Saturday, September 29, 2018 marks the closing night theatre show of a program in London Ontario and area that changes the lives of teens that are within the theatre arts program. It is an annually event that the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario presents and is a collaboration production lead by professions but put on by students from the surrounding community. The Grand Theatre’s High School Project is the only theatre program of its kind in North America. It is an acclaimed mentorship program where high school students are taught the craft of theatre production and acting by some of the most outstanding people in the industry from London, Ontario. The High School Project offers an exceptional opportunity for students to receive education and training in a work environment of professional theatre. The initiative provides leadership, creativity, and communication skills that serve these students on and off the stage, in every area of their lives. At the end of the journey their learning is culminated in a live production on the Grand’s Spriet Stage.
The High School Project or HSP as it is known began in 1998 with West Side Story. Since then the Grand Theatre has produced 34 High School Projects. In 2016 the program celebrated its 20th anniversary with the bestselling Les Miserables: School Edition, which was followed by the hit production Evita last year. This year will mark the first time the HSP brings a new Canadian Musical to the Stage. This year’s selection of a production was Prom Queen: The Musical. The show was not without some controversy within the community. When first released as the production that the Grand was putting forth to be doing for the 2018 edition, the script drew the ire of the London District Catholic School Board and the Thames Valley District School Board and they pulled their funding which left a dent in the project's $250,000 budget. It also marked the first time the two boards haven't contributed to the annual play. Thames Valley School Board Trustee Chair Matt Reid was on record as saying “There are many things in the script that go against the culture and values of our schools” He went on to say “I think the message in the story is very important. The issue is how you portray the facts of the story." Reid also said the play's theme of LGBTQ rights isn't the issue, but rather the language in the script, and how the story portrays school boards, teachers and other adults in a negative light. The community rallied and through various fundraising and donations reach and exceeded the goal for what was needed to put on the play.
Prom Queen: The Musical tells the true story of Marc Hall, a teenager who in 2002 wanted to bring his boyfriend to the school prom. A celebration of young people standing proudly for themselves, this award-winning production features 50 students onstage and another 30 backstage, bringing an authentic voice to a remarkable story.
Grand Theatre artistic director Dennis Garnhum said he chose the play because it allows high school students to play characters their own age in a powerful story of triumph. He is always looking for what’s next and how we grow. He doesn’t want to just keep going through the classic plays. Prom Queen is a brand new Canadian musical set in Ontario based on true fact about what happened when a young high school student innocently said 'I'm taking my boyfriend to prom.'"
Prom Queen was originally developed through Sheridan College's Canadian Music Theatre Project (2014). It was development workshopped at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, Ontario. (2015). The production had its world premiere at Montreal's Segal Centre for the Performing Arts in Montreal, Quebec in 2016 in a held-over run and was presented at New York's National Alliance of Musical Theater's New Musical Festival. Prom Queen received the 2016 Pechet Musical Award from the Playwrights Guild of Canada and is currently nominated for 4 Montreal English Theatre Awards (META), including for Outstanding New Text (Book and Lyrics) and Outstanding Production. The Montreal Gazette considered the show a champion of human rights, celebrating diversity and shining a glitter ball in the face of intolerance. Broadway.com considers the show "Entertaining, hopeful, and accessible for any audience."
"A shining example of a homegrown show that is both vastly entertaining and immensely heartfelt."
Several teens associated with iFilmGroup and the films being made by the group, had applied and auditioned to be part of the High School project production. Two made it to the cast. Both Jessica Ladd and Brooklyn Pritchard were part of the ensemble cast. Jhasna Rivas-Vasquez was part of the crew in the props department. The lead role of the production was played London native Devon Dixon from A.B. Lucas Secondary School who starred as Marc Hall.
Brooklyn Pritchard played the role of Chloe Carter one of the students that gets bullied in the short film Malicious Attack that is in post-production. Jessica Ladd played one of the teenagers who make fun of the lead character Kaitlyn Butler (Helena Rose) in Blue Love which is still in principle filming. Jessica is also in consideration for some other upcoming roles with iFilmGroup. Jhasna Rivas-Vasquez is working with the iFilmGroup Team on the tech end. She is interested in gaining more experience in the art of film making with an interest in directing and how a film comes together.
The Grand Theatre wants to be committed to providing enriching theatre-going experiences that ignite the imagination and connect learning with creativity. The Grand Theatre's Board of Directors and staff is very thankful to Londoners and all those across the country who came forward to celebrate and support everything that the 2018 High School Project, Prom Queen: The Musical, embraces – diversity, inclusion, and human rights. A community-driven fundraising effort, initiated by David Billson and Rachel Berdan of rTraction in January, generated an overwhelming response.
The show received some mixed feelings and reviews but has had a successful run from September 18th to 29th in the Spriet Stage and has given the opportunity to a large group of teens to enhance their skills within theatre and to make and grow friendships that will last a life time. “regardless where peoples thoughts and feels fall on the content of the show, no one can argue with what the High School project does for kids in the community relating to theatre”, Says Matthew Marshall iFilmGroup co-founder and award winning film director. Marshall along with Don Hickey who founded iFilmGroup applaud the Grand Theatre for what they have done with their High School Program as an outlet to mentor and train youth and teens in the theatre industry and theatre production. “I hope that iFilmGroup can have the long term high impact on our youth and teens in film making the same way the High School project has on them within the theatre community”, says Hickey. To date iFilmGroup and its Production Team have mentored over 350 seniors, youth and teenagers in the art of film making, with more joining and being a part of the iFilmGroup program every day.
The iFimGroup has several initiatives in the works for seniors and teenagers to gain experience through mentoring with them. They are holding workshops for acting and technical crew. As well, the iFilmGroup team has Accredited Mentoring Programs and Standard Mentoring Programs that high school students and college/university students can be part of. Coming soon will be a Scholarship Program that iFilmGroup is preparing to roll out for the 2018-2019 school year for high School students who are graduating and planning to moving on to post-secondary studies in acting or in a multi Media/visual arts field. “A lot of things are happening at iFilmGroup and we hope that many seniors and teenagers will get involved”, says Hickey.