Henry Gordon Academy: A Year of Firsts
It’s been 20 years since the first actor brought Christopher David Borthwick to life. Over the years I have had the pleasure of seeing many casts make the play their own. Since May is the month that usually closes out the year for school performances, I wanted to pay a special tribute to The Henry Gordon Academy. This piece will be a longer spotlight than I’d ordinarily post, but this extraordinary group deserves it.
Who is this Group?
Let us start from the beginning. First of all, this group is from Cartwright, Newfoundland and Labrador. A small coastal community, with about 500 citizens, that was only reachable by boat or airplane up until 10 years ago when the Trans Labrador Highway was built. The school, Henry Gordon Academy, has approximately 74 students and 9 teachers. The school participates in the annual senior high drama festival each Spring with a cast of 7 plus a teacher sponsor/director. This year, the special education teacher, Brittany Piercey, decided to take on the drama group. She held auditions in January and from there, the cast was selected. Something you need to know is that Cartwright is known for their comedies. Each year the audience expects Cartwright to make them laugh. However, this year Miss Piercey decided to push the students to try something different. Using the website for Publisher, Pioneer Drama, http://www.pioneerdrama.com, the cast narrowed down their options to 2 plays. But, the sample from “May I Have Attention, Please?” won them over and so the journey began.
Snowstorms, like REALLY BIG snowstorms, can’t stop this Troupe from their mission!
The students have been practicing since late January/early February so they have had just over 3 months of practices and meetings during lunch, after school, on weekends and even through Facebook Chat during a snow storm! It has been quite the long journey, but also an amazing experience. The troupe can all agree that they chose this play mainly because it is eye opening to both the cast and audience because of the message it portrays. It gives the cast and the audience a lot of insight into the topic of teen suicide and mental health. It really struck the cast members hard because it showed how suicide impacts an individual and the thinking process that the person contemplating suicide goes through. Tyler Mugford, who plays Chris Borthwick, has talked about the emotional roller coaster ride his character takes him on, which is exhausting both mentally and physically. As you can tell from the video of the performance, the play also shows how suicide impacts others, based on the audience’s reactions. Numerous people who have seen the play performed by the Ponderosa Players have mentioned how they cried during the show because the actors were able to really portray the character’s emotions. We wanted to use the arts to help break down the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health, and we hope that we have done just that. Sandra Mugford explains what the process was like for her and her husband as they adjusted to the role their son, Tyler would play. “Oh my gosh how exciting! When Tyler told me about the play and his part in particular my first response was
“oh Tyler that’s a huge topic and a topic that some don’t like to talk about” and his response was “Mom that’s exactly why I want to do it..”
“Right from the start his intention was to spread the word… get the message out there… let people know that he is informed and there to help. This role in my opinion changed Tyler and coming from a little isolated town of 500 people he had something to prove and knew he could do it. His dad didn’t think he would be able to watch Tyler pull a gun to his head. It was, to say the least, a very emotional moment but he too, soon understood what Tyler was telling us. Tyler is a very passionate, giving, loving young man. He often thinks outside the box and when he is committed to or about something there’s no stopping him and really that’s why this part fit him to a T.. He tends to break things down and really thinks about what he is doing or what he has to do..We are so very proud of our son. He makes us proud everyday! To say we we’re over the moon when the group performed for the first time would be an understatement! The audience in Goose Bay responding like they did and to know people were moved to tears and his message was so huge it impacted them and he connected to so many… really there are no words. I remember his dad saying to me he did what he wanted to do! To win and have the opportunity to perform provincially in St. John’s NL at the prestigious LSPU Hall to share his message was a bonus. But to have the same happen there people responded in tears with a standing O and comments that he will forever carry with him! As a parents of this wonderful 18 year old young man we are so excited for what’s in store for him. He’s off to university in the fall and wants to be a English teacher and was told at the St. John’s festival not to give up acting that he is a natural with a bright future.. The sky is the limit for him and we will be with he every step of the way.” As for Tyler’s journey with the role, he had this to say, “Upon taking the role of Chris, I didn’t realize the impact I could have upon an audience with portraying him. I remember after we performed at Goose Bay for the Labrador Regionals and looking out at the audience and seeing people crying and wiping their tears with huge smiles across their faces, realizing they too had experienced the emotional roller coaster the Borthwick Family had gone through, to know it was my doing. I quickly realized just how much Chris can impact people.
It was truly an eye opening experience for me and my friends. I encourage those who play the role of Chris Borthwick to be ready to change people’s lives. Don’t pick this play because it has a chance to win a festival, pick this play because it has the ability to change people’s lives! Winning is just icing on the cake.”
First Time Winner of Regionals! Now how do we raise $20,000?
