Sunday, April 26, 2009

After School Special

On Friday night, I went to Guelph. Rode the bus and everything. You may ask why, on a Friday night in late April, when the trees are budding and the sky is blue, would I choose to spend time on a Greyhound bus stuffed with businessmen and students. You would be right to ask, but the answer is simple: my brother was in a play.

It was awesome. He played the King of Hearts in a student-directed adaptation of Alice Through the Looking Glass (which is a nifty bit of casting, seeing as how, in the last couple years, my brother has morphed into something of a babe magnet), the loopy and hallucinatory Lewis Carroll tale. If you've only seen the Disney flick, do yourself a favour: grab a copy of the story, smoke a fat joint, and trip your shit out. This is maybe the single weirdest kids story ever told.

This play was less flowers-and-singing and more leather pants-and-goth makeup. Alice looked like she had been styled by Avril Lavigne, all tutus and striped stocking. The Queen of Hearts, who shrieked "Off with his head!" every 15 seconds, was wearing leather leggings, spike heels, and blood-red lipstick. There was a hookah and a breakdancer. All this in a high school production. Like I said: awesome.

What was even cooler was that their play was for the Sears Festival, a province-wide drama competition for high school students. This festival, which culminates with an Ontario showcase, draws from a pool of more than 300 schools, eventually winnowing the competition down to 12 schools from across the province. This is sort of like the Tony Awards for adolescents. For schools with even a semi-coherent drama program, this is the Big Deal. There's an unfortunate propensity for these shows to deal with Teen Issues in heavy-handed ways (I've seen multiple productions that force young actresses to play bulimic by simulating self-induced vomiting onstage), but the quality is usually exceptional. In addition to performances, the festival also offers workshops in various subjects, and the chance to make out with people from other schools.

I did a little student theatre in my day - we also went to Sears, but we never made it past the district competition. I blame myself; while I am hella dramatic, that doesn't necessarily translate into any sort of aptitude for the limelight. I would turn in the sort of shouty, self-conscious performances that make audiences grit their teeth. I had a blast, of course, being part of the troupe, and I also dug feeling like we had made something. Unfortunately, yeah: talentless motherfucker that I am, Sears wins were always well outside my grasp.

Theatre programs are important for high schools. I always feel a little bad for people who went to rah-rah sports schools, because that was totally outside of my sphere. In my school, cool kids performed in school shows. There were the requisite dramatic girls and the guys who persued them, but there were also people who loved the technical side, or costuming, or stage combat, or writing plays. It's seriously one of the most versatile media in terms of finding a creative voice: actors, singers, dancers, painters, tech nerds, organizational obsessives, fashion wannabes, and hangers-on all have a home.

I'm so proud of my brother and the rest of the cast for doing so well. There are some really talented actors and actresses in the show. These people who will be involved with theatre for a long time to come. But it's not really about the future; it's about following Alice down the rabbit hole one more time.

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