Rumors are spreading at NWSS

Faced with the cancellation of the school's spring production, students stepped up to the plate to make it happen – and Neil Simon's Rumors will be onstage in May

The drama room at NWSS is full of good-natured banter as a dozen students gather to talk about their upcoming production of Rumors.

They rib each other rather mercilessly, and they aren't afraid to groan and heckle if one of their colleague's contributions to the conversation isn't up to snuff.

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But it's all done with smiles, and the warmth in the room is palpable.

There's no question they're all glad to be here - and they're all thrilled that two of their own have made it happen.

Back up to the fall, and the students at New Westminster Secondary School were facing a huge disappointment: there wasn't going to be a major drama production. For the seniors in particular, the news that two teacher maternity leaves had put paid to the idea of a major spring musical was an enormous blow.

Enter Tiger Xu, a Grade 12 student in the school's international baccalaureate (IB) program. He was fast approaching the end of his school career, and he was disappointed to learn he wouldn't have a chance to get involved with a theatre production.

"I felt kinda sad and I knew other people would be too, and I didn't want people to feel like that," he explains.

He started the ball rolling by talking to teachers about the possibility of students taking over the production. He found quick support from his friend Howard Dai, a Grade 11 student who, like Tiger, had been part of the planning committee for last year's MOMENTUM Youth Arts Movement festival.

They had some experience in producing events - though both are more experienced in music than in drama - and together, the two agreed to take over the job of staging the school production.

Rather than a major musical - an endeavour that was out of the question logistically and financially - they agreed on a piece of contemporary theatre instead: Neil Simon's farce Rumors.

They met with NWSS and Massey Theatre staff, and they recruited a professional director in the person of Renee Bucciarelli, the artistic director of City Stage New West, who leapt into the project with enthusiasm.

"Thank goodness these guys spearheaded it happening," she says with a smile. "This is the most enjoyable job I get to ever do."

Tiger says they were thrilled by the response to the play. Eighty students signed up to take part in some way, and 30 to 40 turned out to audition for parts. They narrowed the field down to 22 in total - 10 actors, plus students taking charge of everything from set, costumes, makeup and hair to lighting design and stage management.

The students are working with professionals in set design and stage management, setting up mentoring relationships to give them a chance to learn as much as possible.

 "We wanted the students to be exposed to a professional environment, working with professionals," explains Howard.

Howard himself is working with Bucciarelli as assistant director - and he's since jumped in to perform as well after one of the actors had to withdraw.

Andie Lloyd, a Grade 11 student who's serving as stage manager, says she hopes to go on to work in stage management - and she hopes she gets to continue to work with casts that are as dedicated and enthusiastic as the Rumors crew.

"These guys are all really hard-working, incredible people," she says. "I love working with them, and I hope they love working with me."

(The remark is met with applause from her cast members. It would appear they love her too.)

The cast members just can't say enough about Howard and Tiger and their efforts to bring the show to the stage - especially since all but one of the cast are in Grade 12 and in their final year at NWSS.

"It's great to be involved in a production that's being led by our own students," says William Sandwith, leading a round of applause for Tiger and Howard. "I can't imagine how much time they've spent working on this."

Paula Forner is thrilled there's a production this year - since there hasn't been one since Grease, when she was only in Grade 9.

"I was terrified I was going to graduate without being in a production at this school," she says.

For Sofia Bunting Newman, being on stage with this group is special.

She's an experienced performer, but she hasn't been onstage in an NWSS show since that production of Grease, and she didn't want to graduate without another NWSS show.

"It's so fantastic that they took the initiative, because otherwise we wouldn't be here," she says. "It's going incredibly well."

For Courtney Jacobsen, the lone Grade 11 student in the cast, the play has been nothing but positive.

"It's awesome because I've gotten to connect with so many people that I'd never have thought I'd be able to connect with," she says.

It's a sentiment echoed by Liam Erdos, who self-deprecatingly jokes that before he joined the cast, he had no life.

"It was really great to get the opportunity to meet some of these people," he says. "I knew them before, but I wouldn't normally have talked to them."

"It was pretty exciting to be here, it's a really nice vibe," agrees David Sophonow.

"This is a great opportunity to act and have a good time," chimes in Jeremy Stehr-So.

Udit Sapre, who, like Tiger, is in the IB stream, admits it has been a challenge to balance a heavy academic workload with acting in the play.

But there was no question in his mind he wanted to be involved.

"I was always interested in theatre since my childhood," he says, noting he took drama from Grade 8 to Grade 10 but had to drop in once he entered the IB program. "I wanted to be in a school production before I graduated."

The students promise that the results of their combined effort will be well worth watching.

Asked who should check out the production, Diana Smith is quick to respond.

"Anyone who wants a good laugh, to say the least," she says. "This play really plays off the flaws that society ..."

She trails off as her fellow actors give her a hard time about getting too philosophical, then she regroups.

"Each character has their own foibles, and their own sense of what they consider right," she says. "It becomes a beautiful, crazy, slightly meltdown celebration."

"It becomes so crazy, but the craziness works," Courtney adds.

The craziness will be onstage in the New Westminster Secondary School drama room from May 1 to 3 – with evening shows at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, plus a Saturday afternoon matinee at 2 p.m..

Tickets will be available by minimum donation of $5, and they will be available in the Massey wing office during school hours (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) You can also buy through cast members or reserve through email at nwssproductionsinfo@gmail.com.

You can check out the event page on Facebook or follow @TwoGentlemenNW on Twitter for all the latest.

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