By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
High School Project 2012 has brought 62 young people to the Grand Theatre to give them a taste of what it is like to be involved in production of a professional stage play.
It is a situation those 62 students — including the 45 actors involved in the presentation of My Fair Lady, Sept. 18-29 — are all looking forward to. Their excitement is matched, or maybe even exceeded, by someone who knows exactly what they are going through because he was in their shoes a decade ago.
Floydd Ricketts, who is serving as musical director for My Fair Lady, was a student participant in the High School Project’s production of The Music Man back in 2002. The experience would lead Ricketts to a lifelong passion for the arts, a bachelor of fine arts from York University and a role at the Grand he says he never could have predicted for himself back when he was walking the halls of H.B. Beal Secondary School.
“I was in the High School Project while I was in school; I had a great time. After that, I really got a taste for theatre,” Ricketts said. “Music directing is something I have always been interested in even though I didn’t know at the time I was going down that path. I wouldn’t have said in high school that this was where I would end up, but I am happy to have arrived here.”
Perhaps the greatest opportunity his position affords him is the ability to work with what Ricketts calls a “great group of students” in this year’s production. Praising their level of maturity and artistry, Ricketts said he has seen just how serious the students take their Grand Theatre experience.
“There are a lot of smart actors in there. They don’t need you to go over things time and time again,” Ricketts said. “I think they all see the benefit of being here. I can think back to my own experience and know there were great teachers. Coming into the Grand Theatre does elevate the stakes.”
Rebecca McCauley and Ben Cookson certainly take their opportunity seriously. McCauley, 18, is an H.B. Beal student in her sixth go-around in the High School Project while this year’s show is the second time in the program for Cookson, 17, a student at Catholic Central High School.
McCauley, who is playing Eliza Doolittle, said she grew up coming to the Grand, seeing the many High School Project productions, and knew she had to be a part of the program.
“I think it is just a really great atmosphere. You get to meet lots of different people from across the city, who are your age, who share the same love and passion for performing that you do,” McCauley said. “It is a really unique opportunity to see what it is like to be in a professional environment.”
Cookson, who is playing Professor Henry Higgins, agreed, adding he has always regretted not taking part in the project his first two years at high school. But since his first audition last season, Cookson said he knew he had finally made the right decision.
“Seeing how they put us in a professional atmosphere, I have learned what it means to be professional, to be relied on,” Cookson said. “Definitely I have learned the importance of working with others and being able to express my creativity.”
As both are students, they of course are always learning and each says the production of My Fair Lady has provided them with many new opportunities. For her part, McCauley said she has learned vital time management skills while also being able to get past the one theatre skill she said she lacked.
“I will admit; I’m not a dancer. So it has been really unique for me exploring the dancing side,” McCauley said. “In musical theatre you have to do all three. I have to get this right because I will be right there up front.”
Cookson faced similar challenges. As a singer used to performing before an audience, Cookson said he had no fear of being up on stage, but he did have to learn what it takes to become a better actor.
“This show is one of the biggest challenges I have had,” Cookson said. “I feel as a singer who can act, I had to tackle this role more as an actor than a singer. I have felt the challenge there, but all in all, it has been great.”
And although he hasn’t been a high school student for many years now, Ricketts said he still feels a level of excitement for what happens up on the stage — even watching from the hidden depths of the orchestra pit.
“It is a great energy you get to experience in the stage area. I think the students have a lot to be excited about. But personally, it is like a feeling of arrival for me. All the work you have put into it has finally come to fruition,” Ricketts said. “It makes me proud to be part of this process, to be able to work with the students, the entire production team, everyone who makes this such a special opportunity for everyone. It feels like home.”
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