After four months of rehearsals, Fermanagh Youth Theatre are bringing their high-energy production of ‘High School Musical On Stage’ to the Ardhowen next week.

With a cast ranging from ages three to 16, the talented young people are “excited” to dance, sing and act on the “big stage,” which will be a first for many of them.

“They have done a couple of shows in smaller local halls and then the parents wanted to give them a chance to perform at the Ardhowen, but obviously that involves a serious amount of money,” commented director Ciara O’Flanagan.

She continued: “It was the parents that decided that they wanted to fundraise for it hence why we’ve created Fermanagh Youth Theatre as a charity. They have went out and they have fundraised constantly.”

With the huge costs associated with putting on a production of this scale, the group initially applied for funding through the National Lottery but were turned down. Rather than being deterred, the rejection of lottery funding had a positive effect. Ciara explained: “It was great because it really pushed the parents on to say, ‘well the National Lottery is not going to back us, we’ll make sure we’ll do it ourselves and we can now say we’ve done it ourselves,’ and they have.”

She added: “The parental support has been second to none, only for them we wouldn’t be doing this.”

Talking about the benefits of performing arts for the young members of Fermanagh Youth Theatre, Ciara said: “It lets them be somebody else. A lot of the children that come to drama can be very shy in social situations or circumstances. It’s also the confidence to get up there and do it, they have to learn lines, they have to learn dance moves, they have to learn songs. The memory skills alone that they need to do this and they have developed since they started has been absolutely fantastic.”

Noting how the group has also encouraged new friendships, Ciara added: “We have a lot of children here with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) or siblings of children with ASD or children that have their own little mental challenges in different ways and they just seem to come together in the group. They feel secure, they feel safe, they feel they can just be somebody else and they’ve just gelled, every single one of them.”

Although Clare Kavanagh (12) from Aghadrumsee is no stranger to performing on stage, she has never performed at the Ardhowen.

“I’m very excited to perform in the Ardhowen but also very nervous,” said Clare, who will play the lead role of Gabriella Montez in the upcoming production of High School Musical On Stage.

She continued: “I have been to concerts with my auntie there and I was like, ‘I can’t wait to get on that stage.’”

Explaining what she likes most about performing, Clare shared: “When you have stuff on your chest, like something that’s annoying you, you come in and you dance and you act and you just get it off your chest.”

Clare’s older brother Luke Kavanagh (14) is playing the role of Chad Danforth, a jock and best friend of main character Troy Bolton. Commenting that he’s a bit nervous about performing at the Ardhowen, he added: “My mum says fear is only excitement that you haven’t experienced yet.”

When asked what he enjoys most about being a part of Fermanagh Youth Theatre, Luke said: “There’s a lot of good things about it. I started this in first year at school and I don’t really have a lot of friends at school but when I come here there’s a load of different schools in this.” He added: “There’s a lot of different people that I can meet.”

Cast member Jack Murphy (15) from Enniskillen added: “We’re all really close in the group now. They’ve been a very welcoming group, we do loads of stuff together, we go to the cinema and all.”

Jack has taken on the lead role of Troy in the production. Sharing what he enjoys most about performing, he said: “It’s just you’re not yourself when you’re performing, you’re someone else completely different and it gives you a chance to get out of your own skin, that’s why I love it.”

Fermanagh Youth Theatre’s production of High School Musical On Stage features over 30 cast members who will perform at the Ardhowen Theatre on Wednesday, August 21 at 8pm and Thursday, August 22 at 3pm and 8pm.

When asked what it means to her to see the enjoyment that the young people get from performing, Ciara said: “There are no words, honestly.”

She continued: “I haven’t done it alone, we have Shauneen Hamilton who’s the choreographer, Carina McGready, the musical director, and we’ve Mairead Frost as the assistant director. There’s the four of us and we do push them. There’s no sitting back with them.”

“We know they’re kids but we do push them to the limits but to see the final product and see it come together, there’ll be tears on the night,” she added.