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Langford Christmas Show Out ‘PACE’ the Magic this Season

Langford Christmas Show Out ‘PACE’ the Magic this Season

Tradition is a big part of Christmas celebrations.

In Langford, one of those traditions revolves around a singularly fantastic program that allows the young people of the community to come together in celebration to share their love of the season with the community through music and dance.

They are the cast of the PACE program, and their Christmas concert has become a central part of Christmas celebrations for hundreds.

The PACE program was created by Sandra Webster Worthy, a diminutive powerhouse whose showbusiness chops have allowed her to create a one-of-a-kind program of performing art in the community.

The program operates as an academy, drawing participants from four separate school divisions. The bulk of the participants, however, come from the Sooke School District.

The program currently has 267 young people in the cast, ranging from wee “littles” whose rendition of “All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth” is always a showstopper to the senior cast of Grade 12 students, whose singing and dance routines are truly spectacular. Several cast members have already set their sights on a career in performing arts and, judging from what they show on stage, they have a good chance..

“There’s a mentorship quality to the program in which the older performers take the younger ones under their wing. There’s a sort of a family element to the program that, I think, contributes to its success,” said Webster Worthy.

The program has changed over the years, having started in 1986 with a far more limited show format that employed professional actors in the principal roles of shows like “Oliver”.

After five years of employing that model, Webster Worthy made a fundamental change, taking the program from performances at the McPherson Theatre to the Isabelle Reader Theatre in Spencer Middle School.

“Even after we moved to the school theatre, we initially had a core of professionals working with the young people on stage. But it became apparent that we could do it without any professionals as the cast itself was developing skills in music, acting and dance,” Webster Worthy said.

That’s not to say that the PACE cast doesn’t have expert guidance as they prepare for their shows. Webster Worthy has an extensive background in theatre and performing arts and her two primary (volunteer) assistants are no less qualified.

Jennifer Sanders, who heads up the choreography for the shows, has been dancing professionally since she was 12 years old and was touring Europe as a dancer by the time she was 14. She is a provincial dance adjudicator.

Sarah Wilson, in charge of the music in the shows, is an examiner and adjudicator for the Conservatory of Music and has performed with orchestras in Europe. She also has a teaching degree.

“They get the maximum out of the kids because they know what they are doing. They manage to get 100 per cent out of our cast,” Webster Worthy said.

In addition, the shows employ more than 50 community volunteers to help with everything from ticketing to wardrobe.

In the end, of course, it’s the student performers who are at the heart of the shows.

The Christmas shows and another series of performances in the spring, bring the cast together in a musical revue format that allows every member of the cast the opportunity to shine. They sing, dance, and crack jokes with a confidence rarely seen in an amateur production. Their shows inevitably end with standing ovations and an audience that wants to see more.

But, the process isn’t always easy.

“You deal with different confidence levels, different strengths … and it’s always changing. The truth is that we plant the seeds with these kids, and you never know what is going to grow. But they do grow and develop. It’s amazing to watch,” Webster Worthy said.

“It comes as a result of their hard work, these young people spend upwards of 300 hours a year practicing and performing and will do up to 20 shows a year. Even so, they come out and give their all, every time.”

Webster Worthy notes that some of the graduates or the program will go on to careers in performing arts (her son, Calum, started in PACE and went on to a professional career as an actor, writer and producer) but for many, the experience they gain will have other, lasting, benefits.

“I’ve had a lot of PACE graduates come back and tell me that they couldn’t do what they do in their job if not for PACE. The confidence they gained, the teamworking skills … those are things that they carry with them for life,” Webster Worthy said.

The PACE program has had its challenges over the years.

For example, the Isabell Reader Theatre was, for many years, in need of renovations, but much of that was resolved in 2019 when new seats and stage were installed. The sound system also needed an upgrade, but an anonymous donor provided PACE with a state-of-the-art soundboard.

“The lights continue to be a challenge but we’re working on that,” said Webster Worthy, whose contacts within the theatre community have already scored some replacement lighting at discounted prices.

The biggest challenge came during the COVID years when live performances were impossible.

“We looked at it and said that we could either throw up our arms and complain, or we could do something about it,” Webster Worthy recalled. “I have a background in film, so we practiced outside while socially distancing, filmed the performances and put it all online.”

That ability to pivot and overcome adversity was another lesson that was not lost on the young performers.

“In the end, PACE is a part of the community that makes for stronger, more confident kids and provides fabulous entertainment for everyone,” Webster Worthy observed.

The Christmas PACE shows take place on Dec.8 and 9, at 7 p.m. at the Isabelle Reader Theatre. Some tickets are still available and can be purchased at the door.

Dates for the spring show have not yet been announced.

More information on the PACE Academy can be obtained by contacting the Sooke School Division 62.

Langford Christmas show out ‘PACE’ the magic this season – Goldstream News Gazette (goldstreamgazette.com)

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