves that rippled throughout the community, and the effects will be felt for a long time to come, I think. Then, just under a week ago, a wave rippled through the community again, smaller but significant, too, when certain programs, including arts, at Keyano were once again trimmed back. Several very good people saw their jobs disappear, and the community saw the art scene changed - and weakened. The last two weeks have been challenging, and disheartening. Tears have been shed, and anger shown. I know, because I have experienced both, too. There have been moments of incredible pride, like the pride I felt in my community at the Twin 63 protest rally, but it was pride tinged with sorrow and regret that such a rally was necessary at all.
The hardest part of the last couple of weeks has been finding hope. It has been a bit bleak, really, with bad news piling on top of bad, trying to find some faint glimmer of good news in the stack. I found it when I went to see "The Farnsworth Invention" at Keyano - and I found it again, and perhaps even more strongly, when I attended the École McTavish drama production of the musical "Beauty and the Beast".
As a disclaimer I should share that this has always been my favourite fairy tale, long before the Disney version appeared. It is a classic French fairy tale, one retold many times. One of my favourite books from long ago is "Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast" by Robin McKinley, a lovely little book in which the heroine becomes much more human than heroine. I have always loved this tale, this story of a not-so-usual girl who finds a not-so-usual beast. So, when the Intrepid Junior Bloggers insisted we should see this (the youngest having already attended a school matinee performance) it wasn't hard to convince me, and off we went last night.
There are many things I love about school drama performances. I love the energy and the intensity and the excitement. I think most of all, though, I love seeing the pride. These performances take hours of work and practice. Beauty and the Beast incorporates some fairly large musical numbers, and these have to be choreographed well and done to precision so nobody gets bumped off stage and into the audience. And last night I was delighted to see a precision performance, well rehearsed, well acted, and even well sung.
There were some absolute standout performances. Shelby Carleton as Belle was astonishing. As another disclaimer I have known Shelby for years, and what I have seen is a young girl blossoming into a talented, confident young woman. A beautiful voice, a sweet face, and a gift for acting - I look forward to seeing Shelby on other stages in our community soon, such as at Westwood - and I am sure I will see her on the Keyano stage before long, too. Patrick O'Brien as Lumiere was absolutely terrific, pretty much stealing the show whenever he appeared onstage. Lumiere is meant to be a bit of a character, and Patrick plays him very well, "candle" flame hands and head alight. Cogsworth, played by Zeel Patel, also deserves notice, delivering the wry little lines in the deadpan manner the role requires. Momin Syed as the Beast plays the tortured soul well, and Robby Innes as Gaston manages to capture the conceit and arrogance of that character, too. Narrator Courtney Ranger-Efford uses her talents and keeps the story flowing freely. The rest of the cast is equally talented, each one contributing to an overall whole that is pretty much a joyride.
The story moves quickly from start to finish, Belle longing for more than her provincial life and ending up in a castle with a prince who has been locked inside the body of a beast. It's lovely tale, and it's done well by a junior high cast and their teachers, a group that has obviously dedicated so much time to the production. It was a delight to see, and it was a pleasure to see their excitement and enthusiasm. And, in the end, for me, it was also just a bit more.
As I sat in the audience as the performance was winding down, the last rose petals ripped from the rose (signifying the waning hours of the beast's chance to be human again) I thought about the last two weeks in our community. I thought about seven people gone forever, and about how we make sure that their loss is not only never forgotten but leads to change that can positively impact the lives of others. I thought about an arts community struggling with recent news of program cuts and job losses, and about how the arts will still thrive, even in places like junior high schools, but how we need to foster them, encourage them, and ensure that they are not forgotten, either. I thought about how communities go through times of crisis and trauma, and how they pull together, too, at protest rallies and on "save the arts" Facebook pages, and at junior high schools when parents and siblings and families and friends gather to see a lovely little musical production from a talented group of students. I thought about hope even in times of darkness, and about finding community. And I realized that even in the darkest of times, even when things seem rather bleak, even when it has lost some petals, the rose continues to bloom, and life in our community goes on.