Northern Spirits showcase helps northern teens find their voice

Aryle Bird performs at the Northern Spirits showcase on February 23 in Prince Albert. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Aryle Bird’s biggest fear was also her biggest dream.

The Montreal Lake teen wanted to sing on a stage in front of a big crowd.

She’s been singing, writing her own songs and drawing since being diagnosed with Sydenham’s chorea, a condition with involuntary movements and a leaking heart valve. It leads to anxiety attacks too.

The involuntary movements are treated with a medication, haloperidol, which can have some side effects. For Bird, that means hallucinations.

Before Saturday, Bird never had the courage or opportunity to get up on a big stage.

Saturday afternoon, through Northern Spirits, that changed.

Aryle stood front and centre in front of dozens of people. She told her story, and about how she has, in the past, had trouble making friends.

Clad in red and black, wearing a headband with animal ears, she belted out a heartfelt rendition of Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love,’ dedicated to someone back home in Montreal Lake she said was one of her only real friends.

She came out of her shell in the performance, belting out the tough sections and moving around the stage. She was in her element.

When she finished singing, a loud roar erupted through the Exhibition Hall. Many were crying through the emotional performance.

 “It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened in my life,” she said after the show.

“It felt amazing. I got to sing on stage with a big crowd. I’ve never sung in front of as big of a crowd as this.”

Aryle said her art, her singing and drawing, are “very important” to her. She wants to grow up to become an animator or a singer.

Stories like Aryle’s are all over Northern Spirits. The program teaches kids to be confident, and the annual showcase, held during the final weekend of the Prince Albert Winter Festival, shows what they can do.

Jada Merasty, a 16-year-old from Wollaston Lake, also went through the program this year. She sang Sweet Child O’ Mine, a last-minute change of song choice, to a receptive crowd.

“It’s been very inspiring,” she said of the experience.

“It helped me a lot with my stage fright and making new friends. It’s really great. Being a part of the showcase made me happy.”

During the workshop, held months ago, Jada said the focus was on getting over stage fright, through acting, improvisation and nerve-calming exercises.

She said her performance was “nerve-wracking, but really good.”

It’s these types of stories that make Northern Spirits such a rewarding experience for Sheryl Kimbley, who helps put the program together each year.

Cheyenne Asham sings ‘When I was your Man’ at the 2019 Northern Spirits showcase, part of the Prince Albert Winter Festival, on February 23, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

“They’re amazing,” she said.

“These kids from northern Saskatchewan are resilient. They’re strong. All they need is somebody to believe in them. All they need is the chance to show what they can do and they will. They’ve never let me down yet.”

This year, she said, was especially tough. The cast members usually communicate through social media, since they’re spread across communities from across northern Saskatchewan. This year, though, some changes to Facebook made that communication difficult. They only had a day or two to pull the performance together.

That’s in contrast to Voices of the North, which Kimbley said is organized over several months.

One of the keys to Saturday’s successful performance was the show’s producer, 13-year-old Kayelyn Rasmussen, from Green Lake. She almost missed applying or Northern Spirits, but ended up making the cut, and running the show.

“Sheryl saw I was prepared to do it,” she said.

“I’ve been stage managing for a long time, so she chose me to become the producer.”

Kayelyn said it was stressful, but they were able to pull it together.

“We made an amazing show,” she said.

Kimbley described her as super organized and with a can-do attitude. As Kimbley told the Northern Spirits audience, Kayelyn had everything handled in a situation Kimbley herself found to be trying.

Peyton Cook sings ‘My Way’ as the Northern Spirits cast joins him on stage on February 23, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

“How a bunch of kids from the ages of 12 to 17 were able to pull something like this off I don’t know, because as an adult I was stressing,” she said.

“They did it. They pulled together a showcase with a combined seven hours of practice. I have no idea how they did it. For the life of me. That will be a mystery.”

Despite the glitches, the show ran, and the kids seemed to have a good time while conquering their anxieties. Aryle, Jada and Kayelyn all encouraged other youth, if they have the opportunity, to sign up for Northern Spirits next year.

“That’s a gift,” Kimbley said.

“I don’t put them on stage to make them rock stars. I put hem on stage to give them confidence and to see how important they are to this world and to just keep living and keep being.”

For Aryle, it was the experience of a lifetime.

“It’s the greatest thing anybody could ever go through. It’s the greatest experience you can have,” she said.

“You can conquer your fear. You have a lot of support there.”