Fresh, young actors from MDHS to perform original play

By Andy Bader, Mitchell Advocate 

An original idea combined with a new drama teacher and some enthusiastic students has already made a worthwhile message that much more meaningful at Mitchell District High School (MDHS).

The newly-formed Eco Squad, a dedicated group of Grade 8 students, is rounding into form a play they will perform throughout six elementary schools within the Avon Maitland District School Board (AMDSB) beginning next Wednesday, March 21.

Written by MDHS Drama/English teacher Cam Oates, who’s in his first year at MDHS, the play stresses the meaningful message of children being active outside and while outdoors, respect and protect the environment at the same time. It also stresses the importance of getting away from technological devices such as cell phones from time to time, going out and merely “smell the roses.”

“It’s great, it’s a really cool opportunity,” Oates said last week. “Great things can only come out of collaboration, right? And this is a huge collaborative piece.”

The original play he wrote early in 2017, but the concept came about in his fourth year of teaching from one of his Grade 9 classes, he recalled.

“I felt like this was a really good idea, we should return to the characters and this concept,” he said, adding he felt it could be something he could put a professional group of actors together and tour with it.

In the midst of this process, he felt it would be something he could offer the Grade 7/8’s in Mitchell, the new school he was teaching at after a five-year hiatus away from the AMDSB, having previously taught at Stratford Northwestern.

Only the high school students can participate in what is known as the National Theatre School Festival (formerly the Sears Festival), so he thought this might be something that might attract the attention of some youngsters.

“I felt this might give the students in Grade 7/8 an opportunity to be involved in a niche they might not realize,” he said.

“I can’t believe the level of commitment from these actors. It’s mind-blowing. And this is from a bunch of kids that have never acted, I don’t think any of them have been on stage….”

In the meantime, the AMDSB got back to him and gave him the green light to develop and produce the play as the board was eligible for provincial funding that is meant to reduce our carbon footprint.

“They were looking for something, then I showed up with something, and they were like ‘yes, awesome, let’s do this,’” he said.

Oates added there’s a lot of elementary curriculum components that are met by this show – based on getting outside and taking care of the environment, further adding to its attractiveness.

Ever since word came back that the board is on board (pun intended), professional wireless microphones were purchased, and thanks to the work of MDHS colleagues, original sets were built in-house thanks to the guidance of teachers John Schmaltz, Trish Menheere (props), Heather Cumming (costumes), some parents, a former student who worked on the Eco Squad logo and a friend who wrote the music.

The cast is comprised of Grade 8 students from MDHS while older high school students assist with sound, set-up, music and as choir members. All told, there are 16-20 students involved, Oates said.

The interactive performance gets the audience involved and there’s some catchy music and dance with plenty of action, guaranteed to keep their elementary audience engaged in the overall message.

The entire tour dates and times have not been finalized, but the first one will take place at Upper Thames Elementary School (UTES) next Wednesday, March 21.