Innovating to bring performing arts online

UCC and BSS are launching a trio of virtual theatrical productions.
Help Desk 

The Year 8–9 play is a series of comedic sketches by Don Zolidis revolving around customer service help desks, created specifically to be performed online. Showtime is Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. on UCC’s YouTube channel. It features a cast of 13 – eight UCC students and five from the Bishop Strachan School — as well as a UCC crew of five dedicated to props, sound and publicity.

Help Desk is directed by English teacher Heather Crawford and math teacher Patrick Callegaro, with video editing assistance from David Crawford, who teaches film and MYP design. 

"It’s a light play with comic elements and smart writing," Heather Crawford says. "We wanted to provide a bit of a lift in the middle of winter."

The play is being pre-recorded because "there are so many moving parts," with David Crawford editing the pieces together. Meanwhile, the directors have drawn on the actors’ families to assist with at-home lighting, costumes and makeup.

"We’ve asked for photos of each family to run as part of our credits, since they are the supporting crew," Heather Crawford says. "We’ve had to rethink every little thing that takes place in a theatre."

Concord Floral

Rehearsals are underway for Jordan Tannahill’s Concord Floral, winner of a 2015 Dora Mavor Moore Award recognizing outstanding achievements in Toronto theatre. It’s based on a neighbourhood in Vaughan, Ont., where a once-bustling flower shop is now an abandoned greenhouse.

"It’s an incredible Canadian play that is infused with an amazing sense of what it means to be a teenager," says Brendon Allen, the director and the co-curricular co-ordinator at BSS. "It takes a poetic look at the idea of adolescence as a plague and has a scary, ominous feel to it. It toys with the audience in an interesting way."

The cast has 12 actors – four from UCC and eight from BSS – and 12 designers, including four from UCC, who have all contributed to the way the play will unfold online. Performance dates haven’t been finalized yet, but the show will be on Zoom and streamed on the BSS YouTube channel. 

"The students love it," says Allen. "The use of the metaphor of the plague is so interesting, because we’re staging this in the time of COVID-19. The cast is taking on some massive philosophical ideas."

The Birthday Party

From 1959, The Birthday Party by renowned British playwright Harold Pinter is “rich with the style features we associate with his work — confusion, conflict and critical commentary,” says director Gillian Levene, chair of the English department at the Upper School.  

"Fondly called a 'comedy of menace,' The Birthday Party follows the heated interactions of a group of strangers during a night’s celebrations, exposing the chaos that rules our lives despite our best intentions," adds Levene.

It’s a play that isn’t regularly performed at the secondary school level. Due to its intense and absurdist nature, Levene recommends that it’s appropriate for a viewing audience of Year 10 or above. An online performance is being planned for late March or early April.

The cast of six is split between UCC and BSS actors. At virtual rehearsals, Levene says, "They have been fabulous in figuring out the meaning of very complex moments, reflecting on what makes a character and how and why we respond to things. They are a wonderful group of young minds."
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