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Focus 2021 survives and thrives during pandemic

The Focus Festival of the Arts has been laying tracks for 32 years. The festival is always a group endeavour, but the 2021 edition has been executed with a level of collaboration that has taken on new meaning.
The rehearsal process, which began in February, was, not surprisingly, diverted by various pandemic-related eddies and tributaries, but by the time filming began on April 5, we were meandering hopefully towards the open sea – until, that is, the lockdown sent us back to dry dock!
Despite the many setbacks, our student performers answered the challenges with a resounding “yes” and pulled off what they never would have attempted and couldn’t have imagined in order to get Focus ’21 on the boards this year.
Let me give you just one example. Grade 11 actor, Fynn McNolty, who plays the title role in Dear Evan Hansen, was forced into isolation the day before filming was scheduled for his play. We decided to shoot the entire musical using a body double for the wide and reverse over-the-shoulder shots, then film Fynn’s medium and close-ups once he was free to roam again and sew him into the edit during post-production.
This meant that Fynn had to play all his scenes without any other actors on set, and his stand-in, Richard Lurie, a Grade 9 boarder, needed to learn the lead role at record speed. In a curious coincidence, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, it turns out that Fynn and Richard’s grandfathers, Jim Wyse ’57 and Peter Ketchum ’56, were great chums at SAC – and now, more than 60 years later, Peter’s grandson quite literally had Jim’s grandson’s back!
Like the last-minute adjustments that had to be made in all of the other shows, it was a feat born out of necessity but suffused with artistic purpose. This year’s crop of young actors shouldered imaginary boulders and fought alongside imaginary bears to get their plays to the finish line, and in so doing rose to new creative heights, demonstrating not just that the show must go on but that there’s joy in its continuance, even in the most surreal of times.
Where are the medals for these brave young theatre artists? Oh no, don’t tell me I forgot to order the medals!
Story by William Scoular
Director of Drama and Film
St. Andrew's College
15800 Yonge Street, Aurora, ON L4G 3H7 Canada
Tel: 905-727-3178