Theatre Ancaster's 'Newsies Jr' Proves the Magic and Value of the Arts

'Seize the day.'

Famous uplifting words used many times in history, but also a significant line and music number in Newsies. A musical loosely based on the real 1899 strike of the child newspaper sellers in New York (what were they called, I wonder). It is an inspirational story about kids who are ignored and mistreated by society, but despite where they are perceived on the social ladder, they make a major cultural impact when they band together and take a huge risk to improve their pay and treatment. You could say, they seized the day (or days, because it wasn't a 24-hour affair.). 

I felt the magic of inspiration and motivation when watching the high-calibre Theatre Ancaster production of Newsies Jr last Saturday. I thought a lot about the idea of seizing the moment and how the underdog can rise above when they dare to take that chance.

Not sure if you noticed, but there was this little thing known as the Covid-19 pandemic, and it did all kinds of horrible. One of the negative effects was the loads of extra social anxiety and stress that it heaped upon most of us, but several years of social distancing and encouraged isolation was a flaming ninja kick to many kids' social development and confidence. 

Even before the pandemic, I heard groans about 'kids these days', because such declarations have been the calling card of adults since Plato was trying out this living activity on Earth. Many people that I respect have complained about how so many kids just want things handed to them or lack any motivation other than looking at their devices. The concern has been that this nagging pandemic just exasperated the issue as a few years of being encouraged to just stay home with the family has thrown major social anxiety and a complete lack of ambition into the cocktail.

I am aware there is some truth to this, but on Saturday, not only did I witness a high-energy and life-affirming musical about the forgotten rising up to be acknowledged and win the day, but I saw several kids from Grade 5 to Grade 8 not only seize the day but absolutely shine on it. Every single kid on that stage threw their heart and soul into that performance to create a show that immersed and amazed an audience with a story that is still relevant and crucial today.

I hyped up Newsies Jr in the days leading up to the opening night because Everett was part of the ensemble and I was gushing with pride and joy over the work, passion, and effort he put into it starting from September up to the five performances he did over the past weekend (one was actually a weekday matinee for schools). It was my fatherly duty to be the pitch person and try to persuade as many as I could to check him out. But now I can say that even if I wasn't a biased parent in the audience, but rather just someone looking for some afternoon entertainment, it was a near-spiritual experience witnessing each child transform into a polished and high-energy performer.

It gives one hope when we realize how much effort and care was spent on each child for this big moment. If the arts thrive at this age, then there is a lot to be optimistic about our future. The kids slayed giants by surpassing most expectations with their performances and hard work.

If you want to have hope for the future, see what happens when kids are given something they care about and something they believe really matters. This is proof once again why the arts matter, and why I will keep on writing those words for decades to come.

It also is proof of what can happen when we have those who believe in us and they are willing to push us to our very best (which is also a major theme in Newsies Jr). Director Theresa Noon-Hunter (also the founder of There's a Production) told me after the show that she treated it like a professional production and made it clear from the start that expectations and there was evidence on the stage that kids understood the message. This was not 'good for kids' local theatre', but a true musical theatre event that immerses the audience.

The entire team behind the scenes deserves high praise for showcasing the magic that happens with local theatre being performed by mostly pre-teen kids who are pushing themselves to showcase the extent of their skills and gifts. The stage design was pure art and instantly transports the audience into New York from another era, and it also declares they are out to 'wow' more than just parents and relatives.
Choreographer Mason Micevski (also the co-founder of Emerson Arts) puts together near-flawless dance numbers that tell a story and add a joyous sense of wonder and celebration. I may not be a future So, You Think Can Dance judge but knowing where Everett started in September, it is incredible what everyone's hard work led to on the stage. I also must add that the optimism and positive energy that flows through Mason is infectious, and I'm sure that was a huge factor in allowing the kids to shine. 

Of course, a musical needs this thing called music, and it was incredible the talent on display with several of the numbers. I was blown away to discover some of the most rousing songs were by first-time-in-front-of-an-audience singers. which shows the great effort and care of Music Director Janice Reese. Everyone had incredibly high standards but also bonded as a community for their love of the craft. I know that Everett always looked forward to his practices and loved his time there, even if it was hard work. Kids aren't scared of such things when they care about them.

When I was young, there were two things that I loved to do: storytelling and performing. During several years during my childhood, I was part of a drama club where we came up with the scripts for the plays and then performed them in the library of a nearby school for friends and family to enjoy. I was not even aware of any options to do musical theatre, and my biggest experience on a grand stage was when I did a few plays for elementary schools during high school. But witnessing the magic of these incredible child performers got me itching to take a chance to perform in some local theatre.

When Emily asked me if we should enroll Everett and Danika into Theatre Ancaster back in the summer of 2021, it was an instant 'yes'. Both my kids inherited my creativity and imagination, and they loved to whisk each other off to fantastic worlds and scour far-off islands for buried treasure. They can entertain themselves for an entire day with imaginative play. Danika already felt life was a musical as she would burst into song and dance at various times throughout the day. Plus, it gave my kids a chance to do even more performing than I did as a kid, and to see if they'd love it too.

Between the two of them, they have now done, Jitterbugs, Skill Builders 2, the summer camp program, and Junior Broadway. I've seen both fall in love with theatre and become passionate about putting on the best shows possible. Everett has already declared he wants an even bigger part next year, and Danika has made it clear that when she is old enough, she is going to be the star.

Theatre Ancaster has been crucial for my kids because it has been a way for them to find peers with similar interests and push them out of their comfort zone to perform in front of an audience after years of being away from crowds. It has also led them to discover an activity that they love and allow their spirits to soar. My kids have discovered a real treasure in exploring the arts through musical theatre along with the cello they have been learning the last few years.    

As great as the other Theatre Ancaster programs have been, their Junior Broadway program pushed Everett even farther. This past weekend he performed in front of well over a thousand people with five different shows. Everett definitely caught a delightful case of the performance bug. He has already let me know he misses it and is eagerly looking forward to when he can return.

I also want to thank the many friends, family, and even readers who purchased a ticket to support the arts and Everett. I was surprised and humbled by how many saw the show. I am very appreciative. I also hope there were other kids in the audience that got inspired, and maybe now can fall in love with theatre just like my kids.

The arts matter because it is a creative way to understand and define our culture and society. The arts matter because it is a fun way to push ourselves and a crucial form of expression. Places like Theatre Ancaster are vital, and I'm glad they got so much support this past weekend. I am grateful for how they have enriched both of my kids. I also am grateful for how the amazing show inspired this crusty old curmudgeon.