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By Constance Scrafield
Theatre Orangeville is thrilled to announce Elisabeth DuBois as the new director of the Theatre Orangeville Youth Singers (TOYS). She is getting them ready for a concert in late May.
To learn about the offer and lots about Elisabeth DuBois herself, the Citizen interviewed two other people, Joy Bell, the founding member of TOYS and David Nairn.
The story opens, as Mr. Nairn related, "She was my darling elf [from her early days with TOYS and her role in The Giant's Garden]. It lies with me completely. We were completely hamstrung by Covid-19, impossible to bring 30/40 kids together all that time."
Once Covid protocols were clear again to re-establish TOYS, Mr. Nairn said, "We cast about for quite some time for a director. We were hosting a Teacher's Appreciations Night. Apparently, Elisabeth wasn't coming and at the last moment, she came out."
Like a perfect memory, "I was standing there, and she came up the stairs, and I suddenly thought, of course!
"We were sort of standing around and I said, 'Would you like to be the director of TOYS?' And her eyes were as big as saucers and we just agreed on the spot. I came away extremely excited but she had to keep it secret, only telling Mrs. Bell."
Welcoming children to audition before and beginning rehearsals in January, Ms. DuBois told the Citizen, "There are 13 students at the moment, from grade eight to 10. A lot of them have joined because they already like singing. Before, we had a senior choir and a junior choir so the older ones helped pushed the younger ones."
She explained that the concert at the end of May ends this season for TOYS, which usually starts in September, commenting, "Opening part way through the season, kids were already in other activities.
"When David and I were talking about it, I told him, I am here and I love TOYS and you're not going to get anyone more qualified."
The truth is, music was a big part of Ms. DuBois' early life.
Her father, Mark DuBois, is an international opera star. She told us she sang at the church when she was four, recalling, "My dad was doing [the opera] Samson, and I had learned one of the songs, one of the little ballads. I was singing it around the house and he decided to put me in front of the church one Sunday."
When she joined TOYS, she was six. Joy Bell and Joan Borden were joint directors of the junior and senior parts of TOYS.
"What with my dad being who he is, singing was just what I did and I stayed with TOYS until Joy and Joan retired," she said, briefly returning when Pam Demetriou did Glee with the choir.
Ms. DuBois' 16 years with TOYS matters to her. What means the most to her is trying to carry on their legacy.
Yet, "I know it has to be my version of TOYS, bringing that sparkle. There's such a warm feeling when you do this," she said.
Not only singing at concerts with Mark DuBois and his Mark DuBois Studio Singers at Roy Thompson, the Living Arts Centre Mississauga and other venues but also within Theatre Orangeville productions. As a child, Ms. DuBois acted in Kringle's Window as an elf and in The Giant's Garden musical in 2007. She performed in another Christmas show, 'Twas.
Ms. DuBois commented, "Garden was very popular. They put up the disco ball for that show, and it's been there ever since. TOYS was also in it. Everything about the show was a bigger production than in other years.
"Dad and I have been working together," she said. "[The two of us] sang at the 'Twas [the Night] Gala too."
With two Batchelor's degrees in Music Education from the University of Toronto and Western University, Ms. DuBois is currently a full-time supply teacher.
Her ambition is to bring music as a children's choir and have "that part of the arts back in town. There is always a need for a children's choir. It all comes down to the person. I had an epiphany – the kids wanted to audition for a solo, and they all sang this little passage before each other."
That small progress to self-confidence was thrilling: "Being able to allow that confidence to sing in front of others. That was lost for kids who have been so isolated and don't know what it's like to perform in front of others watching them. In a few short weeks, those kids were able to have courage like that. It pushed them to ask, 'Is there going to be a solo in this song'," Ms. DuBois said.
They have started from scratch; came from completely nothing to this.
Elated, she commented, "I feel like I'm contributing to society right now. Teaching them songs but to want to sing solos – that little bit of passion and confidence."
As a singer, Ms. DuBois knows how vulnerable it feels to sing in front of people. Now, she has kids in grade three who are singing for kids in grade eight.
She admitted, "I show up to rehearsal a little bit nervous and I go home so happy. Once we start staging and the kids see how it's going to go, just being a choir. I want them to feel that I want them to come back."
Joy Bell is "just over the moon. When she got the news she called me... So, we went out for dinner and she spilled the beans. I was so thrilled."
Mrs. Bell knows about her passion for music and people. "Elisabeth was the youngest TOYS to ever audition; she was seven. Being there with Joan until she was 11 and then she came to me."
She remarked, "She's very modest too; she never said it's all about me; she's such a loving soul. We're lucky that our paths have crossed."
From Mr. Nairn, "There's a filing cabinet full of music that Joy Bell left. The kids love Elisabeth, somebody that grew up with TOYS. She grew up with us, as she established her career."
Smiling over the telephone, "This was happenstance; to be a part of that dream; it's so humbling. The entire community is responsible for that dream. It's because the community supports TOV, this story has happened."
Historically, TOYS has always been the very first program for Theatre Orangeville. The initial artistic director, Jim Betts, passionately wanted this for his children and others.
"What better way than a children's choir and TOV and TOYS were born more or less at the same time," Mr. Nairn related. "It's always been a performance choir and never a competition choir. They audition but it's about where we place them. When they're ready to sing a solo, it's about confidence. Kids who want to sing don't know if they can sing; then they learn to sing."
Many of the TOYS choir have gone on to study with Mr. DuBois or Ms. Demetriou, and that's always been at the heart of TOYS.
David Nairn was firm about one matter: "There never will be a child who will be turned away because of means. A lot of the younger kids are coming."
He said, "TOYS is the bedrock of the youth programs in the theatre. Now that we're bringing it back with Elisabeth, these kids can go home and say, 'Here's somebody who started at my age.' That's an inspiring story. She serves as inspiration for young people."
Said Elisabeth DuBois, "When I realized that this TOYS offer was really happening – this was a dream come true – like a second career that I will keep on for a long time."
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