Blue Fairy Emmalee Holland (left), Gabriel Newman as Geppetto, Madeline Sellars as Pinocchio and Ben McLean as Grillo the Cricket prepare to take Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics Club’s rendition of Pinocchio to the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre stage Nov. 24-25. (Parker Crook/Morning Star)

Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics Club has its own brand of theatre

Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics Club brings Pinocchio to the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre

Dancers, actors and acrobats fly across the stage in perfect unison, creating a mystifying blend of performance art and athletics.

The Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics (ORG) Club and Cirque Theatre Company is bringing its rendition of Pinocchio to the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre stage Nov. 24-25.

With roots in the classic Italian yarn, the club brings together talented actors and current rhythmic gymnastics Team Canada stars to create the captivating performance experience.

“One thing I really found from coming from a high performance background is kids feel, ‘Oh, I did sports, I can’t do that,’” said Camille Martens, the show’s producer, director, choreographer and ORG head coach who competed in the ‘96 Olympics in Atlanta. “I think the lines are way blurrier than we think.”

And it’s an arts and athletics marriage that has sparked success for Martens and ORG, who have put on their yearly performance since 2000, consecutively filling more than 3,000 seats since their 2010 performance of Wonka.

This year is no exception, with the performance’s three special school-only shows filling up on the first day.

“We had to say no to a whole school,” Martens said. “It used to be like, I wonder if anyone will come.”

But these shows, which bring buses of students from across the area to the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre, aren’t about the profits.

“We don’t really make money on the school shows, it’s more about community outreach,” Martens said, adding that she hopes the shows inspire kids to pursue athletics and/or the arts and show that there’s always more than one way to do things.

“Growing up in a family where we weren’t told a lot of that, we definitely had more of a sense of let’s make our own way of doing it,” the Vernon product said. “Let’s do something else. Let’s do our own thing.”

Following Martens’ mantra of carving a new path, the cast of roughly 70 people ranging in age from five to 70 perused the story’s multiple versions to craft an ORG-specific screenplay.

“We thought at the end of it all, what’s the story we want to tell?” Martens said. “That’s the whole fun of it. We get to look at the way it’s been done.”

Drawing inspiration from multiple versions of the family-favourite tale, ORG’s Pinocchio features Madeline Sellars as the title character, Ben McLean as Grillo the Cricket — better known as Jiminy Cricket from Disney’s take — Gabriel Newman as Geppetto, Emmalee Holland as the Blue Fairy and Yann Brierley as Stromboli. The show also features renowned Vernon talents Brie-Anne MacPherson, Isabella Haldane, Jaedyn Andreotti and Tammy Andreotti.

It’s a show that had been suggested in the past, but Martens said it never felt right, until now.

“We had Pinocchio suggested a few times, but I shied away from it because I found it scary as a kid,” Martens said. “What draws us to it (now) is the whole concept of strings and looking at what does it mean to be real and in what ways do we avoid being real? For us, the metaphor of the strings are a symbol of numbing.”

Martens asked the kids what they fear the most, and the resounding answer was being embarrassed. Unlike some adults who use drugs and alcohol to escape their problems, Martens said, kids often turn to TV or their devices. Pinocchio is about being true to oneself and breaking down those barriers.

“Looking at Pinocchio and his challenges to be honest, brave and generous and watching him go through a whole series of events is sort of joyous,” Martens said.

“We all want to be real and sign up for the full human experience,” Martens said. “That’s what brought us to this story.”

ORG’s Pinocchio takes the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 25 at 2:30 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $38.25 adult, $25.25 seniors and students, $18.25 child 12-and-under or $80 for a family of four (two adult and two youth passes, not available online) available through the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.

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