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How a School Reunion Is Changing the Face of Canadian Theatre

04/29/2015 04:45 EDT | Updated 06/29/2015 05:59 EDT

Here's a riddle for you: What do you get when you pair a school with 42 actors playing 100 different characters with 40 original songs and dance numbers over a three hour period filled with 15 hours of scripted material unfolding simultaneously?

The answer is Canada's largest experiment in immersive, site specific musical theatre.

It's called Brantwood 1920-2020, and this reunion is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you don't want to miss. If you are in or travelling to Toronto before May 3, now is your chance to catch this.

Don't just trust us. Raves have been across the board including from Toronto Star's theatre critic Richard Ouzounian here.

So you understand, this is not your usual play on a stage. From the invitation you receive, to the school reunion, to the meeting place, to the principal speaking, to the student asking you to deface a locker for him, to the live lacrosse game, and all of the insightful experiences in the school - some of which even being one on one. It kind of never ends.

But guess what? You are part of it. Like all of it. Think of the most amazing choose your own adventure ever.

This next level "audience voyeurism" (as coined by the creators) is a game changer. Taking inspiration from other like shows happening around the world, Brantwood 1920-2020 triggers the curiosity in all of us, while developing deep emotional connection to the characters we choose to follow.

Ultimately, it's something that speaks to all of us. Growing up in high school. Those years. That first kiss. That first love. It's all here.

What is also evident in the narrative is how current it is. No topic is too large to tackle. Wanting you to discover this for yourself, we will leave it at that.

Now, here is the kicker. All of this is the end product of a one of kind collaboration between Mitchell Cushman & Julie Tepperman, Brantwood Co-Creators, Writers, and Directors, Michael Rubinoff, Associate Dean & Producer for Theatre Sheridan and The Canadian Music Project and most importantly, the students from Sheridan College's 2015 Graduating Musical Theatre program.

We had the opportunity to sit down with the three minds that brought this together.

Site specific and immersive theatre is really catching on. Why?

In our past work creating SST and immersive audience experiences, we find that people like the "call to adventure", getting close to the action, and having to make choices. We like to think of it as "audience voyeurism".

How do you rehearse this?

We (Mitchell & Julie) created and wrote the show over two years. We've been in workshops with the students on and off over the last year, and then had a dedicated 5 week rehearsal process at the school. We co-directed, along with 6 assistant directors, James Smith as musical director and Nicola Pantin as choreographer. There are over 200 scenes and 15 hrs. of material - it was very much a "divide and conquer" kind of process, with the students having a lot of autonomy.

How long is the show?

The experience lasts three hours. A person would have to come back 15 times to see everything. We've already had repeat business!

What is the make up of the cast?

Some 38 students from the graduating class, plus four professional actors who have been hired to play the teacher roles.

This is something that has been created as part of The Canadian Musical Theatre Project. What is that?

The project launched in 2011 as Canada's first incubator for the development of new musical theatre works by Canadian and international composers, lyricists and book-writers and serves to create a permanent headquarters for the development of new musicals. As Canada's largest art school, Sheridan made it a priority to create an environment that fosters creativity and provides a stimulating environment to help generate new work. One of our shows Come From Away by David Hein and Irene Sankoff will have its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse in June followed up by a run at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in November. And there is more to come.

Their dream? A long term future for this show, and other like minded shows to find an actual home, "further enhancing the vibrancy of...nightlife."

Here is hoping city officials and real estate developers are listening.