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ART & SOUL: Beyond the stage

Thirteen-year-old Kathleen O’Rourke has been involved with the Beyond the Overpass Youth Theatre for five years. She played Molly in their production of “Peter and the Starcatcher”. O’Rourke says it’s the biggest production she’s ever been a part of.
Thirteen-year-old Kathleen O’Rourke has been involved with the Beyond the Overpass Youth Theatre for five years. She played Molly in their production of “Peter and the Starcatcher”. O’Rourke says it’s the biggest production she’s ever been a part of. - Contributed

Nearly exactly six years ago I found myself at a Christmas pageant here in Lewisporte for the first time. I sat there, awed by the level of talent that performed that night, from a bunch of kids under 12.

Over these past few years I’ve discovered that there is indeed an inexplicable bubble of talent in central Newfoundland from people of all ages and it is evident at a very early age.

The musical director of Gander’s Beyond the Overpass Theater, Leslie Hewlett, confirmed my suspicion that there is something special going on in central Newfoundland when she told me that in the Beyond Youth Choir there are an above the average number of singers with perfect pitch.

Beyond the Overpass, choir and theatre company, led by Hewlett and artistic director Jamie Harding, relocated from Newtown to Gander in 2011. Last year they decided to go from being a regular repertory theater organization to focusing entirely on youth.

Students are taught everything about theatre production from props, set design, costumes, promotion, fundraising as well as performance.

But that’s not all they learn, and this is even more important.

“In theatre you have to be honest, with yourself and the others around you, you have to build that trust and if people embraced that in their life and live their life more like that, I think a lot of world issues would be solved and people would learn to understand each other a lot better,” said Hewlett.

“It’s a place where all are accepted. Theatre teaches that. Everyone has something different and important to bring to the table.”

Having discovered and mentored a significant pool of talent, last summer, young actors ages 14 to 24 took part in the first ever Beyond the Overpass Youth Arts Festival, an initiative that came on the heels of an off-Broadway production of “Peter and the Starcatcher”, the first time they’d done full length off-Broadway production entirely with all young people.

But that’s just the beginning. There is a larger vision; to build a vibrant, sustainable arts community in central Newfoundland.

“With so many artistic young people, we can shape the community and it’s a beautiful way for a community to grow.” Hewlett says.

I think a lot about art and artists in central Newfoundland and I have learned that no matter how much effort is put into creating, just one variable is out of the artists’ control, but that they need more than anything: an audience. The arts community can only meet its extraordinary potential if people like you and me attend the shows and embrace the arts as an important part of the community and of our lives.

Art holds out the promise of inner wholeness,” British philosopher Alain de Botton said.  

Next time you notice that there is a live performance, click off the Netflix, shut down the laptop and buy a ticket. Go fill up on some live entertainment and contribute to local arts at the same time.

Perhaps down the road you’ll be able to say, “I knew them when” about some of the young people in central Newfoundland. Because with a supportive and nurturing community audience they can attain success, perhaps beyond anything we can ever imagine.

Also, listen to the radio show, Bridges, here.

Carolyn R. Parsons is an author who lives in central Newfoundland and Labrador. She can be reached at carolynrparsons@gmail.com

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