The musical theatre program at Eastview Junior Public School aims to give children a hands-on experience of the arts. Their latest production is based on Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka character.
The gym at Eastview Junior Public School is full of proud parents and family. They wait anxiously for the start of the school’s second annual musical.
The lights dim, the curtains part and 12-year-old Jayden Funnel, dressed as Willy Wonka, sings, “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”
Undertaking a musical is a painstaking process of rehearsal and practice which takes months of preparation, hard work and faith.
Along with being a model school, Eastview is one of 77 schools designated a priority school. Priority schools like Eastview serve as community centres in offschool hours.
The schools are open to the neighbourhood from 6 to 10 p.m. nightly, Saturdays 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for community programs.
“It takes a whole village to raise a child” is a timeless proverb that originates with the Igbo people of Nigeria and 5,000 miles away in Scarborough it is being practised at Eastview.
“We want to be seen as a community school, so it’s a community hub, that’s what we really want here at Eastview,” principal Colleen Andrews said.
In recent years, cuts to education have left schools forced to cut or cancel many drama and music programs to fund other courses and areas of study.
However, Carolyn Esau, a young teacher at the school, saw an opportunity.
The life-long performer and Broadway fan decided to put on a musical to expose the kids to other avenues of expression.
“It’s such an amazing experience, arts and music and musicals have changed and shaped who I am as a person. I feel it can do the same for the kids by showing them how wonderful is it to be a part of it yourself,” Esau said.
Auditions for Willy Wonka Junior were held last October and the musical whirlwind took off with students practising at lunch and after school.
Esau uses her own money to pay for costumes and supplies. Her dedication and resilience is an empowering message to current and past students.
Last year’s musical, Suessical, and this year’s Willy Wonka Junior are laden with moral messages of independence, respect and community. This is no coincidence.
“At the elementary level it is really important that we’re not just doing it for entertainment value. We do know the students are going to be watching it, so we want there to be an underlying message,” Esau said of her musical selection process.
In tune with Eastview’s environment of inclusion, Esau does not turn any kids away.
“If they had the courage to come and try out and put themselves out there, they made it,” she said.
Esau says one of the beautiful things about working with young kids is their level of optimism and perseverance. Last year’s inaugural performance inspired a lot of this year’s cast.
“Look at the kids that weren’t in it last year, but saw it and got so excited and realized ‘I want to do that too, I can sing I can dance, I want to be up there too,’ some of the best ones we have this year weren’t in it last year,” Esau said.
A theatrical production is an expensive undertaking. Renting mics and lights can be costly. Money is raised through a snack bar that is open during the show, as well as a suggested donation for tickets.
Luckily, the soon-to-be bride and busy teacher excels at stretching resources. Purchasing costumes from thrift stores and decorations from Dollarama, as well as winning support from colleagues in the school has helped curb costs. All proceeds are reinvested into the program.
“With the money we make from this year’s snack bar we are hoping to buy the spotlight ourselves,” Esau said.
While she is busy trying to plan a wedding, she has also coordinated the production and taught a morning and afternoon kindergarten class.
Asked why she would plan a musical the same year as a wedding, she laughed and replied, “I’m doing it for the kids. I don’t have any children of my own, yet, but right now at a point in my career where I’m still young and have energy and can do this. So let’s do it now. Let’s make a difference now.
“If I can light this fire inside them now while I still have time and in the future if I can’t do as much, at least I’ll know I got the ball rolling.”
Will the musical theatre program be Esau’s legacy to Eastview?
“I hope so, if I can say I left knowing that I turned even just a couple kids onto the arts and this wonderful world of musical theatre, then I can say I did a good thing,” Esau admitted.
As the curtain parts one last time, the stage is filled with the bright smiles of dozens of children whose faces gleam with pride.
“It’s not just about one person, or even a school, but an entire community coming together to build up its children, and of course put on a great show,” Esau said.