When Norman Foote hits the stage at the Clarke Theatre May 9, he’ll be joined by about 50 local school children.
Students from Dewdney, Deroche and Cherry Hill elementary schools have been busy learning songs from Foote’s Juno Award winning album, Love My New Shirt. While they’ll only sing alongside the entertainer for about 15 minutes of the performance, they’ll remain on stage for the entire time to enjoy the songs and antics that have earned Foote recognition across North America.
“They don’t just sing. They do the actions, sound affects, all sorts of things,” Foote says. “They become this wonderful animated wall of sound and melody.”
Foote has been performing most of his life, and left Vancouver at the age of 20 to explore Australia and New Zealand. He ended up making his living as a street performer and developed an interest in puppetry and physical comedy — a perfect match to his musical abilities.
His career has included working for Disney Records, the CBC show Scoop and Doozie, and live musicals for Max & Ruby, and Toopy and Binoo. So, it would come to reason that he’s also worked with another well-known and beloved children’s performer, Fred Penner.
“I know Fred,” he says. “We go way back to Winnipeg, when we had the same manager.”
The two have a similar take on music, combining strong storytelling with contemporary sounds, and ending with a product that appeals not just to children, but to listeners of every age.
“We’ve both kind of been really lucky with our careers, ” Foote says, adding that while his music isn’t quite folk, it’s “based on folk and comedic songs, with jazz and reggae fusions.”
And a healthy dose of humour, to boot.
“You’ll find a lot of my material tickles the parents’ funny bones,” he says. “I need to sing this material, and so I’ve got to like it. I’ve got to love it.”
And the process of including children in the show directly — sometimes Foote has up to 300 children on stage at once — is a way of sharing that experience in a profound way.
“They get a sense of being part of something really special,” he says. “And there is safety in numbers, with children musically.”
For years, Foote has been traveling around North America, playing in a different community each week. He always hopes to draw out laughter and smiles in his audience, on stage and off. And oftentimes, it’s the biggest, toughest customers that end up rolling in the aisles, he adds.
To add to the fun, Foote asks that everyone coming to the show wears their “coolest, most fun shirt.”
He also loves to hear the children sing along in unison.
“I try to get kids to realize it’s not a competition,” he says. “Everyone has their own voice … and everyone has a voice to be proud of.”
The show starts at 7 p.m. May 9 at the Clark Theatre. Tickets are $10 and available at the door.
To hear some of Norman Foote’s music, or see videos of his performances, visit normanfoote.com.