Emily Smith

Future teacher role fit ‘bossy’ Langley teen perfectly

Saturday is the final chance to catch young Langley actor Natalie Hoogstra on stage in the Gallery 7 production of Schoolhouse.

Having the final curtain call corresponding with end of the school term has left a Grade 11 Credo Christian student scrambling.

Despite the stresses that have come with juggling her multiple responsibilities though, 16-year-old Natalie Hoogstra said she wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to do it all over again.

Hoogstra is playing Beryl Baptie in the current Gallery7 Theatre production of Schoolhouse, which closes Saturday night.

It wasn’t to difficult to balance all her responsibilities and obligations during the past two-plus-months of rehearsals for this Abbotsford-based production.

The oldest of four siblings was able to juggle school, homework, friends, chores, family and theatre.

“But the last couples weeks… especially theatre week, is when things got a little tough,” Hoogstra admitted, noting that as the school term neared its end today, teachers began piling on the homework.

“When you get off the school bus at 3:45 [p.m.] and have to leave to get to the theatre on time at 5:10, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for homework to get done, and group projects are especially hard,” she elaborated. “Not to mention not being at home to do chores, the lack of sleep, and even the lack of proper meals.

“But, it was okay, because when I got to the theatre, the smile didn’t come off my face,” she added, overjoyed to be on stage with a professional theatre group for the first time.

Hoogstra first took to the stage in Grade 5, when she played an elf in Elves and the Shoemaker during an after-school children’s production. In Grade 6 she was cast in the lead of her school play Twinderella, and by Grade 7, she was being asked to be a pickpocket in Oliver Twist.

She joined Gallery 7 last year – behind the scenes – with Around the World in 80 Days, and described that as an exciting experience. But admitted it left her “itching to get on stage.”

She auditioned, and much to her surprise, she was cast in this current G7 production of Schoolhouse, and said casting her in the role of Beryl was an ideal fit.

“When my friends watched my play, they said they laughed really hard just because when they watched me, they didn’t see me acting – they just saw me on stage, being myself. But I would like to disagree,” Hoogstra said, explaining that she’s playing the character of the future teacher and know-it-all.

As the elder of three sisters in real life, Hoogstra said playing the protective sister to Effa in the play wasn’t much of a stretch. But she noted that Beryl is “really good at math, and I’m not!”

And, maybe playing the know-it-all role wasn’t such a stretch for her after all.

“I guess I am the organized and controlled person in my friend group, maybe even a little bossy, but someone has to be right?” she added in jest.

Reiterating that while she can’t wipe the smile from her face throughout this production, Hoogstra’s friends and family have questioned what comes after the show.

“It’s all been rewarding. The whole, entire experience…. The people, the play itself, having my friends and family come to watch, it’s been so great…. It has literally been my everything over these past few months…. My friends joke about what I’ll be like.”

Hoogstra said of the Gallery 7 crew: “they can be assured that I will be involved with them in the upcoming years.”

Rural life unfolds in storyline

Set in 1938 in a one-room schoolhouse in the fictional town of Baker’s Creek in rural Canada, a young but precocious Melita Linton is appointed teacher of an endearing yet rambunctious group of children.

Quickly gaining the respect of her young charges, Linton is challenged by the arrival of a new student, a juvenile delinquent named Ewart, who was sent to the community after doing time in Battenville Training School.

Linton attempts to reach out to the young boy and struggles to help both the town and the young man move beyond their fears and insecurities.

Full of what Gallery 7’s artistic director Ken Hildebrandt calls poignancy, humour, and warmth, Schoolhouse celebrates both seeing the best in others and those incredible teachers who had a positive influence in students’ lives.

“I’m a real fan of playwright, Leanna Brodie,” Hildebrandt explained.

“She manages to tackle significant questions with warmth and with humour. She resists resorting to cynicism or judgement, and creates characters we care about and identify with. Schoolhouse is a great example of her balanced writing style.”

The play, which opened on April 8 and closes April 16, is performed by actors from Abbotsford and Langley. Directing this talented group of performers is Sarah Hu, who last directed the “well-received” production of The Hiding Place in 2014, Hildebrandt said.

“Schoolhouse is a beautiful play, filled with thought-provoking drama and heart-warming humour,” Hu said.

“(The play) inspires us to look beyond ourselves and ask, how can I make a difference in the life of a child?”

The director goes on to explain that one of the main themes in the play is compassion.

“It resonates with me because often I don’t know a person’s whole story. To me, [this theme] brings home one of my favourite sayings: seek first to understand before being understood,” Hu said.

Hoogstra described it as a play for everyone.

“There’s humour in it – I mean it’s about eight children – what isn’t funny about that? But also, the story holds so much compassion and hope.”

Playing the role of the bold and spirited Miss Melita Linton is Catrina Jackson, who last played Aouda in Around the World in 80 Days.

The troubled young student, Ewart, is played by Cody Friesen, who last performed on the Gallery 7 Theatre stage in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and directed last November’s production of Around the World in 80 Days.

Colonel Burnette, the community’s superintendent of schools, will be played by newcomer Blaine McDonald.

Rounding out the cast, and in some instances playing multiple characters, are Doriana Brewer, Michalya Cardow, Kenzie Hall, Kyle Herrewynen, Joshua Levesque, Megan Mackenzie, Isabella McDonald, Danielle Milette, MaryJane Sexton, Emily Smith, Bailey Tonn, and Matt Veenbaas.

Set design for Schoolhouse is by Reg Parks, costume design is by Andrea DeMeyer, lighting design is by Phil Miguel, sound design is by Ryan Scramstad and make-up design is by Victoria Hu.

Choreography is being handled by Cody Friesen and fight choreography is by Mike Kovac and Ryan Bolton.

Stage manager is Yvonne Spuls and the production photographer is Dianna Lewis.

Schoolhouse runs Friday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 16 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. at the Abbotsford Arts Centre, 2329 Crescent Way, Abbotsford.

Tickets can be purchased at House of James, 2743 Emerson St., Abbotsford (1-800-665-8828 or 604-852-3701) or at www.gallery7theatre.com.

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