Switching it up

Krysta Carroll
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Celtic Sprit Dancers preparing for annual performance

Joel Burke (left) and Jenna Bragg read lines in preparation for the Celtic Spirit Dancers production of “Piano Man” which will hit the stage at the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts Feb. 2-4.— Photos by Krysta Colbourne/The Advertiser

Last year they wanted to break free, and this year, they will be. The Celtic Spirit Dancers are busy preparing for their upcoming show, “Piano Man,” which will take place at the Gordon Pinsent Centre for the Arts three nights — Feb. 2-4.

After a successful “I Want To Break Free” production last year, Sara Sheehan, the schools’ director, decided to changes it up this year compared to previous years.

“In previous years, we had one or two main dancers that were the main actors and then the other classes of dancers used to just do one dancing piece within the show,” Sheehan said.

“This year I decided I would write mini-scripts for all of the students so that all of my dancers got an equal part.”

But in order to get the scripts to come together into a main story line, she said, she had actress Jenna Bragg and actor Joel Burke to tie all of the scripts together into one main idea.

And the script was actually formed out of Sheehan’s own writer’s block.

“I thought to myself, ‘How many times can you write a show about Ireland, or going to Ireland, or dreaming about going to Ireland?’” Sheehan said.

“I wanted to do something different with the little kids other than just teach them their Irish dance piece because they’ll always continue to work on their skills in Irish dancing, but I wanted to develop more of their stage performance, especially their self confidence to be able to actually publicly speak. I thought that this was a great way of changing it up a little bit, removing the whole Ireland theme, and then allowing all the little kids to be able to have an equal part in the whole speaking on stage and stage presence.”

Also, she added, the younger dancers always admired the older dancers. Last year, they all wanted to be like Kate Newell and Cecilia Oxford, who were the main actors in “I Want To Break Free.”

“This year, they are getting the opportunity to do exactly what Kate and Cecilia were doing last year,” Sheehan said.

The script follows Jenny, played by Bragg, who is a writer with severe writer’s block.

She has a time frame to get a story written and she has no idea what she wants to write about.

So she wanders into the local piano bar hoping that the piano man, Bill, who is played by Burke, is able to give her a few story ideas for her script.

“That’s where all of the little dances and all of my individual classes of dancers enter into the show itself,” Sheehan said.

“For every story idea that Bill gives Jenny for her main script, the dancers are actually acting that out.”

She is getting her story ideas from Bill, but what she doesn’t count on is encountering a mystery man, who is a customer at the bar, Sheehan went on to explain.

“The story line is tied together in that this mystery man actually ends up changing the whole future for Jenny,” Sheehan said.

“So at the end, she finds out who the mystery man is and it changes her whole course for her career and everything else.”

The music for the performance comes mostly out of the 1980s, with some 1970s music, like “Heartbreaker.”

All the music is live, with a live band, singers, and a five-piece chorus.

Burke, besides playing the role of piano man, is also playing the piano on stage, and is also the musical director for the band.

With Joel on piano, Terry Burke on bass, Brad Saunders on lead guitar, Dave Stoodley on guitar and Bruce Bishop on drums, the five-piece band is complete.

Joel said the band has been practising since October, and it is going very well.

“We’ve been flat out ever since with that stuff,” he said, adding he was recruited to play piano for the dancers in last year’s production and decided this year to take on a bigger role — including Bill, and what he said will be an “attempt” at dancing.

He added getting into character is not much of a challenge for this one.

“It’s not too hard really. Because I am a piano

player anyways I can just kind of be myself, really,” he said.

“It’s not a stretch for me to be the guy sitting at the piano talking to people because I have kind of been in that role as an actual person.”

Both main actors will be singing, along with Chris Langdon, who is the other master script actor.

There are upwards of 80 people involved in the production, and Sheehan said all are dedicated to a stellar performance.

“I can honestly say that the kids that I have who have joined my dance school honestly want to be there,” she said.

“They are loving it, and that makes a huge difference.”

“Piano Man” is the last fundraising effort by the group, who will head to Ireland April 1 for the World Irish Dancing Championship.

Once they get all of their expenses paid, which includes the Arts and Culture Centre and a lot of other hidden expenses, the remainder of the funds will go towards the Ireland trip, Sheehan said.

“They are super pumped about that, and they work hard for it,” Sheehan said, adding they have been doing a lot of fundraising for the trip.

Tickets for the show are on sale at the local box office for $16 each.

“Which is a steal for what you are going to get in terms of the whole production,” Sheehan said.

“So people want to get in there and get their tickets fairly quickly.”

The Advertiser

Organizations: Piano Man, Gordon Pinsent Centre

Geographic location: Ireland

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