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Taking Pride in all that Summer Challenge has to offer

'Some of them come in with almost no experience, having never been on stage, and they just fall in love with it either through the show or through their friends or just the actual experience of singing and dancing and stepping out of their comfort zone in a very safe environment'

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.

Despite North Bay being a city of only 50,000 people, it is a place that has a deep and rich history of live performing arts. Between shows at the Capitol Centre, to independent groups to high school theatre programs, we’re privileged to have so many options to treat ourselves in watching this century-old tradition of people on a stage in a live performance.

And often, the performances you see in North Bay are not just good, they are memorable.

“We’re very fortunate, we live in a special place because it really is true that there is so much talent in North Bay,” says Joshua Pride.  

“Which makes us very fortunate because we’re able to put on such quality shows and it is because the students have a lot of opportunities to discover those skills or hone those skills.”

Pride is the Lead Teacher for Summer Challenge and has been directing shows over the last decade.

“Summer challenge was the original summer theatre program for youth in North Bay in the 1980s and it kind of morphed into Theatre Outreach On Stage (TOROS) but by 2003 it had returned and had become a summer theatre program that was also credit-granting through the Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic District School Board for students in grades 7-12.”

 He says this program, and in fact, all student-focused theatre programs in North Bay are so integral to the community.

“We have so many opportunities for young people to get involved in theatre, with our program being one of them. It allows for a lot of growth with young people, it works on a lot of interpersonal skills. It's nice being able to see a lot of growth and confidence that the students experience over the summer.”

He says, “Some of them come in with almost no experience, having never been on stage, and they just fall in love with it either through the show or through their friends or just the actual experience of singing and dancing and stepping out of their comfort zone in a very safe environment. It's nice to see that jump in confidence.”

Pride says there is one story that stands out that perfectly exemplifies this.

“When we were doing Beauty and the Beast several years ago, we couldn’t find the right Gaston and I didn’t want to do it, to be honest with you, without the right person in that part,” he says.

“But someone from our staff said they knew this kid who was a football player, and had never really done theatre before, but looked the part and I said, ok let’s give him a shot. And that’s the beauty of these programs is giving kids a shot and letting them come into their own. So, this kid who had never been on stage before, was kind of quiet, and he fumbled a lot in the beginning, but he really enjoyed the program.”

Pride went on to say, “That enjoyment turned into an element of dedication and that turned into him having an amazing work ethic and devoting himself to that role. He was a pretty awesome Gaston in the end, and he continued with theatre at his high school. He wound up doing some Sears Festival plays and was heavily involved within the theatre community at his school.”

“When I have those hard teaching days, those are the stories I remind myself of because we worked hard with him and he worked hard with us and it turned into some very tangible results,” says Pride.

For Pride, live theatre, and the Summer Challenge program itself, has been a family past time for over 30 years.  

“It was something that my parents raised me in. Both of them were involved in the original program in the ’80s and they continued working in theatre with Dreamcoat and my mom taught and is now the VP at St. Joseph Scollard Hall so she’s still affiliated with it all, and so I was raised not only in theatre but also within the school system. It was always a part of my life,” says Pride.  

The 29-year-old North Bay native has held different positions within this program over the years, “I acted in Summer Challenge for one summer because I originally did TOROS but then Summer Challenge was performing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, so I went and did Summer Challenge that year,” he says.

“My mom took over directing the program in 2003 and her first show was Oliver and then a few years later I played Joseph. But from 2003 onwards, I was spending a lot of days there just watching the rehearsal process and then eventually I started working for Summer Challenge in my first year of University around 2009/2010 as a student director and that just became my summer job which is a pretty sweet gig for a theatre person.”

Pride says becoming a student director was an opportunity he could not pass up and he hit the ground running early on with a show that was a Canada wide premier performance.

“One of my first gigs as a student director for Summer Challenge was to take The Prince of Egypt, which is a DreamWorks musical film about the story of Moses and put it on stage,” he says.

“That had not been done yet. I believe there is a full stage musical production now, but back in 2010, there was no stage version of this. So, I took the film along with our musical director at the time Holly Garnett and she transcribed the music and I transcribed the script. We got special permission from DreamWorks to adapt this and it was the first stage production of The Prince of Egypt in Canada, which was a lot of fun, and a personal favourite of mine.”

From a musical of Biblical proportions to shows about the seedy underworld of the mob, to lighthearted Disney fanfare, Pride says the shows presented by Summer Challenge have had a wide range.

 “School of rock was a lot of fun to and that was a transition year for me, and I just loved that movie and the musical was a lot of fun to put together as well.”

He adds, “We did Chicago a few years ago, I had the chance to see Chicago in London and I really wanted to put that one up. And that was an awesome opportunity and it was a unique year because we had a lot of students that were graduating, and it was a nice big send-off year for them.

The following year we had a lot of new students come in for Disney’s Newsies. And it just kind of became a full circle moment that showed the nature of these programs. You have these kids that come into your program in grade seven or eight and they end up spending every summer with you and then, they’re gone, but then a new group comes in and picks up right where they left off. It shows the continuation of the program and the importance it has in the community.”

Pride says, “Without these grassroots programs in communities like North Bay, some of these kids might never have discovered their love for the performing arts.

He adds one of the most rewarding parts of a program like this is seeing the kids not only fall in love with the performing arts but continuing with it once they have left high school.

“We have alumni that are performing for Mirvish Productions, some are working in Stratford as Stage Managers. We’ve had plenty that have gone on to the big theatre schools like Ryerson or Sheridan. It’s nice to see their journey, it makes me feel old, but it is nice to see,” he says with a laugh.

Pride says the students get a lot out of Summer Challenge on top of learning how to perform in front of a live audience.

“Students develop skills as members of a team, because theatre is a team sport you could say. There is a lot of trust involved and a lot of responsibilities towards your cast and your peers There is a mutual trust, and they are working together as a team for the success of a project,” he says.

“You see a lot of really strong friendships developing over the summer that lasts years.”

It also provides an alternative way for students to get their high school diplomas with two art credits awarded for anyone involved in the production, but Pride also says it’s an avenue to give hands-on learning in multiple roles.

“We also offer students the opportunity to co-op with us as well. So, students who want to move into theatre, they can co-op with us by doing certain roles such as assistant stage managers or costume designers, some of the more technical elements and so we offer that as a co-op,” says Pride

Every Summer Challenge show is a musical because it must cover three specific elements and skills related to the curriculum which are dance, music, and drama.

“So, an easy way to incorporate those three things is by performing a musical. And they are difficult because not only are students learning their lines but also their music, the choreography, their blocking and stage directions as well,” says Pride.

But he says after having done so many they are very organized in the way they approach rehearsal time.

“We have a pretty good system of the students rotating through those various elements. We’ll have one group learning a song in a music room, while I’m working with a group of students on a scene inside the auditorium, so we have a pretty smooth system to kind of tackle the challenges of putting on a musical.”

He adds they also include the elements of a live band into some of their shows.

“With the live band, we sometimes have students who are currently in the music program that will participate in the show, but we also have alumni that will come back and play in the band or contribute in other ways.”

And Pride says what better way to show how much this program means to some people than by having contributions from people who have already been through it.

“When alumni come back and participate or just return to watch and support the show, it's amazing because it proves that our program made a lasting impact on these students and then seeing them go on to further careers in theatre, it's nice to see that we were a part of their journey.”  

If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at matthew.sookram@rci.rogers.com



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