“The kids flipped out, I didn’t realize how big the ECMAs were,” says Glenn Taylor, describing the general reaction on receiving an ECMA nomination for Best Children’s Recording for Skyhawk: The Musical. “The parents are excited—Spryfield is on the map. We’re not going to go any farther I’m sure...but the point is, the dream came true because we believed in it.”
Taylor calls this “a Cinderella story.” And it has all the hallmarks of a movie script in the making (Waiting for Guffman, anybody?).
Taylor was the principal at Elizabeth Sutherland School in Spryfield—he has since retired—when he decided to take another approach to dealing with the bullying, insecurity and loneliness he saw in some students in grades four to eight.
“Bernard Curtis-Williams,” a composer and musician, who plays stellar barrelhouse piano on the recording, “and I were talking ever since I got out to Spryfield and I think kids are like this everywhere: They don’t realize if they stick together that they will achieve more. They feel alone,” says Taylor. “They almost always know right from wrong. But it’s human nature and they’re afraid, but if they believe in themselves and they believe in their destiny, they can achieve so much more. So we said, ‘Well, let’s write a musical.’ So I wrote the words and the script and then I sang the words to Bernard and said to him, ‘This is how I see it.’”
Skyhawk: The Musical was born. Around 45 students got involved in the cast alone, including leads Marcia Peters and Laura Hatcher (Big Rat and Young Skyhawk, respectively). Many more students were involved behind the scenes and countless more parents on top of that. Taylor raised the money for the curtains, lighting, recording (which was done in the school) and finally, pressing the CDs, which secured the ECMA nomination.
“First you have to have a dream and then you have to believe: If you don’t have a dream, then what goal do you have? And if you aren’t motivated, then you can live in a fantasy land and never do anything,” says Taylor. “So we started living that way ourselves and anytime anything came up, Bernard and I looked at each other and said, ‘If we don’t believe and we don’t prove to the kids we can do it, then this is all fake.’
“I said, ‘We’re going to make these kids stars...and if they think they are stars, the stars that they are, then they will really get confidence out of it. So I said, ‘Find me somebody that can make CDs.’ I read about the nominations and you need 300 CDs to apply. I got the money to make the CDs from a former alumni who was doing well. I had the money in four hours.”
The play was performed for the community in November of 2005 (though the cast recording was laid down in the school’s music room). It centres on the interactions of a forest full of creatures—working, saying goodbye to old friends, meeting new ones, having fun at the Rockingstone, dealing with their differences and sticking together. The rats in the forest decide they’re going to take over and introduce themselves with the rousing “Rat Rap.” (Jesse Comeau’s chilling delivery of the verse, “Watch me make you cry/When I punch you in the eye” is a personal highlight.) Eventually, with some cajoling of their mother, the rats decide to renounce their ways and do so with the song “Us Rats are Turnin’ Good,” in which we get the delightful, “It’s become appealing/To refrain from stealing/Lyin’, cheatin’, doin’ drugs /Will be replaced with lovin’ hugs.”
And did we mention there is a hockey theme? “Paul Hunt is the only adult in the musical,” says Taylor of the teacher. “He does an impersonation of Don Cherry that is more Don Cherry than Don Cherry. It’s a hockey theme, and in between the periods, Paul comes out and starts talking just like Don Cherry would. He brought down the house.”
Taylor’s overwhelming positive attitude and love for the kids is immediately evident. He wanted nothing more than to show his former students that they can do anything and it seemed to have worked. Peters and Adams, both leads in the play, have decided to pursue acting further, with Neptune and Theatre Arts Guild. For a school with a bare-bones stage and no drama department to speak of (“We all still had our day jobs,” notes Taylor), this nomination and the effect it has had on the school and community is profound.
“This year is the calmest that school has been in a long time,” says Taylor. The school was nominated for and won another esteemed award: They were voted by other schools in the area as the one that plays the fairest.
Taylor says he greatly admires his students’ dedication.
“They made this play. As far as they’re concerned, this is their ECMA. We did this totally by ourselves. This is as grassroots as it gets. This is a Cinderella story and that’s where it will end, with Cinderella going to the ball. But nobody can take away from us what we’ve achieved. We just got together and had fun.”
Stephanie Johns had an entrancing part in her high school musical. She played the second star and her line was “No sir, no sir!” It set the tone for her entire life.