Academy shares the meaning of Christmas in staging O. Henry’s ‘The Gift of the Magi’

It was a full-fledged Broadway production Thursday evening as more than 100 students of St. Maarten Academy brought home the true meaning of Christmas in song, dance, and acting at the Philipsburg Cultural Centre through O. Henry’s romantic comedy, ‘The Gift of the Magi”.

Set during the early 1900s in New York, the play told the story of a young married couple, Della (played by Krystal Philbert) and Jim (Jahmar Stewart), who found themselves awaiting their first Christmas without money to buy each other fancy gifts. They strategized and, in a strange twist of fate, ended up finding each other the perfect gifts, but at an unexpected cost.

During the performance, the sold-out audience erupted into thunderous applauses several times as the young scholars underscored the main message of the play that Christmas should be about giving the gift of love and not about material things.

The story, narrated in parts by second formers Fadifa Lovell, Evelyne Ilceus, John Monlouis, Diangeli Arrindell, Jesslyn Langlais, Magalie Philander, Shamida George, Kisshan Zaegers, Amard Edward, Dominick Collins, Juliette Duvillage, Lyan Ali, Skyla Davis, and Gabrielle Blake, was directed by the school’s Drama teacher, Ms. Joanna Trim.

Trim was commended for working assiduously with 92 second formers and other talented students from the upper levels and the school’s daycare centre for the past two months to pull off the insurmountable feat. She was ably assisted by CAPE Year 2 student, Aimee Monchery, who put her Grade 1 with distinction earned at the 2017 Music CSEC examinations to good use. Monchery, who plans to follow her musical dreams after earning her Associate degree at Academy, masterfully prepared the entire cast to perform a myriad of musical ensembles. This saw rising songbirds such as Nakida Eliodore and Giselle Whinfield blending their angelic soprano voices to create beautiful harmony with their peers.

Principal, drs. Tallulah Baly-Vanterpool lauded the production, the first of its kind for the school, as a way of promoting and supporting academic excellence in the context of addressing the needs and potential of the whole child.

“Four years ago, we expanded the scope of our offerings in the expressive arts curriculum to include music and dance (as part of the Theatre Arts program), at the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) level, and now drama is the latest addition,” she further explained.

St. Maarten Academy was the first school on the island to introduce Music at the regional CXC examinations and has placed in the top ten at each sitting ever since. Academy copped the number one spot in the region in 2017 and continues to embrace the philosophy that students can realize their artistic dreams while pursuing academic careers.

At the end of the production, Baly-Vanterpool joined the young scholars on stage and challenged them to pursue Theatre Arts at CXC when they get to Form 5 in the next three years. Their involvement in the play, which served as a term grade for Drama, provided a solid foundation in understanding the inner workings of theatre and what it takes to make a production successful.

Trim said she was elated to work with the group of students, as they have helped her to achieve one of her dreams. She was very appreciative to the board of the Foundation for Academic and Vocational Education (FAVE), under which Academy falls, as well as the Management Team, for providing “an enabling environment for theatre arts…and for being resolute in their belief that the artist and his/ her craft has a coveted place and plays an important role in shaping the minds and lives of the global citizens we teach.”

She thanked the school’s counsellors and her other colleagues who assisted her in supervising the students during their rehearsals. The educator underscored that it took many persons and entities to stage the play, as Ms. Arlene Halley of the National Institute of the Arts (NIA) stepped in to choreograph the closing dance by Jim and Della. NIA also assisted with some costumes, thereby allowing patrons to be greeted by smartly dressed “elves”. The director and staff of the Cultural Centre also jumped onboard with the production by allowing the school to rehearse at the location to acclimatize the novice actors to the stage setting. She also extends her gratitude and appreciation to the corporate sponsors – the Windward Island Bank, Motorworld, Beautylicious, TeLEM, Super Plaza and True Value who all contributed in various ways to making the show a success.

Trim said she felt that the goal of the production was achieved, since many students sacrificed their time, learned to work together, adjusted attitudes, and put aside their differences to make the play a success. By the end of the production, she said many students were able to relate to the sacrifices made by others in their own lives, including their parents, to ensure that they (the students) did not go without, which was the main message of “The Gift of the Magi”.

“To my cast and crew– the journey was long and painstaking, marred with bloodshot eyes and sleepless nights, anxious parents and nervous students, but with a determination like Della’s we were resolute in our sacrifices and belief that we will share O. Henry’s story about the importance of the gift of love this Christmas. Congratulations to our students and parents for their unwavering support during our first theatrical performance,” Trim offered.

The set, which depicted the home of Della and Jim, as well as a New York shopping centre with a shoe store, jewellery establishment, and hair store, was designed by Trim and built by Randolph ‘Scotty’ Scott. For the next production, Academy hopes to work collaboratively with the Charlotte Brookson Academy of the Performance Arts to stage Aladdin.