White Rock Elementary students put a spin on Seuss

Michelle Bicknell (left) as The Lorax with Isabella Worden as The Once-ler in White Rock Elementary
Michelle Bicknell (left) as The Lorax with Isabella Worden as The Once-ler in White Rock Elementary's production of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.
— image credit: Contributed photo

One of the great advantages of youth is that – unlike cynical adults – you haven't had time to learn the impossibility of things.

And, if you're very lucky, like the Grade 6 students in the Fine Arts program at White Rock Elementary, you have teachers like Donna Vosloh and Monika Tusnady who actively encourage 'possibility' thinking.

Lucky parents – and a few other invitees – will get to see that approach in action May 1 at 1 p.m. when the students will present their production of The Lorax, based on the famous children's book by Dr. Seuss.

No simple adaptation this – in the current version, created by the students themselves, Seuss' deceptively simple tale of corporate greed versus environmentalism has become a full-fledged opera, complete with arias (or "songs" as the students call them), ensemble choruses and character themes.

As student Chloe Miller (who does double duty as script editor and the role of of 'The Child") proudly related: "It's based on the book, but we made our own lines, songs and dances, sound and lighting."

They weren't entirely left to their own devices, as Miller acknowledged.

"Ms. Tusnady helped with the music, and Ms. Vosloh, who's our drama teacher and regular teacher, helped arrange the script and put it all together."

Also very helpful as the students developed their ideas, was the input of Roxy Giles of Vancouver Opera, who partnered with the school on the production as part of an outreach initiative called Words!Music!Opera!

At the same time, the production places a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of Miller and other students, including director Paris Samoil, choreographer Talia Spilchen and capable sound and lighting technicians Bryn McDougall and Jared Schellenberg.

It's also involved months of work and the important lesson that everyone must pitch in and play their part if the show is to succeed.

But it's clear from the excited response of the creative team that one of the big successes has been enlisting the creativity of classmates and allowing them to take ownership of their part of the process.

"Talia and Chloe and I held auditions, and if you wanted to audition, you had to write your own song," said Samoil, adding that Spilchen also created a small dance routine specifically for auditionees.

"It's helped me because I want to be a choreographer when I'm older – it's been a big learning opportunity," said Spilchen.

The process not only encouraged involvement but actually helped build the opera, they said.

"We took bits and pieces of the audition songs and made them into the songs in the show," Samoil said.

Also requiring creativity was expanding the story – which has only a few named characters – into a piece with some 18 speaking, or singing, roles (some 30 students, in all are involved in the production).

Listening to a run through of some of the show, it's evident the audience is in for a treat. Far from heavy and bombastc stereotypes of operatic music, the students have come up with a tuneful and melodic score that is a little more Broadway than the Met.

But they've also learned a few things about the power of opera as a medium, they said.

"There's something about singing that is so much more emotional – you can pull the audience in more," said Isabella Worden, who plays the role of the Once-ler, the business entrepreneur whose obsession with manufacturing 'Thneeds' leads to the destruction of all the Truffula trees, in spite of the warning of the Lorax (Michelle Bicknell) a small orange creature who lives in the woods.

"Michelle as the Lorax and Isabella as the Once-ler have a lot of fights," said cast member Gabrielle Hack.

"It seems more powerful and more intense when its sung."

For more information on the performance of The Lorax, call the school at 604-531-5731.




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