Madison Shearer and LeShaun Bernett, both in their third-year of studies at the University of Ottawa, are two of the choreographers responsible for the success of this year’s amazing CASCO fundraising production. Despite the pandemic disrupting their usual annual gala plans, the team managed to raise an impressive $53,524 for CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario), just $9,000 short of their last year’s donation. 

A digital pivot for Telfer Nation’s biggest charity fundraiser 

For the past 21 years, the Telfer student-run initiative, CASCO Charity Organization, has produced an annual gala show, putting the spotlight on the talents of students from various programs at the University of Ottawa. The much-anticipated soirée is an evening of song, dance and fashion, and succeeds in unifying students, business professionals and community members who share the common goal of providing support for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). 

However, because of the restrictions brought on by the pandemic, the members of CASCO knew that hosting an in-person gala wasn’t going to be an option for the 2020 edition. They also knew that not doing anything at all for the children of CHEO was even less of an option, but trying to hold the 4-hour gala online was likely not going to capture the attention or produce the results they were after. So they went back to the drawing board, and with the creativity and dedication of their members, the organization completely re-invented the format of the 20 year-long tradition. 

Meet Madison and LeShaun

Madison Casco Madison Shearer and LeShaun Bernett joined the CASCO Charity Organization three and two years ago, respectively, and have both played a vital role in the development and choreography of the this year’s adaptation of the CASCO Gala video series entitled “The Show Must Go On” that released a new performance each week between November 2nd and December 21st across all of their media platforms.

Madison, a third-year student at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Arts undertaking a joint Honours degree in Communication and Sociology, joined the Telfer Nation community when she became a member of the CASCO team in her very first year of studies at uOttawa. She enjoyed her first gala experience so much that in the following year she came back again, this time with her friend and dance teammate LeShaun Bernett, also a third-year student completing his Health Sciences Major with a Minor in Psychology at uOttawa. 

While the pair had participated as dancers during the previous years’ galas, it is fair to say that their work as choreographers for the 2020 edition would come with unprecedented challenges. From video chat auditions to physical distancing rehearsal restrictions, there were a lot of trials and errors and just as many lessons learned. “At Gala, you would have the support of an entire technical team, but in our version, it was just us, so we were doing everything from the choreography, to the lighting and smoke machines, sometimes outside in freezing conditions, and many times over 6 consecutive hours”, explained Madison. Despite these challenges, the results were well worth it; Regardless of not being able to perform live and with the entire team together at the Gala like usual, the digital pivot made by CASCO was a monumental success resulting in thousands of views and some of the videos still being shared months after the event. 

LeShaun_Casco “While this will never replace the in-person magic and excitement that is a gala night”, said Madison who can’t wait to go back to an in-person event, “this allowed us to step out of our comfort zone and show that we can be innovative.” Echoing her comments about how special the in-person event is in comparison to the digital one, LeShaun also acknowledges the opportunities that a virtual-live hybrid model could mean for the future of CASCO. “For instance, the digital release of the videos gave us the opportunity to have a much broader audience, and for people back at home to be able to see what we actually do and why we do it - that felt very validating.”

Regardless of if the next edition of CASCO Gala will be a live one or not, we can be certain that it will be fuelled by the passion and dedication of amazing Telfer Nation members who just like Madison and LeShaun, will ensure the 22-year-old legacy keeps going strong. “This is the first time I felt that dancing was doing something for my community, doing something bigger than me”, shared Madison. “Dancing is a very competitive world”, added LeShaun, “but in  CASCO, we get to showcase this talent in a different light where winning is not about winning a trophy, but making a difference instead.”