Forest fires, totem poles and Emily Carr

Rosemont elementary presented in-the-round production celebrating BC artist.

Rosemont elementary students performed A Forest Palette last week

Rosemont elementary students performed A Forest Palette last week

The gymnasium lights flicker-flashed like lightning and kindergarten students swept around the gymnasium with fiery wristbands during last week’s production of A Forest Palette at Rosemont elementary. The simulated forest fire was only one highlight from the show, which celebrated the life and work of Emily Carr.

“This project started with an inquiry into First Nations and how they use and enjoy the forest,” principal Tim Mushumanski told the Star.

“That led us into studying trees and down a meandering path that eventually led to Emily Carr and her work in documenting and preserving the culture and history of the indigenous peoples.”

The in-the-round performance featured solo performances from a number of students, with Lily Linnen and Jocelyn Mushumanski sharing the title role and Waylon Dickson appearing as curator Eric Brown.

There was a ceremonial totem pole-raising, student-created musical soundscapes, and visual art on the surrounding walls.

“I love how we surrounded the kids,” said Mushumanski. “It was very much like a campfire setting.”

Mushumanski was thrilled that Grades 4 and 5 students took on mentorship roles with the younger grades. He said Linnen in particular stood out.

“Lily is our tour de force in the school. She could basically step into a teaching role at this point. She knows what to do, she’s good at motivating the kids and as Emily Carr she was a natural fit.”

When it was learned Linnen would be unavailable for one performance, Mushumanski’s daughter auditioned and landed the part. Seeing her onstage filled him fatherly pride.

“I know she was nervous but once I saw her up there it was like ‘holy cow.’ That was even better than I expected it to be.”

During the rehearsal process, students worked with artist Heather Dean and delved into Carr’s life.

They studied her paintings and heard her stories, then worked with composer Scott Godin to set their Carr-inspired poetry to music.

Finally, local musical director Kathleen Neudorf came in to help them with the finishing touches.

“Those three put in an enormous amount of work leading into this. They were here six or seven hours a day,” said Mushumanski, noting that none of the three have children enrolled at Rosemont. “We’re so thankful for all the time and energy they put into our students.”

The show incorporated text from Carr’s journal, spoken word pieces and dramatic re-enactments of her life. In the student-written poem “A New Forest Comes to Life,” included in the program, the students describe the process of a forest reviving post-conflagration.

“A slow transformation begins/Parachutes of seeds blow in on the wind/settled on the soil/moistened by rain/warmed by the sun,” it begins, going on to describe how “spears of bright colour reach upward.”

Then things begin to grow.

“Huckleberries, fireweed and grasses/Baby trees set their roots/A wolf can hunt again/A new forest comes to life, a new forest comes to life!”