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Play encourages kids to find ‘helpers’

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Kildonan-East students Shifa Mohideen, Joey MacDonald, Karly McMillan, Kate Bennet, and Darcy Gosek are shown in a scene from Winnipeg is Beautiful, which will be shown at Kids Fringe from July 18 to 28.

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Kildonan-East students Shifa Mohideen, Joey MacDonald, Karly McMillan, Kate Bennet, and Darcy Gosek are shown in a scene from Winnipeg is Beautiful, which will be shown at Kids Fringe from July 18 to 28. Photo Store

A new play based out of Kildonan-East Collegiate hopes to hold a message for both children and adult viewers.

Winnipeg Is Beautiful was written by drama teacher Tannis Francis and features six actors from the school who have been practising thrice a week since the spring. Francis wrote the play in response to class discussions held after a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. left 20 children and six teachers dead on Dec. 14, 2012.

Francis, an East St. Paul resident, said having a handful of passionate students had already helped plant the idea of putting together a Kids Fringe play this year in her mind, and the discussion of how to deal with the tragedy made Francis feel like she could write something on the topic.

"As dramatic arts students, we tend to talk about our emotions a little bit more than even English students," she said. "We were sitting around the day after, and just tried to talk through it. We were wrapping our heads around it."

Shortly after the tragedy, Francis saw a quotation from the late Fred Rogers, of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: "Look for the helpers".

"That was the idea — how can we encourage kids to look for help, to look for helpers when they’re scared?" said Francis. "They’ve been introduced to such evil at such a young age."

She hopes parents and older children who see the play, which is presented in a lighter tone than the events that inspired it, will learn to fill the role as helpers as well.

The play features a little girl named Winnipeg who starts out as different from her peers, but is soon scared to be different. Winnipeg is played by Karly McMillan, but when she gets scared, the role is played by Francis’ seven-year-old daughter, Hudson.

"A lot of the kids really connected with the physical shrinking — the whole physicality of that, they can see it with their eyes," said Grade 11 student Duncan Cox, who plays Winnipeg’s older brother, Flynn.

"The most repetitive piece (of feedback) was ‘it’s so neat to see someone our size onstage speak up to someone bigger when they were being bullied.’ I hadn’t thought through how big of an impact that was," added Francis.

Cox, who has taken drama classes with Francis for the past three years, is glad to play the role of Winnipeg’s helper.

"He’s a good guy," said Cox, 16. "If I was a parent, ideally, if I had two kids, I would want the older brother to be this character. He’s very good at watching out for his sister."
The play will run from July 18 to 28 at 211 Bannatyne Ave. For showtimes, visit the company's website.

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