Okanagan stage puts new artists in focus, amid pandemic

Dancing duo Heather and Jens are one of the featured acts in the Feb. 18-21 online Focus series presented by the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. (VDPAC photo)Dancing duo Heather and Jens are one of the featured acts in the Feb. 18-21 online Focus series presented by the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. (VDPAC photo)
Jessica Bourelle is one of the featured acts in the Feb. 18-21 online Focus series presented by the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. (VDPAC photo)Jessica Bourelle is one of the featured acts in the Feb. 18-21 online Focus series presented by the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. (VDPAC photo)
HaidenLaird is one of the featured acts in the Feb. 18-21 online Focus series presented by the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. (VDPAC photo)HaidenLaird is one of the featured acts in the Feb. 18-21 online Focus series presented by the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. (VDPAC photo)
Five-piece funk band Charlene is one of the featured acts in the Feb. 18-21 online Focus series presented by the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. (VDPAC photo)Five-piece funk band Charlene is one of the featured acts in the Feb. 18-21 online Focus series presented by the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre. (VDPAC photo)

It’s been a dream of 15-year-old new wave artist HaidenLaird since he was in Grade 6 to perform his own music live at his hometown theatre.

Despite the pandemic pulling the curtain on live shows, the W.L. Seaton student’s dream has come true, thanks to the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre.

HaidenLaird is featured in season three of VDPAC’s free Focus Online Series, which airs for four days, Thursday, Feb. 18 to Feb. 21, available at ticketseller.ca. Emerging five-piece funk band Charlene, ballroom dancers Heather and Jens of City Dance, and singer-songwriter Jessica Bourelle are also highlights of the show.

Established professional Vernon ballroom dancers from City Dance, Heather Stranks and Jens Goerner are the first dance performance in the Focus series. Stranks and Goerner have been performing together professionally for over 10 years and their experience and knowledge have inspired a renewed love of partner dancing in the community.

“Performing is a huge part of what we do as dancers and instructors, and for nearly a year COVID has taken that part of our lives and livelihood away from us,” Stranks said. “To stand again on the performing arts stage to film this series, even though there was not an in-house audience, felt wonderful! We love what we do and we miss it terribly.”

VDPAC launched its FOCUS Online Series Jan. 21st, garnering over 2,000 views over the first two episodes, with views from all over Canada, the U.S., Europe and China, as well as the North Okanagan.

READ MORE: Okanagan artists focus of online show viewed worldwide

“We are inspired by the abundant talent and energy of these young performers,” artistic director Erin Kennedy said. “We can’t wait to see what heights these young artists reach.”

Five-piece funk band Charlene kicks off episode three. The W.L. Seaton alumni have played together for many years and adopted their moniker from the mother of founding member Jake O’Brien. His mom Charlene O’Brien has always been so supportive of the band and this is their way of thanking her.

The bi-weekly Focus Series is comprised of seven, 15-25 minute episodes to introduce Okanagan audiences the online programming and to showcase the 22 of the region’s rich established, mid-career and emerging talent. Upcoming artists include rockabilly band Dixie Fried Hep Katz; the Maritime Kitchen Party; fashion designer Jill Setah; young singer Scotty Berg; popular area band Chipko Jones; country singer Aaron Halliday and more.

Artists are also paid performance fees from VDPAC’s annual presenting grants and supplemental government funding received to help support artists through COVID’s prolonged shutdown of touring and live performances. The initial free online admission is part of the introductory promotion, however audiences have the option to donate online to help support the Performing Arts Centre’s continued development of online programming.

“We need to keep our artists and audiences engaged and connected for the eventual return of live performances,” VDPAC’s executive director Jim Harding said.

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