“We’ll remember the night we sat at home instead of performing”

For the cast and crew of A nightmare before Christmas, Covid-19 hit just a few weeks before opening night.

By Dimitris Ilias

Participating in a High school musical production has to be one of the biggest highs in a students’ life. For the cast and crew of A nightmare before Christmas, a massive production by the Rosemere High School drama club, directed by Stephanie Cocking, Covid-19 hit just a few weeks before opening night. Now, these talented kids will probably not be able to present their labor of love.  They will not savor all these special experiences like seeing their work bear fruit after endless rehearsals hours, that endorphin-inducing applause, those moments on stage when time stops or attempting to stifle a paroxysmal attack of the giggles backstage. Yet the students of Rosemere High are taking it all in stride and their teacher is coming to realize how much more this production meant to them than the end result.

Tickets were already been sold when the production came to a screeching halt because of covid-19

A Nightmare before Christmas

The show was based on the stunning Tim Burton animated film set to music by Danny Elfman. The story follows the misadventures of Jack Skellington, Halloweentown‘s beloved pumpkin king, who has become bored with the same annual routine of frightening people in the “real world.” When Jack accidentally discovers Christmastown, all bright colors and warm spirits, he gets a new lease on life — he plots to bring Christmas under his control by kidnapping Santa Claus and taking over the role. But Jack soon discovers even the best-laid plans of mice and skeleton men can go seriously awry.

Stephanie Cocking, Rosemere High Schools’ intrepid drama club director

More than just a drama teacher

Stephanie Cocking has been teaching drama at RHS for 13 years full time. She is the specialist who actually started the drama program creating the drama club at the same time. She has been favoring musicals all this time and A nightmare before Christmas would have been number 13. “A little bit of bad luck there I suppose” joked Cocking. Production started in September and Cocking was responsible every step of the way wearing many hats as she coordinated info meetings, singing auditions, dance auditions, theatre auditions, backstage crew recruitment, rehearsals and blocking, and much more. “A lot of people blossom in the drama club atmosphere” affirmed Cocking, describing how the audition process brings out talent, igniting self-esteem rise in many students. 

 “When the school closed mid-March it was devastating for me since we were 3 weeks away from the show” lamented Cocking. At the time, all the big tech rehearsals were about to start, costume fittings had finished and a massive elaborate set was being built on stage including smoke machines, a spinning roulette wheel, scaffoldings etc. A professional make-up artist was going to come in and teach the students how to apply their complicated make-up, the costume department was putting the final touches; all of that came to a screeching halt. “As time passes, hope fades for the musical to happen”.

An explosion of maturity

“It was a real letdown and something that they can’t get back but kids are resilient and will see the silver lining” said Rosemere HS principal Karen Lorenz. She couldn’t have been more right.

Showing an unprecedented level of maturity and empathy, the young cast surprised Stephanie putting together a video montage of them saying how they felt about drama club. How it was so important to them, even though they did not get to have their big moment on stage, just being involved in the project. The cast emphasized how valuable it was for them preparing for the show and being part of the family, how much they learned from each other even though they were students of different ages and grades.

“They really poured out their heart to me and made me feel that… they got it! Being on stage and performing is fantastic, but the kids understood that it is not the destination but the journey that counts” 

The massive and elaborate set of A Nightmare before Christmas being built

Bonds forged in heartbreak

Some of the relationships that grow in the cast of a high school show last long. As adults, students remember successful shows, seeing their family in the audience, the flowers, the applause, the tears of relief.

For the citizens of Rosemere Highs’ Halloweentown it looks like they will not experience all this. Hope remains that some form of return-to-school will allow them to perform. Sec 5s are clinging to this hope even more tightly as this is their last year of their beloved drama club.  However, bonds forged in heartbreak will last forever and these students don’t have to wait to be adults to prove that. Already cast pool parties are planned, chat groups have been formed and a great appreciation for connections made exists.

NSN has asked the cast members to provide some of their thoughts on this experience. We get to commiserate with the young actors from sec1 to sec5 as they share their disappointments, hopes, memories, optimism and the multitudes of other emotions brought on by covid-19.

