Setting the stage for emerging performers

Variety fundraiser and ongoing open-mics showcase local talent

White Rock’s theatre, film and TV training school The Drama Class was honoured just this February as best arts supporter in the 2019 South Surrey-White Rock Chamber of Commerce business excellence awards – but the studio is not about to rest on its laurels, according to owner Michele Partridge.

In addition to the ongoing schedule of classes, workshops and improv drop-ins for children, youths and adults, Partridge is continuing to advance an ambitious agenda of providing local opportunities to showcase emerging and established talents of all ages, including the studio’s monthly open-mic night.

Latest manifestation of this is Partridge’s partnership with Lesley McTavish and Heather Rees of White Rock-based Nuvo Music School to present a Spring Variety Show fundraiser for Peace Arch Hospital, Sunday April 28.

Partridge noted that the genesis of the project was the discovery that a number of her theatre and film students are also taking music and musical theatre classes with Nuvo.

“They also come to your home to teach instruments like violin, piano and guitar,” she said, “while Heather is an operatic soprano who teaches singing as well.”

Venue for the youth-oriented show – which will feature theatre and music students from both schools – will be at Peninsula Productions’ ‘black box’ theatre space in Centennial Park (next to Centennial Arena), 14600 North Bluff Rd.

With a special guest star appearance by already-established young Peninsula singer-songwriter Richard Tichelman (a former Drama Class student), the family-friendly all-ages performance is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m.

Only 70 tickets will be sold, with proceeds going to the hospital’s new emergency area.

“We had some 40 different acts audition for us and we’ve narrowed it down to 30 – from piano players to singers and musical theatre performers and guitar players,” Partridge said.

Tickets for both performances ($25 general admission) are available from school websites thedramaclass.com or nuvomusicschool.com

Proceeds from the The Drama Class’ open-mic – also April 28, at 7 p.m. – will be going to the hospital as well this month, Partridge added.

So popular has this event been on the basis of word-of-mouth, Partridge moved it two months ago from the Drama Class’ Thrift Avenue premises to a larger space at White Rock Community Centre (15154 Russell Ave.), with the added advantage of additional underground parking.

Unlike other open mics that are oriented strictly for music or stand-up comedy performers, the evening – held the last Sunday of each month – is open to actors, musicians, singers, comedians and storytellers of all ages.

“The idea is that it’s great to study your craft, but if you’re only performing in your home, you don’t get that experience of working before a live audience,” Partridge said.

“It allows actors, singers and musicians a safe learning environment, and rather than just doing this for our own students, we thought ‘let’s open it up to the community as well.”

Adding to the appeal of the evenings for both audience members and participants are that they are hosted by well-known local actor, director and singer Dann Wilhelm (just finishing a run in the lead role in White Rock Players Club’s production of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter).

“We try to make the shows as professional as possible,” Partridge said. “And Dann is a wonderful host, because he’s a performer, too. He’ll always start the show with a song, and we riff off each other. It’s a solid two to two and half hours of entertainment.”

Also boosting the appeal of the open-mic is a regular, over-the-top, lip-synch ‘battle’ each month, Partridge said.

While it started because Drama Class students enjoy lip-synch contests, the feature has evolved into an exercise in one-upmanship, she added.

“You have a minute and a half to lip-synch to a song, but you’ve got to bring ‘game’ now – you have to have a bit of a gimmick and a surprise element,” she said.

“Dann was the first one to start this, because he did a duet with a puppet. But (local actress) Erin Marshall is now the champ – she did a version of Wrecking Ball in which she mimicked the Miley Cyrus video, and most recently stole the show with her version of Freddie Mercury’s We Are The Champions.

Partridge pointed out that while adults are involved in the shows, there are some necessary limits placed on language and material.

“Because this is an all-ages show, it has to be ‘PG-13’,” she said. “I know that one of the comedians who came out was editing himself quite heavily on the night once he understood this. But that’s really the only downside, and I refer comedians to some of the other open-mics around.”

Partridge said she is a very strong supporter of the other open-mics in the area, including music nights Tuesdays at Three Dogs Brewing (1515 Johnston Rd., returning April 27 at 7 p.m.), Saturdays at Pelican Rouge at Central Plaza (hosted by Dennis Peterson, returning April 27, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.), and Lizzie Allan’s Addictive Comedy, which presents a regular open-mic every second and fourth Friday (7 p.m. to 9 p.m.) at Unit 1, 1381 King George Blvd.

“We have such talent in the community, and we need to get it out there,” she said. “(Open-mics) have always been around, but there’s never been enough publicity for them. Now more and more people are discovering events due to postings on social media.

“I love the feeling that people of all ages have an opportunity to perform. We have people 70 years old, 80 years old reading from their own books at our shows.

“It’s always been there – it’s just a matter of building more public awareness.”

In addition to April 28, upcoming dates for Drama Class open-mic nights include May 26 and June 30.

Admission for audience members is $5 at the door; performers can register at the sound check at 6:30 p.m. or, in advance, by email to dannwilhelm@gmail.com

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