Titanic The Musical prepares to set sail

In the spring of 2016, as Grand Theatre artistic director Susan Ferley was concluding her tenure, I asked Ottawa-based theatre writer Patrick Langston about the yardsticks by which ADs should be measured. What makes theatre ADs successful and how should we evaluate their contributions to their theatres and communities?

The resulting column listed a number of Langston’s criteria; among them, whether the AD had managed to develop “local theatre makers” (actors, designers, technicians, playwrights), especially young people, who could reinvigorate the local theatre community.

Over the course of 34 productions spanning 21 years, the Grand Theatre’s primary tool for achieving that goal has been the High School Project. Launched by Michael Shamata and nurtured by successive ADs Kelly Handarek, Ferley and Dennis Garnhum, the HSP has grown steadily in popularity and reach.

Like many previous productions, this year’s HSP is a formidable challenge. Titanic: The Musical premiered on Broadway in 1997, winning all five Tony Awards for which it was nominated, and has since toured worldwide. Like its namesake, it is a monumental piece of work that will pose a significant challenge to the 50 students in the cast, supported by another 20 students in production positions. The students come from 12 different schools within the Thames Valley District School Board and the London District Catholic School Board. One student is home-schooled. By far the largest plurality of students (30!) hails from H.B. Beal Secondary School.

Illustrates blog post
Cast members of the 2019 High School Project appear at a media call for Titanic The Musical, on Sept. 17, 2019. Photo by Whitney South

Titanic: The Musical officially opens at the Grand Theatre on Sept. 20 and runs through Sept. 28. It’s directed by Londoner Andrew Tribe, best known for his work as artistic director at Original Kids Theatre. Check back later for a brief review. A link to The London Free Press’s advancer on the show is here.

Previous HSP productions:
1998: West Side Story (May 7-16; Michael Shamata, director)
1999: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (May 14-22; Michael Shamata, director)
2000: Guys and Dolls (April 28-May 6; Kelly Handarek, director)
2001: Hello, Dolly! (April 10-22; Kelly Handarek, director)
2002: Oliver! (April 3-14; Susan Ferley, director)
2003: The Music Man (April 8-20; Susan Ferley, director)
2004: Fiddler on the Roof (April 14-25; Susan Ferley, director)
2005: Oklahoma! (April 5-17; Campbell Smith, director); The Sound of Music (Sept. 27-Oct. 9; Susan Ferley, director)
2006: Twelfth Night (April 4-8; Susan Ferley, director); West Side Story (Sept. 13-30; Susan Ferley, director)
2007: Romeo and Juliet (April 17-21; Susan Ferley, director); Les Misérables, School Edition (Sept. 25-Oct. 6; Susan Ferley, director)
2008: Listen to the Wind (April 15-19; Andrea Boys, director); The Pirates of Penzance (Sept. 23-Oct. 4; Susan Ferley, director)
2009: As You Like It (May 5-9; Lee Wilson, director); Grease (Sept. 22-Oct. 3; Susan Ferley, director)
2010: Macbeth (April 6-10; Heather Davies, director); Anything Goes (Sept. 21-Oct. 2; Heather Davies, director)
2011: The Odyssey (April 5-9; Jeremy Smith, director); Footloose (Sept. 20-Oct. 1; Heather Davies, director)
2012: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (April 24-28; Jeremy Smith, director); My Fair Lady (Sept. 17-28; Susan Ferley, director)
2013: The Taming of the Shrew (April 23-27; Jack Grinhaus, director); Legally Blonde (Sept. 17-28; Susan Ferley, director)
2014: The Importance of Being Earnest (April 22-26; Jamie Dunsdon, director); The Addams Family: A New Musical (Sept. 16-27; Susan Ferley, director)
2015: Much Ado About Nothing (April 21-25; Krista Jackson, director); Hello, Dolly! (Sept. 22-Oct. 3; Susan Ferley, director)
2016: Julius Caesar (April 12-16; Megan Watson, director); Les Misérables, School Edition (Sept. 20-Oct. 1; Susan Ferley, director)
2017: Shakespeare: The Mixtape (April 6-8; Megan Watson, director); Evita (Sept. 19-30; Jan Alexandra Smith, director)
2018: Prom Queen: The Musical (Sept. 18-29; Dennis Garnhum, director)

Author: Cornies

I'm a columnist and writer with continuing interests in arts journalism, Canadian politics and culture, and journalism ethics. I teach occasionally at Western University in London, Ontario. Past lives include coordinating the journalism program at Conestoga College, teaching at Ryerson University's School of Journalism, editing A-section news pages at The Globe and Mail, and various roles at The London Free Press, including arts and entertainment editor and editorial page editor.

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