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Musical a unique experience for Okotoks high school students

Holy Trinity Academy performing arts students have taken on the timeless musical Once on This Island.

Gabe Carvalho had his work cut out for him after being selected for a major role in his high school musical.

The Holy Trinity Academy Grade 12 performing arts student had no musical experience when he was selected to play the father of the main character in Once on This Island the Musical.

“This is the first musical I’ve been in so there is some anxiety that comes with that, just working through that,” said Carvalho. “You don’t really have much speaking dialogue so you need to put your character into your singing lines. You need to act while you’re singing the lines to try to convey as much emotion as you can while still keeping the notes that you’re supposed to sing.”

In addition to singing as part of the ensemble, Carvalho also had to take on some solos during the 80-minute performance.

“I’m definitely more comfortable when I’m singing with other people,” he said. “It’s just something I’ve been working on throughout the process, just getting more comfortable when I’m doing it alone.”

Performing arts teacher Wendy Doerksen said Once on This Island provides a timeless story in an ensemble production where storytellers tell folk tales.

“It’s a retelling of The Little Mermaid in Caribbean style on the island of Haiti,” she said. “It’s about love and acceptance. Even though people are separated by class and poverty, they still find this connection. It’s a beautiful story. It really resonates with people and our connection to others regardless of where we’re from.”

Performances run March 12-21 at 7 p.m. with a matinee March 21 at 2 p.m. in the school’s St. Raphael Theatre.

Doerksen said the cast, crew and administration worked hard to portray the idea of being on an island.

“We wanted this island feel and I think we captured that,” she said. “The music has an island feel with lots of percussion. It’s people coming together to tell this girl’s story and the story unfolds in this setting.

What makes this play unique to the school’s performing arts department, said Doerksen, is the entire cast is on stage throughout most of the play.

The play has 36 cast members and an eight-member pit band under the musical direction of Martin Kennedy.

“There’s music the entire show, the music doesn’t stop,” said Doerksen. “There’s a lot of singing.”

Grade 12 student Isabelle Kennett has found being part of the pit band a welcome challenge. She plays the flute and piccolo.

“It is a bit tough because it’s different music than what we usually play in band class, but it’s fun to learn,” she said. “We definitely have a lot of dynamics in the music where we have to play loud and then quiet when there’s dialogue. It’s difficult on the flute because the flute is a very small instrument so it’s hard to play dynamics on it.”

Working with a smaller group is also something new to Kennett.

“It’s super interesting working in a very small ensemble,” she said. “I’m used to being part of a bigger group.”

One of the biggest challenges is playing throughout most of the 80-minute play, said Kennett. In some cases the musicians play solo.

With the pit band playing such a large role in the musical, Grade 12 student Bryanna Cuthill faced some challenges despite her experience in drama productions. Cuthill plays the main character, Timoune.

“The trickiest thing is, because the pit band is playing the whole time, our dialogue has to be lined up so you can’t just go off into your own monologue with your own timing,” she said. “You have to hit certain beats and memorize that.”

Although Cuthill plays the main character, it’s a different experience than other most plays, she said.

“It’s a very ensemble-based show where the whole cast is on stage,” she said. “Timoune is one of the main storytellers but there’s an equal amount of stuff going.”

Despite the challenges, Cuthill, who plans to pursue musical theatre in post-secondary school, said she’s been enjoying the experience.

“I love how you can turn to song to try to get your point across,” she said. “I like how it bridges from the music side of things to the acting side of things and bringing it together to make it more powerful.”

Tickets to see Once on This Island the Musical cost $18 for adults and $12 for students and can be purchased at

Tammy Rollie,


Tammy Rollie

About the Author: Tammy Rollie

Tammy Rollie is a staff reporter at and the Western Wheel newspaper, focusing on Wheel's West, local arts and culture and entertainment. For story tips contact
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