On with the show

Act II community youth theatre program changing lives in Sarnia

When Christopher French of Aamjiwnaang First Nation received an invitation on Facebook to audition for a musical theatre program, he didn’t know what to think. He wasn’t sure he was interested; he didn’t know anyone involved; and he didn’t know anything about Sarnia-Lambton Rebound, the organization offering the Act II program.

“I’ll tell you this – not going to that audition would have been a big mistake,” said French in a speech about how Act II has profoundly changed his life.

After that first season, in which he played the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz, French participated in Act II the next year and the next – and, eventually, he was invited to co-direct the 2012 production, Fame.

Like many theatre programs of its kind, Act II’s performers are all youth – but it also “casts” youth in backstage roles. 

“We have a youth matched with an adult mentor in every leadership position on the crew,” says Teri Thomas-Vanos, executive director of Rebound.

When the curtain rises in September for the program’s four-show run at Sarnia’s Imperial Theatre, every single aspect of the production—performing, directing, props, costumes, music, and choreography—is influenced and guided by youth.

Providing young people with opportunities like those in Act II, opportunities to learn, grow, and achieve personal success, is Rebound’s mandate. Founded in 1984, the organization delivers programs to help youth, aged eight to 24, learn positive social skills to help them transition from childhood to adulthood. Rebound’s early intervention programs have been replicated in communities across Ontario.

Thomas-Vanos believes putting on a full-length Broadway musical offers the chance for youth to benefit from Rebound’s programming while also having fun.

This year, Rebound was not sure it could offer Act II, after a sponsorship agreement it relied on was not renewed.

When Ken Hall, Enbridge’s Ontario-based senior advisor of public affairs, was approached with an application to fund Act II, he rallied colleagues from the Aboriginal Relations department. 

Enbridge has since committed $15,000 in funding to Rebound – $5,000 a year for three years – ensuring Act II can operate free of financial burdens for another three seasons.

“Rebound’s Act II program uses a fun medium to deliver a very serious program,” Hall says. “By supporting this program, Enbridge is helping and encouraging youth along their journey to become healthy, productive adults.”

Jack Poirier, director of development for Rebound, has two daughters who attend Act II and can attest to the difference it’s made in their lives.

“One of the things I noticed with my girls was an improvement in their overall social skills, the ability to come into a situation, not know everyone, and to adapt to that situation, work together, and troubleshoot,” says Poirier. “The boost in their confidence level is really apparent.”