The word “actor” can have some rather glitzy connotations. Perhaps visions of Johnny Depp or Anne Hathaway just danced through your head. Maybe little golden statuettes, or the multi-million dollar paychecks that Taylor Lautner receives for taking his shirt off and mumbling. Yet, for every star and starlet skinny-dipping at their 18th-century Italian villa (cough, George Clooney), there are countless more stars-to-be, people who are driven, talented, and, fortunately for us, nearby.
Indeed, the stages of McGill are chock full of them. Every day on campus, you may be walking past a future Oscar or Tony winner. The problem, of course, is getting aspiring young actors to where they need to be in order to launch a successful career. While the difficulties of translating hopes into trophies are very real, there is now a new company dedicated to facing these challenges head-on.
Music Theatre Montreal (MTM), founded last year by McGill students Jonathan Keijser and Laura Oundjian, seeks to bridge the often harrowing gap between student theatre and the professional scene. “They wanted a company that could be a training ground,” Kate McGillivray, publicist for MTM, explained. “The goal is assisting people who want a career in the arts. This is the first step.”
For a school lacking a Fine Arts program, MTM may be what is needed to keep the dreams of campus’ artistic few from withering in the greenhouse heat of the McGill bubble. For their first show, the not-for-profit company has reached out to a variety of audiences, from CEGEPs to elementary schools, while also eliciting the expertise of professional mentors to guide much of the cast and crew. The company aims to provide professional mentors to counsel every actor in future productions.
For their debut, the company has chosen the Tony award-winning Into The Woods. Powered by the musical and lyrical ingenuity of Stephen Sondheim, the show unites several well-known Grimm fairy tales in a single storyline.
“It’s like Shrek before Shrek,” McGillivray explained. The plot heaps on the laughter and silliness in the first act, while exploring the darker implications of the beloved childhood stories in the second. “They all have wishes; they all want things to happen. In the second act they have to deal with the consequences of these wishes. So it’s kind of like the reality check on the world of fairy tales. It’s an interesting look, and it’s pretty funny throughout.”
Despite the theme of the show, however, MTM’s launch has faced challenges that even fairy dust wouldn’t solve. Due to the continuing MUNACA strike, the cast and crew found themselves turned out of their planned performance space at Moyse Hall just weeks before opening. “We worked really well with them, and they were really trying to accommodate us,” McGillivray said. “But then when it didn’t work out, it happened later than when it should have, so we found out really late in the game.”
“We had to make the choice: are we going to go on? Can we do this? And the cast was so energetically for ‘yes!’ Everyone loves the show, so we really rallied, and now everybody’s doing all the jobs they can. It’s all hands on deck. Jonathan, the director, and Laura, the producer, work so hard. I don’t think they sleep. Their heart and soul is in the show,” added McGillivray.
Life offers tough lessons, but MTM appears to have picked itself up, dusted itself off, and thrown itself back into the methodized madness that is the lead-up to any theatrical production. With continued success, the company is sure to teach invaluable lessons of its own to the aspiring actors who walk its stage.
For the students who are interested in theatre but are unsure about the craft, MTM is there to welcome them with open arms. “There’s always a place for anyone who wants to have fun and help out,” McGillivray said. “It doesn’t matter what you want to do. Just jump in.”
Music Theatre Montreal’s production of Into The Woods will take place at the D. B. Clarke Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve, from October 13 to 15 and 19 to 21. Tickets are available at www.musictheatremontreal.com