Rural Youth Shine at ROC’n’Revue

Written by guest blogger Krista Dalby

In the heart of Prince Edward County, Ontario, youth are finding their voices – and the community is listening! It’s all thanks to The ROC, an organization that provides opportunities and creates connections for youth ages 6 through 18. In early 2017 The ROC opened the Prince Edward County Youth Centre on Picton’s Main Street, quickly becoming a hub for local teens and home base for many of their creative pursuits.

The ROC’s highlight of the year is ROC’n’Revue, a performing arts showcase. Young musicians are mentored by professional artists who perform with them onstage at Picton’s premiere venue, The Regent Theatre.

Former ROC staffer Hilary Fennell started this initiative four years ago, drawing inspiration from her extensive background in theatre and her passion for supporting young people. She reached out to local musicians and asked if they’d be interested in mentoring a young performer. Many agreed, and a group of young people began rehearsing with their mentors, working towards an evening where they would share the stage. In its first year, The ROC formed a partnership with the historic Regent Theatre and there were about a dozen kids involved. With each passing year the community has become more involved, and in 2017 the ROC’n’Revue took a great leap forward, with attendance skyrocketing to 400, and more than 100 kids involved in the production. It was a dream come true for Fennell and The ROC staff. “We wanted the kids to step out on stage and see that their community supported them,” said Fennell. The evening included a large-scale visual arts piece, spoken word, as well an improv performance. An entrepreneurship class from the high school helped with promotion and gathering raffle prizes. This tremendous community effort paid off in spades, creating an uplifting evening that inspired performers and audience alike.

Some of the young performers involved have experienced music lessons while others are self-taught, but all benefit from working with professional musicians. True collaboration is encouraged, with both kids and adults contributing ideas to the partnership. When pairing youth with their mentors, interests and personalities of both parties are taken into consideration; shyer kids are sometimes paired with more introverted artists, while at other times the exact opposite match is made, as more extroverted mentors might be able to draw out the shyer kids.

Fennell put a lot of energy into ensuring successful mentorships. Once she’d made the initial introductions she spent plenty of time travelling around the community to their rehearsals. She checked in on what songs they’d selected to avoid duplication, and made sure the lyrics were age appropriate; if not, they were altered. Most importantly, she made sure the mentor/mentee relationships as well as the mentor/parent relationships remained positive. She refrained from micromanaging the mentors, acknowledging that there are different styles of mentoring. Throughout the experience, the youth are developing skills beyond just performance, including how to deal with adults other than their parents and teachers; they learn how to advocate for themselves and improve their ability to communicate. Parents are encouraged to give the youth and mentors space to develop their own rapport, and Fennell has only ever seen those connections flourish as the teams worked towards the big night where they’d perform together on stage.

ROC’nRevue has become such a highly-polished professional production, it’s easy to forget that you’re watching kids perform. At the 2017 showcase, two local elementary schools performed numbers from their school plays, including one school’s rendition of The Lion King’s Can You Feel the Love Tonight? This performance by young costumed kiddies was so sweet and heartwarming, it let the audience step out of that professional experience for a moment, reminding them that they were, in fact, watching children. Fennell teared up when recounting an interaction with a petrified kid who was trying to bail from performing at the last moment. “I had to let them know that this is one of the safest risks they would ever take; the worst that could happen is that they would be loved and applauded by their community.”

Before the evening is even over, kids, parents, and mentors are already asking to be involved the following year. This is a far cry from those first years when it was a challenge to get the community on board with something they hadn’t experienced before. While the event has now proven itself, Fennell and her team still had to hustle to get bums in seats. She recalled the early years and how she’d had a problem finding kids to participate; this clearly isn’t an issue any more. If anything, the showcase’s success may become a challenge, as each year more kids want to be involved and those who have previously performed are keen to return.

The impact of such a positive performing arts experience for youth cannot be understated. Fennell says, “I’ve seen so many kids come out of their shells by having the opportunity to perform in a supportive environment… and the performing arts will continue to grow here as new opportunities are provided.”

The fifth annual ROC’n’Revue will return to The Regent Theatre May 17, 2018. The ROC hopes to make it even bigger and better, continuing to include other art forms. The ROC staff would be happy to speak with anyone interested in starting a youth performing arts showcase in their own rural community.




**We are currently seeking guest bloggers and/or vloggers from rural and remote performing arts backgrounds to contribute their experiences, wisdom, struggles and ideas to our online blog.  Please get in touch if you feel like you have an article, story or hot topic to share! 

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