Tyler Philion, Sec. 5 (Jack Skellington)

This year was my last play I’d perform in front of my high school. I had gotten the main role of my play and I was proud of myself and was really nervous as well because I wasn’t used to practicing and memorizing a lot of songs and lines, but I worked hard through school and never gave up. Our whole drama club worked so hard for the play that it had to be ruined by this virus. It sucks that we aren’t able to perform, but we have to accept the situation and hope everything goes back to normal. It was hard processing everything at first, but because of everyone in the drama club, we were able to keep our spirits up. I wish for everyone to be safe and to stay healthy and to be reminded that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Corinna Bertolli, Sec. 5 (Sally)

Our drama club has put in so many hours of work in this production. I know that eventually, we will get our big moment to present it. Most of all, I miss my cast mates, my second family. I’ve grown so attached to this group of misfits who love theatre as much as I do. After a long day, nothing made me happier than hopping on stage and acting. Now, I definitely feel a void. If only I had known that’s our final rehearsal was maybe the last one, we’d ever have. I don’t think I would have ever left.

Geneviève Alexander, Sec.4 (Witch Nutmeg)

It’s honestly a little heartbreaking that we, our little family we call Drama Club, were not able to perform. My heart goes out to the Secondary 5 students in Drama Club because all their hard work was put on pause, and who knows when we get to perform this play again, or if we even do. I’m trying to look at the brighter side, and telling myself that I was extremely lucky to have one last chance to perform next year, but for the Secondary 5, that’s not the case. As for everyone else, The Nightmare Before Christmas play will always be remembered, but not in the way it should be. We’ll remember the night we sat at home instead of performing, and those aren’t the memories we deserve for our hard work. Hopefully, we will be able to perform soon, and if not, there is always next year.

Aydan Gronick, Sec.3 (Shock)

Okay, listen here corona virus. I was someone who had to learn the most dancing in the play, and I got it all down. I knew all my lines, and I was able to act perfectly. Shame. On. You. This was my first role where I played a pretty big character, and I was very excited for this.

Maxime Turcotte, Sec. 5 (Barrel)

As a secondary five, drama club has been pretty much the majority of my high school life. It was something that I would look forward to every year. The year seemed to go even faster than it should have, and this time, it didn’t end on a high note. It’s my last year, so I really wanted to make it count! For this play to be memorable like all the ones before it. Everyone keeps saying that we will probably perform but I doubt it. Too many of us are leaving for cégep and our schedules will probably be too tight. Drama club is my family and will always work hard.

Ariella Frank, Sec.1 (Zero)

When they closed down the schools I was really disappointed because I knew the play was supposed to be a few weeks later then the day of the play came and I was super sad because it’s my first big play ever and it was canceled, I still have high hopes that the play will still go on though.

Stephanie Fiardi, Sec. 1 (Elf boy 2/ Cop)

Ms. Cocking our director has been extremely supportive during these difficult times and I still remain optimistic that we will eventually get to perform even if it’s not for a large audience. Although we’ve had a different experience than most when it comes drama club, I will always cherish all the memories we made together as a cast along the way.

Alexis Jaques, Sec. 5 (Vampire Black)

For 4 years I had been too afraid to even think of performing in front of anyone let alone an entire audience, which is why I was so happy that I finally had the courage to audition for this play. Being part of drama club was such an amazing experience that was sadly cut short due to Covid-19. I know everyone was so excited to put on this production but it just wasn’t meant to be. I still have some hope that we will eventually present this amazing play to an audience. For now, we must patiently wait for our curtain call.

Rebecca Connors, Sec. 5 (Lock)

Although we are currently in quarantine, I’m still holding on to a little piece of hope that we do get to perform The Nightmare Before Christmas, even if it isn’t the way we intended. Auditioning for the show, I never suspected I was going to get a role, but I built a connection with so many of the members of our cast. I wouldn’t change my experience for anything in the world.

Brianna Fasoli, Sec.3 (Catwoman)

My role may not have been huge but it was enough for me. But it wasn’t my last chance to joke with my friends in rehearsals, or perform on stage for the last time. It wasn’t the last time I would take a bow. For my friends in secondary five, however, that is what they are going through. The curtains have closed and it breaks my heart. I haven’t been in a drama club for as long as many of them have but I already know what we have together is something special and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I still hope that the show isn’t really over, if not for myself, then for everybody else who worked so hard.

Note: NSN thanks Brianna Fasoli for her help in gathering the statements of the cast for this article as well as Debbie Adams for putting us all in contact with each other.