Laurel Fast is relishing the role of helping build a community for young people on the stage.
About a decade ago, when Fast was looking for musical theatre programs in south Winnipeg for her young daughter, she found her options were limited.
"There wasn’t anything for younger kids at that time," said Fast, who lives in River Park South. "As a mom, I was frustrated by the lack of offerings in this area of the city."
But instead of sitting idly by, Fast was eventually inspired to start her own enterprise five years ago, with business partner Alana Main, called On Stage Community Theatre Company, which is aimed at children aged six to 16.
"Being a voice and piano teacher already, and always having loved theatre, I thought ‘why couldn’t I put this together?’"
The main goal of the company is to create a fun, encouraging environment for her students and to help them learn and explore their potential, discover their individual gifts and abilities and to work well with others, Fast noted.
"The biggest thrill for me is seeing their confidence grow," she said, adding the group has put together six shows in the past five years including Alice in Wonderland and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, as well as an original production, called Fairieland, which was written by Kami Desilets, the company’s dance teacher and choreographer.
"In the past, kids have arrived pretty shy and I’ve watched them grow more and more comfortable. One girl, when she started, wouldn’t look me in the eye and would turn beet red.
By her third year, she was performing a solo. The experience can be life-changing for some of these kids. It’s pretty neat.
"It’s also about the camaraderie. For kids who aren’t necessarily sports-minded, the group helps them develop a team spirit and work together," Fast added.
The group meets on Wednesday evenings at the Fort Garry Evangelical Mennonite Church in Fort Richmond (602 Pasadena Ave.) during the school year and classes are divided into different groups based on age. The group typically puts on two performances of a show in early May.
Classes are set to begin this academic year on Wed., Sept. 18 and new members are always welcome. Fast said she has lost several students this past year, as they have "graduated into Grade 8 and 9 and therefore become involved in their own school musicals."
In terms of division of labour, Fast handles the musical and administrative side of the business, while Main concentrates on the dance aspect. Fast has been teaching voice, piano and theory lessons for nearly 20 years and has a vocal degree. She is also involved with the children’s choir at her local church and previously taught a music program at a Montessori school.
For more information, visit www.onstagect.ca or call Fast at 204-998-5560.