Kids explore anti-bullying theme onstage

Tara Bradbury
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Musical ‘Honk!’ opens tonight in Bowring Park

Andrew Hepditch (centre) plays the ugly duckling in Best Kind Productions’ version of the musical “Honk!” running at the Cabot 500 Amphitheatre in Bowring Park.
— Photo by Tara Bradbury/The Telegram

It’s not easy being the ugly duckling, both metaphorically and onstage.

When you’re playing the lead role in a musical based on the classic Hans Christian Anderson tale, you’ve got to learn to project a range of emotions, many of them within a simple “honk!.”

“I have to give emotional layers to the honk,” explains 13-year-old Andrew Hepditch, demonstrating with a sad goose-like call.

Andrew will take to the stage in the Cabot 500 Amphitheatre at Bowring Park tonight, playing the ugly duckling in Best Kind Productions’ version of “Honk!” a musical, created in 1993 by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

A family-oriented show with an anti-bullying message, the musical is particularly relevant in modern times, explains director Kyle McDavid.

“Growing up, I dealt with a lot of bullying in school myself, personally, and it was never something that was really addressed or talked about much in the ’80s or early ’90s,” he says.

“Being a teacher, I think it’s amazing how much attention is brought to it now.”

“The very last lines of the last song in the show, the kids basically come out of character and turn the message to the audience, telling people that different is OK and it makes you a unique person. One of the recurring lines in the show is, ‘This duckyard would be so boring if we all looked the same.’ It’s a great message.”

Set on a farmyard, the play opens with mother duck Ida waiting for five eggs to hatch: four are typical shape and size, while one is big and orange and unlike anything the farm animals have ever seen before.

When the large egg hatches, the duckling looks nothing like his brothers and sisters, and doesn’t sound like them either: instead of quacking, he honks.

“The farmyard residents tease him and bully him because he’s different, and he ends up running away from home, and he meets various characters along the way, like an evil cat that wants to eat him and a wacky bullfrog that teaches him it isn’t important what’s on the outside, it’s important what’s on the inside,” McDavid says.

“Eventually, he starts to moult and he realizes he’s actually a swan, and he returns to the duckyard, where everyone reveres and apologizes and loves him in the end.”

The cast of “Honk!” ranges in age from nine to 16 (with the exception of McDavid’s five-year-old daughter, Annika, who makes a one-line cameo as a tadpole), and they’re all seasoned performers for their young age, having been hand-picked by McDavid after seeing them perform in various productions and festivals over the years.

Their costumes are contemporary and stylized: “Ugly” wears argyle knee-socks, a sweater vest and a hat with a propeller, while his siblings are dressed in matching overalls and orange wellies.

The cat, played by Mackenzie Drover, wears black spandex and a leather jacket, with black eyeliner.

Andrew, who’s going into Grade 8 in the fall, hopes kids in the audience will be both entertained and enlightened by the play.

“I want them to learn to never judge a book by its cover,” he says. “Even though someone may not be the prettiest ever, they can have a good heart.”

“Honk!” opens tonight and runs until Sunday, with showtime at

7 p.m. each night.

There will be additional 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. The show runs again Aug. 22 and 23 at 7 p.m.

Admission is a suggested minimum of $10, and 25 per cent of all admission proceeds will be donated to Vanier Elementary School’s Roots of Empathy and Project Peace programs, supporting anti-bullying efforts.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Vanier Elementary School

Geographic location: Bowring Park

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