There is nothing quite like the scent of a theatre, or the rush of energy, excitement, and terror that comes with being backstage before the curtain rises. You frantically run through your lines, and pray to every deity known to man that you won’t break, whilst desperately trying not to ruin your stage-makeup. Being involved in theatre is about trust, and whether you’re in the cast or crew you connect with a group of people so intimately – so completely – that even the wasp nest roiling around in your stomach will ease the moment you look across that brightly lit stage and lock gazes with them. You become a family, working tirelessly to create a beautiful, transitory moment – a period of time outside the normal flow, where the power of imagination and stage magic combine for a few brief hours of captivation. Then, it’s over before you know it, like waking up from a dream.
Music Theatre Montreal began as dream, a dream that founders Jonathan Keijser and Lara Oundjian have invested much energy over the past year to achieve. Aiming at bridging the gap between amateur and professional theatre, they have worked at nurturing and creating a “professional environment,” says MTM’s publicist Kate Mcgillivray. She continues, “everyone from our director to the set designers has someone to turn to for guidance.” Fostering a mentoring program in the wider Montreal arts community was only one step in preparing their actors and crew for both the upcoming production of Into the Woods, as well as for a future career in the arts.
Relations with the professional community aren’t the only thing MTM have been busy fostering – they’ve also put an emphasis on media relations. Mcgillivray described “educational workshops, off-campus press outlets, and radio stations” as some of the means the company has used to spread the word about MTM, in the hope of creating a diverse audience. They’ve also gotten internet savvy in their efforts, creating a Vimeo account with videos highlighting the characters of Prince Charming, Jack and Little Red as actors Ryan Peters, June Joshua Lam, and Elizabeth Conway respectively gush in character about their, um, quirks.
The choice of Into the Woods for the companies debut was a bold one. Stephen Sondheim did many things with this beautiful piece of work, but creating a happy-go-lucky fairytale was not one of them. Instead, Into the Woods is the ultimate turnabout, where the happy endings of our favourite fairy tale characters go abruptly and horribly amuck. Exploring the consequences of wishes and quests, Into the Woods forces us to re-examine our ambitions, and “pay attention to what (and who) we are willing to sacrifice to achieve them” says Lam. The show plays especially close to home for MTM, whose string of bad-luck in the weeks before their opening almost forced them to cancel. Forced to leave their original venue of Moyse Hall due to the MUNACA strike, they scrambled to find a new site for their production. “We were told we wouldn’t be able to use Moyse two and a half weeks ago,” described Mcgillivray. Conway added, “most theatres were booked solid. We had a few days during which we weren’t sure [about] D.B. Clarke [the Concordia theatre now housing the production].” But the cast and crew rallied, having emergency meetings and throwing ideas back and forth for funding and fundraising, and determined that their show would go on.
MTM has prevailed in a situation that has many theatre groups and theatre associations throwing up their hands, or signing petitions begging the administration and strikers to consider them when they are sitting at the bargaining table.. “Moving to D.B. Clarke, MTM has truly become a community theatre by moving out of the McGill bubble. Despite it all, they’ve faced tough odds and tough decisions, staying true to their ‘Into the Woods tunnel vision,’” explained Mcgillivray. It seems like this production may be poised for a fairy tale run after all.
Into the Woods will be playing at D.B. Clarke Theater (1455 de Maisonneuve) from October 19-21 at 7:30 p.m.