Nova Scotia Kiwanians help the next generation of musical theater stars shine

Patti Cullihall, Kiwanis Club of Sydney, Nova Scotia | Mar 18, 2020

HATs entertainment

In 2019, the Kiwanis Club of Sydney in Nova Scotia, Canada, proudly entered its second year as title sponsor for the HATch program, a pre-professional, triple-threat training program for young performers ages 10- 18. HATch is presented by the Highland Arts Theatre, a local professional and community arts center also based in Sydney. As title sponsor, the Kiwanis Club of Sydney provided financial support of CA$10,000 in both 2018 and 2019.

Throughout the summer, "The HAT" (as it is affectionately known) produces three intensive camps aimed at young performers of various experience levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. The first two levels focus on skills development in singing, dancing and acting, while the advanced group has two weeks to rehearse and perform "mini-musicals" that hone their skills with the support of a professional production team. In 2019, local First Nations artist and performer Jeff Ward led a storytelling component with a focus on the traditions and culture of the indigenous Mi'kmaq.

HATs entertainmentIn all, more than 120 participants experienced professional training from instructors and directors from across Cape Breton and as far away as Sheridan College's renowned Musical Theatre Performance Program in Ontario. Thanks to the sponsorship of the Kiwanis Club of Sydney, 59 participants from underprivileged households were awarded full scholarships in lieu of a registration fee.

"This was our most diverse group of kids yet, with more than half of the participants joining us for the first time from a variety of social and cultural backgrounds,” says Wesley J. Colford, artistic and executive director. “We wouldn't have been able to offer scholarship subsidies to so many eager young talents without the support of Kiwanis, and we are incredibly grateful."

Performances included two new original musicals written by local musical theater writers for the participants in the advanced group. Along with its history of music, Cape Breton is quickly earning a national reputation for the development of new works in the musical theater genre, a natural evolution of its long cultural history of music and storytelling. Institutions like The HAT and Cape Breton University's Boardmore Theatre keep that spirit of innovation alive and create local content for the next generation of Cape Bretoners and Canadians.

The Highland Arts Theatre makes its home in the former St. Andrew's United Church, in the thriving center of Sydney's downtown. In just over five years, the theater has produced more than 60 local productions and hosted a robust schedule of plays, musicals, concerts, film screenings and more. Thanks to the support of the Kiwanis Club of Sydney, its latest focus on youth education has blossomed even more with new initiatives like HATch, leading to a full-on explosion of new workshops and courses under the heading of "HAT Academy."

HATs entertainmentHATch participants have glowing reviews about their experiences.

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be in this wonderful program,” says one student. “I had the best time of my life.”

Another student says, “I love theater and had so much fun here. I would like to work even harder on the show, but it was great. Everyone is so nice, and I love it.”

“Confidence was a recurring theme,” Colford says. “Feeling comfortable with themselves and who they were, as well as being empowered to take their new skills and apply them to everyday life. We couldn’t be more proud of them.”

One HATch participant launched the school year by successfully convincing her faculty to revive the annual tradition of a high school musical, which had not been observed at the school in 10 years. She successfully persuaded teachers with a thoroughly thought-out business plan and directed and produced a production of “Grease,” which was almost entirely student-run, featuring more than 80 students, including many HATch participants, through all levels of production.

The Kiwanis Club of Sydney is so proud of the arts and culture scene in Cape Breton and so honored to have played a small part in the development of our next generation of singers, dancers, actors, writers, musicians and artists. Not every child is interested in sports and ensuring that youth of all backgrounds have access to arts education is exactly what Kiwanis stands for. We salute The HAT for its innovative programming and investment in our future. It is our hope they will continue fostering young talent for many years to come.


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