If you’re looking for the faces of the Capitol Theatre’s summer youth program, you will find the past, present and future with Oscar Derkx and Malaika Horswill.
On Thursday the young director and musical director will watch 18 days of hard work unfold when the curtain rises on The Pajama Game.
“The people that come and watch the show, I hope they feel a huge amount of community pride for a the amazing kids that are raised here,” says the 22-year-old Derkx, who is taking his first crack at directing the 12 to 19 year old actors. “It’s an honour to be a part of it… it truly is.”
Though charged with the daunting task of preparing young actors — some with little or no experience — for their moment in the summer spotlight is no easy job, it’s a setting Derkx is pretty comfortable being in.
When he was 12, Derkx first hit the Capitol summer stage in Annie. He was an orphan and part of the chorus, but most importantly was sold on how to spend the first month of his summer break.
“That was my transformation into a huge musical theatre geek,” he laughs.
Derkx went on to do six summer youth shows, including major roles in Annie Get Your Gun (Tommy) and Les Miserables (Marius). He has also been an assistant director on two summer productions under local theatre veterans Heather Shippitt, Geoff Burns and Allison Girvan.
“I am surprised how much I can draw from my years of being a participant,” says Derkx, who just finished his second year of a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “I was more ready for this job than I thought going into it.”
Horswill took a similar path to her summer post as The Pajama Game musical director.
Horswill’s first taste of summer theatre was also in Annie where she was in the chorus with Derkx when she was 13. Horswill’s singing and acting talents were put on full display two years later when she gave a powerhouse performance as Wendy in Peter Pan. Horswill appeared in a seven shows as a cast member (including playing Eponine in Les Miserables), spent a summer as assistant stage director and another summer as assistant musical director.
“I feel very lucky and my life has been enriched by those nine years in the summer theatre,” says the 23-year-old Horswill, who is working on a degree in education at the University of Alberta. “Those summers were a big part of my growing up and my musical education.”
By this time in the storyline, it’s probably important to mention that Derkx and Horswill are also a couple. Their love blossomed just before Les Miserables and has been going strong ever since.
“This program helped bring us together,” says Horswill.
When the opportunity to direct the summer program back in their hometown presented itself, they both jumped at the chance to work together mentoring an entire new generation of summer drama kids.
“They bring such energy,” says Horswill, who is also getting help from choreographer Lynette Lightfoot and set designer Murray Kimber. “Last year was the first time I actually watched a show, not having anything to do with it. It’s mind-blowing when you have not been part of the process to see these young people doing something that is beyond what you could ever expect. The energy they put out and their talents make this a professional level production.”
They chose The Pajama Game because of the opportunity to get the entire cast of 30-plus involved.
“The overall entertainment of this piece is huge,” says Derkx.
“It’s really a show,” adds Horswill. “Sometimes it’s more about the development of the characters and these deep ideas. This one is just fun… there is romance and dancing and great music. It all comes together in this vastly entertaining piece.”
The Pajama Game is a musical comedy that launched the musical career of Bob Fosse and has won numerous Tony Awards including Best Musical in 1955 and Best Revival of a Musical in 2006. The story deals with labour troubles in a pajama factory where work demands for a seven-and-a-half per cent raise are going unheeded. In the midst of this ordeal, love blossoms between Babe (the grievance committee head) and Sid (the new factory superintendant).
“It’s a great opportunity to watch these young performers blossom and shine on stage,” says Derkx. “That is the magic of the summer program for sure.”
Still so early in their own careers, both Derkx and Horswill plan on pursuing theatre and music after they graduate from university.
“I am going to keep doing it because I love it,” said Derkx. “It’s hard, but it’s worth all of the challenges. In fact that is why I like it, for the challenge.”
Though Horswill hopes to pursue the education side of theatre and music, she’s not ruling out a future appearance in a show with Derkx.
“Our master plan is to actually be performing on Broadway together,” laughs Horswill, who sings with the acclaimed choir Kokopelli in Edmonton.
And though their lives will undoubtedly be filled with plenty of excitement in the coming years, they have not ruled out an eventual return to their hometown.
“I want to have kids here and put them through the summer program… I think that would be pretty amazing,” says Derkx.
The comment brings laughter to the Capitol’s green room.
“Not anytime soon,” smiles Horswill.
The Pajama Game runs Thursday to Saturday. Tickets are available at the Capitol Theatre box office, by phoning 250-352-6363 or online at capitoltheatre.bc.ca.