Each summer, my partner and I take an annual canoe trip in Algonquin Park. We spend all year living in the city, and we covet the time we get to spend in silence—away from the bustle and pace of city culture. Part of what many of my friends call the “hard-core” nature of these trips are the frequent (and long) portages we make to ensure total isolation.
Last summer, mid-trip, we spent an entire day without seeing another soul. As the sun began to set, we choose a site on an isolated channel between two large bodies of water. As we propped our canoe up on the shore, our silence was interrupted by the sounds of small prepubescent voices belting “Don’t Stop Believing” somewhere on the channel. I immediately smiled, looked over at my disgruntled partner as we both peered across the water. There, almost directly in front of us on the other side of the lake was a campsite full of swimsuit clad eight-year old boys singing at the tops of their lungs while taking turns jumping into the lake. I looked at my partner,
“Ah, Glee Culture,” I said.
“Well, there is no other way that those boys would know the 1981 Steve Perry song if it weren’t for the fact that it was featured in Glee.”
“Well yeah, but I knew all the Beatles music when I was eight.”
“Sure, but that’s because your parents listened to it and it was still lingering from a generation above you- Don’t Stop Believing has been reintroduced to this generation, the difference is that to them, the song is an entirely new song. Re-branded. They don’t even have a clue that it had life before Glee.”
As my partner lost interest in the boys and my little Glee lecture and left to begin fire preparation, I couldn’t help but stand there an extra moment to smile at the uninhibited voice-cracking singing. Even here, in the great Canadian outdoors, miles away from the city, Glee is present. Glee, for all its camp and cliché is truly noteworthy to its fans. The show is not only about being an oddball in a Midwestern high school (or an oddball in general), but also about letting your love of music rise above your passion for anything else. As the adorable Glee Club instructor Mr. Schue said, “Glee is about being yourself, even when the whole world wishes you were someone different.” It’s about using music to express yourself and as a way to feel great.
Back in the city, I am lucky to work for Acting Up Stage, a company, like Glee, that believes in the power of music and using music to tell stories. I’ll never forget that camping trip. The solace, the trees, my partner, and eight-year old boys belting “Don’t Stop Believing” into the Algonquin wind, feeling great.
Moderated by Elenna Mosoff, Associate Producer
Elenna Mosoff: How do you choose your shows for an Acting Up Stage season? What is the decision driven by?
Mitchell Marcus: Programming is always a balancing act. First off, I am looking for work that fits our vision—thought-provoking musicals that push boundaries and connect with audiences emotionally. Then, I start looking for things that either have never been done in Canada or Toronto, or work that hasn’t been seen in a long time that can be interpreted through a contemporary lens. This process happens year round and I keep several lists of shows we would like to tackle.
EM: And then it’s decision time… and?
MM: When the time comes to actually make choices for the next season I look at the list and try to determine: What feels right given the political/cultural/social landscape at the moment? Are any of the prospective shows good for partnerships or perhaps good for specific performers we want to work with? What will most engage our audiences? What is most conducive to our education and outreach activities? What will keep our range of activities fresh, bold and interesting?
EM: Easy as pie!
MM: (Laughs) I usually debate this for several months. Eventually, the right project always comes clear!
EM: So, Caroline, or Change is an American story – what are the universal aspects of the show that you feel a Canadian audience will connect with?
MM: It’s funny… I never would have called it an American story.
EM: Well you know what I mean. It’s an American play.
MM: Yes… it is set in Louisiana, and it deals with the Civil Rights Movement, but for me that would be like saying Fiddler On The Roof is a Russian story. Caroline, or Change explores how people deal with significant change—how some choose to be at the forefront of change, and other resist it so strongly, even when the prospective change would better their lives. I find it a very universal story of struggle and transformation that everyone will certainly relate to.
EM: Why did you choose to program Ride the Cyclone?
MM: I saw Ride The Cyclone during the Summerworks Festival and was so impressed with the quality of the writing. I immediately wrote to the young people behind Atomic Vaudeville to explore bringing the show back to Toronto. I love the idea of putting a spotlight on another region of Canada, and showing the Acting Up Stage audience what is happening in musical theatre in British Columbia.
More importantly, it was a piece that I found both hilarious and touching. The Summerworks run was totally sold out, and it’s clearly a show that has the potential to become something very, very big. Making it a part of the Acting Up Stage season was a no brainer!
EM: Acting Up Stage has recently added a group of Associate Artists to the company. I know that a lot of people want to know what this is about. Can you enlighten us?
MM: We have a lot of voices who contribute to Acting Up Stage. Beyond myself there is the board, an advisory council, and you, Elenna, the associate producer. I wanted to include the artistic community as part of the company’s voice, so I assembled a group that Acting Up Stage has built a relationship with in the eight years of existence. The purpose of this group is to act as an artistic advisory committee. We meet twice a year and discuss the needs and issues facing artists in the musical theatre community in Canada. These discussions allow us to keep our finger on the pulse of trends and opportunities.
EM: Awesome. I am really excited about our season!
MM: Me too. And I hope I didn’t bore you with anything here…
EM: Boring? Please. We live for this stuff.