This was the first year, in 41 years, that Cartwright has won the regional drama festival. It is also the first time in HGA history that the school has attended provincials. But attending provincials required raising $20,000 in just a couple of months in a community of 500 citizens and a school of 74 students and 9 teachers. As crazy as it sounds in this day and age, there are communities who still come together to make dreams possible for causes they believed in. There were raffles and throw a pie in the face of a Ponderosa Player or Community members. Yes, Even the Mayor! The coming together of the community seems commonplace in Cartwright because this same community welcomed home the Ponderosa Players with fireworks and hugs! It’s that kind of support that if every community could claim, there truly would be no child left behind. We want to extend a huge thank you to the parents, HGA, the community of Cartwright, and all of the amazing individuals and groups that helped make this experience possible. We were overwhelmed with all the support we received and the trip would not have happened without you all. Parent, Sandra Mugford confirmed the support of the communith for all students, “From a communities perspective we have often heard it takes a village to raise a child. There are no truer words for the community of Cartwright.. Our children are lifted up, supported and loved. Any child in this community knows they can go to any household if they need help or to make a phone call to their parents for a ride home. It’s absolutely amazing.”
And they were off to St. Johns!
They performed the first night of the three day festival as the final play of the evening but not before doing a radio interview with CBC. Another amazing feature of their performance was the announcement that parent, Sandy Mugford could Facebook Live the performance so all in the community could tune in as well as the playwright who lives in the US. The live video has been watched over 2000 times and there were as many as 115 viewers at one time watching live from all over the world. The world was watching as the final line was said and the theatre erupted into thunderous applause and a standing ovation. It was the only standing ovation of the night. There was no shortage of tears as the audience hugged each other and awaited greeting the cast.
So what? A Group of kids took a trip by plane. Big Deal!
Why spend so much money on the Arts and a program of 7 students? What could they have gained that was worth $20,000? Couldn’t the money have been spent to help more students? While these questions often are encountered by Arts’ Departments worldwide, one must look at how many the money really impacted. We have the 7 students, 1 teacher and 2 parents who attended. Add to that all those who watched the home performance. Add to that all the students who watched the performance at Regionals and Provincials plus the Judges and all who watched Facebook Live and all those who saw it and will tell someone else about it. Beginning to see the benefit of funding the ARTS? This experience has helped the cast realize their potential on stage. It has opened up doors to more serious theatre work and to perform more plays that handle serious topics. It has also inspired so many other students. Wanda Lee Mesher, another parent member whose son Marcus played Charlie and is the youngest member (Age 13) of the Ponderosa Players adds that Marcus has never looked back after being hesitant at first. ” This was Marcus’ first year in Drama. When he saw the auditions posted at school, he ran up to his older sister in the hall and said “Sis, should I do Drama??” And she asked him if he wanted to and he said yes, so she said “OK, well do it! Like many of the actors, the characters took some time to be brought to life. Marcus did find it hard at times, with his character, because he was supposed to laugh at Chris in the video and think he was funny. He knew there was nothing funny about it, and Miss had to remind him a few times that he was playing a character and that it was ok. I’m really proud of my boy and I’ve seen him grow and mature so much through this experience. I know this is just the beginning for him and I know he’ll be auditioning again next year!” and Marcus isn’t the only one who is showing a continued interest. Since returning from provincials, the younger students have been approaching Miss Piercey, expressing their excitement to join drama and even saying that they want to be actors/actresses when they grow up. This have been an amazing opportunity to inspire the youth in Cartwright to really give their all when it comes to their passions because they are achievable!
While at Provincials, the students were able to participate in numerous workshops, such as song writing, pacing, stage combat, and more! They were able to meet other youth all across the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and make new friends that will last a lifetime! They were also able to meet published playwrights, popular musicians in the St. John’s area, and see the province’s capital city as an artistic outlet. They got to participate in fun activities like lasertag, escape rooms, and a fun place called Axtion, where you can climb rock walls, and they even got to try new foods and restaurants that they normally wouldn’t be able to, like the Keg.
Overall, this experience has brought us closer together as a group. While we are sad that it is over, it really is just the beginning as these kids get to pass on the torch to the younger students. In addition, a huge thank-you goes out to Catherine Rhoden-Goguen for writing this play. We appreciate all of the support we received from her on this journey. We hope we have done justice to your play and the characters.
Listen to our Message
We just want to say that if anyone out there is struggling or battling suicide, please reach out for help. There is always someone willing to listen, even if it is one of the cast members! You are valued. You are worth it. So please, ask for help! #Theatre4Change
CBC Radio Interview with HGA
May I Have Your Attention, Please? Cast
Chris Borthwick – Tyler Mugford
Brent Borthwick – Aaron Dyson
Jill Borthwick – Kiana Dyson
Abby Holland – Heidi Pardy
Patty Borthwick – Claire Sainsbury
Keith Borthwick – Andrew Pardy-Paul
Charlie – Marcus Ward
Director – Miss Brittany Piercey
Best Dramatic Actor
So this is where the fairytale ends and since they spread their message well, all LIVE happily ever after!