Queen E students find the ‘art’ to thriving despite pandemic year

By Mark Squibb | May 27, 2021

COVID-19 restrictions may have closed theatres and music halls, but it has not stopped Queen Elizabeth Regional High School students from pursing their artistic endeavours.

“There have definitely been challenges that we have had to overcome,” said Melanie Fleming, Theatre Program Director and Clothing & Textiles Teacher. “Thankfully, our students here are positive kids. They tend to roll with what has come with them. We’ve been quite fortunate. Our students are very versatile.”

For students, the Covid restrictions have meant no music festivals, no theatre arts festivals, and no sports tournaments.

Fortunately, they were still been able to participate in regular curriculum classes, such as choir and theatre arts classes, with special measures in place including masks and smaller performance groups.

In other areas, students have had to adapt further, such as recording the annual Christmas show and sharing it online rather than performing it live.

“Which provided its own interesting learning opportunity for our students,” said Fleming, as students were able to learn video production skills such as shooting and editing.

Emily Best, 18, was one of the students active in the recording and editing of that show.

Best grew up watching everything from Disney classics to Marvel films to television cop dramas, and allowed an acting career could be a bit of fun. But when she signed up for Theatre Arts class as a grade 10 student, she said she began to consider that pursuit seriously.

“I met Mrs. Fleming, and it shifted my world on a 180 axis. Because I realized, ‘I can make a career out of doing the one thing I’ve loved my entire life,’” said Best.

For a budding young performer, COVID has no doubt doled out a fair number of challenges.

“My first and last in school performance was in Grade 10,” said Best. “The last two years in a row we’ve begun preparations for performances, and then we get up right to it, and that’s when COVID would rear it’s ugly head and ruin everything.”

Best said the challenges created by the pandemic helped to sharpen her focus and committment to pursuing an acting career.

“There’s always going to be obstacles in your life,” said Best. “And, if you can stick through something as gruesome as a pandemic that completely shuts everything down, and still say, ‘No, this is what I want to do, and I want to keep moving forward,’ it really tells you what kind of person you are and that is exactly the kind of career you need for yourself.”

Challenges aside, Best has been accepted into the Toronto Film School for the Acting for Film, Television and Theatre program, which she will begin virtually in the fall.

Darcy Scott,18, is another student who has continued artistic endeavours despite the challenges bestowed upon him by the pandemic.

A singer songwriter inspired by folk acts of old, Scott is used to performing at venues big and small across the province.

During the pandemic, Scott, along with many other artists, have had more home time than stage time.

“It’s given me some time to sit at home and write and think about the current state we’re in and create, and reach out to other artists,” said Scott. “Everyone has had time to collaborate and create and I think that was the best thing to come out of this for me.”

Scott said he started his music career banging on pots and pans in the kitchen, before eventually getting a drum kit.

In Grade 8, he started to learn some guitar chords and by Grade 9 he had begun trying his hand at song writing.

“The first few songs didn’t come out so good, but I’m getting the hang of it, and there’s always different things to write about,” said Scott, who added his love of music started with the albums he listened to as a child.

“My dad would get sit down and play albums for me, but it wasn’t the stuff my friends were listening to at the time, it was John Prine and Ron Hynes and other singer songwriters, folk artists, so I developed a love for that type of music,” said Scott.

And whether it’s through music or film or another medium, Fleming argues that art connects people.

That connection is especially important during a pandemic, when its more difficult for folks to connect with one another.

“The arts provide an element of connection with people,” she said. “I like to call it a ‘shared experience.’ Say, there is a performer on stage, and they’re sharing an experience with you as an audience member. And that connection is very special. And that’s something that a lot of people have now really realized the importance of. With so many people having to isolate and be away from others, we’re really realizing how much we need that human connection, and that physical connection between people.”

Fleming said artists turn to their craft to help reduce stress, regulate emotions, and boost their confidence, and that in troubled times, the arts are a refuge.

“The fine arts create such a wonderful, welcoming place for a lot of people where they can land, when things are chaotic, which of course the last year and a bit has been,” said the teacher.

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