by Mitchell Marcus
Unbeknownst to most Acting Up Stage patrons, there was a second production of Once On This Island. It took place during our run and it shared our sets and props. But while the version you saw featured 11 of Toronto’s most prominent musical theatre performers, this alternate version featured 18 aspiring performers, all between the ages of 11-17.
About a year ago, I was approached by my good friend Naomi who runs the Stage Door Academy – an amazing performing arts program for young people. I told her that we were going to be doing Once On This Island and her eyes immediately lit up. She had decided to offer a full musical production at Stage Door, and she was contemplating doing Once On This Island Jr. – a modified version of Once On This Island, created by the original writers, intended for performance in high schools and youth programs. She asked me if we would consider letting her students perform in our theatre, on our set and I immediately said yes. What better way to continue to strengthen our goals of educating and inspiring young people than to give them access to our resources to help teach them about professional theatre.
As the program began, we looked for other ways to provide mentorship to the participants. We invited them into one of our Once On This Island rehearsals at the Elgin Theatre so that they could watch our team in action putting the show together. We gave them the opportunity to meet the professional actor in their role who offered them helpful tips and suggestions. We gave them tickets to our production so that that they had a chance to tour the theatre and see our show which gave them inspiration and possible acting choices to take back into their own rehearsal process.
I have to say it was really amazing to see the young people’s eyes light up throughout this experience. One doesn’t normally get the chance to have a real ‘behind the scenes’ experience at a professional show in youth theatre. The combination of observation (of our process) and participation (in their own production) really helped them develop an understanding of the theatrical process, and the reward of getting to perform their production in a real theatre with professional sets, lighting and props was significant. Meanwhile, our actors got a real kick out of meeting the young teenagers who would be sharing their roles. I think having their positive energy in our rehearsal room and theatre really reminded our team why we love doing what we do.
The night after we closed our production, I returned to the Daniels Spectrum to see the show one more time. But our cast had been replaced with a group of young people. This metaphorical ‘passing of the torch’ from our cast to theirs was wonderfully meaningful. It was a thrill to see these teens inhabit our stage and to find their own joy in this beautiful piece of theatre.
The program was such a success that we plan to replicate it again next year. If you know any musical theatre loving teenagers who want to partake, auditions will happen in March. For more information, contact Naomi Zara at (416) 803-5723 or visit thestagedooracademy.com.