Forest Hill CI has qualified for a provincial theatre showcase in Brantford, May 8 to 11. The school’s production of The Seussification of Romeo and Juliet, by Peter Bloedel, is one of just twelve that will be performed at the Ontario National Theatre School (NTS) Festival, and the only one from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). “I’m so proud of our students and staff and their incredible creativity and dedication,” said Principal Reiko Fuentes.
Teacher Liz Burnip is the director of the production and staff sponsor and said she has been entering students in this festival for 20 years. "It was formerly known as the Sears festival and my students did make it to the Regional Showcase, but this is the first time my students have moved on to provincials. It's pretty exciting!"
The play is an accessible, modern-day reinvention of the classic Shakespearean story of a star-crossed young couple, and the triumph of love. The idea behind the selection of this production by FHCI was and continues to be to unite all groups of people, both at the mid-town Toronto school and outside it, despite differences of opinion that may exist. Through jokes, storytelling, and comedic behaviour, the importance of that message emerges. And along the way, it also brought together this unique and talented group of students and staff. At the beginning of November, auditions first took place to select the cast and crew. Shortly thereafter, rehearsals began. Every Monday and Wednesday after school, the students came together to practice their lines, movements, blocking, and stage presence. Over time, the actors grew closer to their peers and characters through continuous work as an ensemble. By the end of February, the production was perfected with many late-night rehearsals and was deemed ready for an audience. The first one they encountered was family, friends, and fellow students on their very own stage. This homeschool event ran for two consecutive nights as a fundraiser for the drama department. The cast was motivated by the overwhelming support received.
The district competition of The NTS Festival was the first true challenge for the group. Their hard work and enthusiasm resulted in a standing ovation when they performed the play at Northern SS. FHCI took home the outstanding production award and two awards of excellence for C.J. Mezin’s performance as Romeo and best costume and prop design. Most significantly, they won a chance to continue their journey together and compete with eleven other high schools from across Toronto at the regional event.
The ensemble continued to rehearse twice a week to strengthen the production, becoming more comfortable in their roles and breaking out of their shells to demonstrate the true nature of their characters. In early April, the students performed at Hart House for the regionals. The professional and new atmosphere encouraged the cast and crew members to give it their all in what could have been their final performance. But it was not. With the guidance of teachers, feedback from experienced adjudicators and the chemistry between actors on and behind the stage, Seussification won outstanding production and three awards of merit for best narration and performance to Angie Gjika and Olivia Xoxa, comedic genius for Jake Fogel, outstanding stage presence to Helin Tanriverdi. It also garnered another award of excellence for best costume and prop design, and again advanced to the next stage of competition. Since then, the cast and crew have been hard at work to rehearse for the upcoming provincial showcase.
When they take the stage in Brantford, they will have all of FHCI and the entire TDSB--even traditional rival schools--behind them. In retrospect, the cast’s dedication and enthusiasm to bring their school community together demonstrates the incredible power that young individuals and art programs have to affect change in their immediate surroundings and, ultimately, the world.
Written by Forest Hill CI student Angie Gjika