The High School Project: postscript

As the Grand Theatre‘s 2019 High School Project comes to a close, the following are a few additional thoughts on the annual endeavour and its impact on London-area students.

As noted earlier, Titanic The Musical was the Grand’s 34th HSP over the past 21 years. To celebrate the tradition, the theatre sent email invitations to more than 800 HSP alumni to a special performance on Saturday, Sept. 21. Thirty-five attended.

Grand Theatre program
The program from this year’s production

That “may not seem like a lot, but so many alumni are away at school, or have moved on from London. We had a display of memorabilia, and offered them a drink ticket for the post-show reception, which included pizza,” wrote Jennifer Matthews, the Grand’s communications manager, in an email. The theatre is also aware it has an incomplete list of HSP alumni email addresses, and is always looking to bolster it.

And what about the impact on the students who participate?

In the short term, it’s a ton of hard work. Rehearsals begin in August, but stretch into the new school year, as students are busily getting adjusted to new courses, new teachers and compressed personal schedules. They need the support of their teachers and fellow students to keep up with the classes they must occasionally miss.

According to H.B. Beal Secondary School teachers Jessica Dawson and Tracey Iddison-Gubbels — both teach dance and drama — there is enormous value in the “journey.” The audition process itself is valuable, they say, regardless of the outcome. It teaches resiliency and reveals students’ strengths and weaknesses in ways few other experiences can.

Michelle Rees, the arts learning coordinator with the Thames Valley District School Board, takes an even broader view. Besides adjacent skills in the business of theatre, lighting, sound, costuming, sets and promotion, students who become part of the annual HSP build their “global competencies” for career success, especially in “soft skills,” no matter the vocations and professions they eventually choose. These include critical thinking and problem solving, innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, collaboration, communication and global citizenship, Rees says.

A number of HSP alumni have gone on to various careers in the arts. They include actor Trevor Patt, music director and composer Doug Price, actor Jonathan Gysbers, director Andrew Tribe, actor Callandra Dendias and actor Mark Uhre.