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Teach the children well

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Leading the charge: TJ Armand, Executive Director of the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts brought such high-profile acts as Chaka Khan and The Manhattan Transfer to our shores but entertainment wasn’t its only aim, equally important was the festival’s goal of nurturing Bermuda’s next generation of talent.

T.J. Armand, the festival’s executive director, spoke with Lifestyle about the outreach opportunities offered to young people this year.

Q: What’s the beauty of the Festival’s outreach programme?

A: Whether it’s witnessing a young, emerging songwriting talent like Hana Bushara through Heather Nova’s student outreach programme, or discovering new talent such as Massassi Maxwell-Smith as the winner of our On Stage competition, the talented youth of Bermuda is our top priority. It’s a commitment we make every year to our audience, sponsors and patrons and it’s a major responsibility.

Q: What were some of the highlights this year?

A: One thousand students signed up for our outreach sessions. I personally attended every session with our outreach and volunteer manager, Molly Johnson, and I can honestly say they were all inspirational.

There’s still ringing in my ear of the screaming students at The Amazing Bubble Man outreach session where he playfully demonstrated his “bubbleology” techniques.

Also, the sold-out second annual On Stage competition truly became a major tour de force with judges Gita Blakeney Saltus, Sheila Smith and Heather Nova; Robert Edwards of Wall Street Band skilfully coached these talented students to help bring them to another level.

I also have to mention the interactive aspects of these programmes, where the students learnt improvisation techniques from the cast of Broadway’s Next Hit Musical, they danced with the Taylor 2 Dance company, they received showbusiness guidelines from Kirsten Cairns, [the stage director], who was so informative and inspirational.

The Queen’s Six shared insights on vocal techniques and Frisson ensemble gave an incredible workshop on chamber music; drama workshops were also amazing.

Q: What did the students get out of it?

A: I believe inspiration to pursue more. When I was a student, outreach activities were the only opportunities to experience a behind-the-scenes look at performing arts, and meet the artists.

The interactive aspect of these sessions takes the dream and puts it in a realistic perspective.

Through these programmes, students hear the stories of the artists, understand the hard work involved for high-level proficiency in performing arts and also find out more about the challenges of the business.

Q: What has been the response from the students?

A: We have received a lot of letters, all unique experiences with one thing in common: they were inspired. A great example would be the plays.

Expert drama teachers like Patricia Nesbitt from CedarBridge Academy attended our student outreach sessions with her students involving three plays: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Nina Simone Four Women and Master Class.

We also provided free tickets to all participating students to see the actual festival performances along with the free student outreach sessions.

The response was phenomenal and life changing for those students who will pursue a career and become the next Nicholas Christopher, Heather Nova, Rebecca Faulkenberry, etc.

Q: Have you heard of any success stories involving students who have participated?

A: Rebecca Faulkenberry and Heather Nova always mention the Festival’s influence and I’ve also spoken with Nicholas Christopher who had mentioned that the first concert he attended was at a Festival event at City Hall.

If we can continue to be the bridge between the dream and the achievement, we’ve done our job.

Our present will become our future sooner than we think, therefore student outreach is a constant investment in the youth.

The Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts ran January 19 through March 9, at locations across the island

Winning notes: Judges Heather Nova, Gita Blakeney Saltus and Sheila Smith flank Massassi Maxwell-Smith, who took top place in the second Bermuda Festival On Stage Competition (Photograph supplied)
Hana Bushara playing the classical guitar
Robert Edwards of the Wall Street Band served as coach in the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts’ On Stage competition
Singer Gita Blakeney Saltus was a judge in the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts’ On Stage competition