Treading the boards between hitting the books

Six leaders from McGill’s nine student theatre groups, who have recently re-formed mcgillSTAGE, L to R: Ryan Kichler, BA’09 (Production Manager, Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society); Rachael Benjamin, BA’12 (Producer, V-Day McGill); Florian Prat-Vincent, BEng’09 (Executive Director, Engineering Undergraduate Theatre Society); Seth Clohosey, BSc’09 (President, McGill Savoy Society); Stephanie Shum, BCom’09 (Executive Director, Players Theatre); Anna Roth Trowbridge, BA/BSc’09 (ARTifact Co-Producer, Tuesday Night Café). / Photo: Claudio Calligaris

Nine student-theatre groups gear up for post-Christmas productions

By Allyson Rowley

U3 English student Ryan Kichler has a lot on his mind. But it’s not just the beginning of the new semester, worrying about grades or wondering what he’ll do when he graduates. These days, songs like Age of Aquarius and Let the Sun Shine In are running through his head, too.

Kichler is co-producer and production manager for the student-driven Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society (AUTS), which is staging Hair at Moyse Hall from Jan. 29 to Feb. 7 (beating by a few weeks the Broadway revival that opens March 5 at New York’s Al Hirschfeld Theater). Composed by Montrealer Galt MacDermot, who also worked on the music for McGill’s My Fur Lady in 1955, Hair burst onto Broadway in 1968, defining the rock musical genre and becoming a groovy, far-out, worldwide phenomenon.

Now in its third season, AUTS was formed “to bring cutting-edge musical theatre to McGill and to establish a sense of community across campus,” Kichler said. Its first two shows were full-scale productions of Little Shop of Horrors in 2007 and Urinetown in 2008. Last season, all four shows sold out before opening – no mean feat in this age of movies and mass media. This year, the company is expanding its run to six shows and expects a total audience of up to 1,800.

Why Hair? “Because it’s about a group of young people who are trying to establish a sense of community in a time and place where it’s increasingly difficult to do so,” Kichler said. He was quick to point out that “it’s also about doing something good – and getting non-theatre people to see a live show.”

Not just for the Arts(y)

It’s not only English students who are involved in theatre at McGill. Jennifer Yang, a U3 student working toward her BCom, is the publicist for Players’ Theatre, as well as the musical director for Hair. “There’s all my work with theatre, and then sometimes I think, oh right, there are classes to attend,” she said.

Student-run theatres face the obstacles that all entrepreneurs contend with: time, space and money. Rehearsal space, in particular, is at a premium. Both Moyse Hall and Morrice Hall are booked solid. Moyse Hall is rented out year-round, while Morrice Hall is now used exclusively for classes during the day. There is “a lot of scraping around for rehearsal space” by all the theatre groups, said Yang.

And then, there’s money. AUTS rents Moyse Hall at the same rate any other renter would. It is supported in part by the Arts Undergraduate Society, but raises most of its funds through its own initiatives: concessions, bake sales, ad sales, in-kind donations and “sponsorship walks.” Everyone on the AUTS team (from the band to the actors to the production team) walks door-to-door to the businesses and restaurants in the area, selling everything from a $10 line ad, all the way up to the $500 “Platinum” package. They also blanket the McGill area with 200 posters a week.

Recently, mcgillSTAGE (Student Theatre Artists, Groups and Executives), has been re-formed and expanded from a simple theatre calendar to an alliance of nine student-theatre groups that share resources, swap ads, audition together, provide a support network for rehearsal space and publicity… and get together to debate the perpetual question “Why see live theatre?”

Is it all worth it? Absolutely, said Kichler. “There’s nothing like working on a show. When the final curtain comes down, the feeling is indescribable. This is what I want to do with my life.”

All the world’s a stage at McGill

A listing of student theatre at McGill from January to April

January 12 – 17

ARTifact (an annual festival of the visual and performing arts)

Tuesday Night Café Theatre

Morrice Hall Theatre

January 15 – 24

Timothy Findlay’s Can You See Me Yet?

Players’ Theatre

January 22

Shakespeare Team: Julius Caesar Workshop

Shakespeare and Performance Research Team

Arts Building – 7 p.m.

January 29 – February 7

HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical

Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society

Moyse Hall

February 4 – 21

Never the Sinner by John Logan

Tuesday Night Café Theatre

Morrice Hall Theatre

February 5 – 14

A One Man Show for My Brother by McGill student Anna Roth Trowbridge

Players’ Theatre

February 12 – 21

Gilbert & Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard

McGill Savoy Society

Moyse Hall

February 13 – 15

The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler

V-Day McGill

Leacock 132 – 7 p.m.

March 25 – April 4

Directing Class Projects 2009

Department of English

Morrice Hall Theatre

March 25 – April 4

Julius Caesar

Department of English

Moyse Hall – 7:30 p.m.

March 26 – April 5

The McGill Drama Festival (an annual festival of student written and directed plays)

Players’ Theatre

April 9 – 11

One Spring Morning, The Extroverted Suicides and Willie & the Watchers, three one-acts by Cherie Thiessen

Engineering Undergraduate Theatre Society

Players’ Theatre

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