Saturday’s final two performances of the musical Chicago might be the last time the storied auditorium at Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute hosts a school play.
KC is the only school between Perth and Brockville with a designated auditorium. The new building into which it and Queen Elizabeth Collegiate and Vocational Institute is moving at the end of the year doesn’t have one (there’s talk about staging another musical in the fall).
Maev Beaty has earned a mantle’s worth of awards over her acting career, among them three Dora Awards and a Toronto Theatre Critics’ Award. But it was during the KC production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that Beaty knew she had found her place.
“When people ask me why I became an actor, it’s that production that I remember,” she said over the phone from Toronto.
She played Olivia, and remembers when she ran out to break up a fight between Sir Toby Belch and a character who she thought was her lover.
“I’ve done four seasons at Stratford, and I still think it’s one of the best Shakespeare shows I’ve been in,” Beaty reflected.
“At that moment, the audience would find that so hilarious when we interrupted the fight, but then burst into applause. That moment of a group of human beings having a collective, joyful response to something I was a part of … that was it, there was no turning back after that.”
Beaty, who figures she spent more time in the auditorium than any of the classrooms and still has a recurring nightmare about the soft-seater, did about two shows a year there, starting her first year at the school.
She was cast as an old woman in many of those plays, she said, including the role of Marilla in Anne of Green Gables in 1994.
“I played many old women in my young career,” she laughed.
Sharing that stage with her in that production was Chilina Kennedy, currently starring as Carole King in the Broadway musical Beautiful, and Brett Christopher, currently the artistic director and manager of the Thousand Islands Playhouse.
It was the first play Christopher had ever been in, and he only auditioned as a lark and to support his sister. He arrived prepared with a song from Les Miserables.
“I literally stumbled into it,” he said, adding that he figures only five males auditioned for the six roles.
He landed the part of Matthew, Marilla’s brother.
“When I go back to that auditorium now, I still remember walking out on that stage,” he said. “I still remember it so clearly.”
He saw a video of the show years ago.
“There was Chilina, she was brilliant. And then there’s Maev, and she’s fantastic. These people, you could tell they were destined for greatness. And there I am, just hacking through it,” he chuckled.
“Mediocrity” aside, Christopher still caught the performing bug.
“It’s a real gem, that space, and it gave a lot of kids — like me, I guess — the opportunity to really feel like we were on a legitimate stage, to really practise the chops of standing in front of a group of people,” he noted.
He remembers what director Sandie Cond, who was vice-principal at the time, told him after the show finished its run.
“She said, ‘I can tell this experience has had a profound impact on you,” said Christopher, who said that encouragement set him on a career path in theatre.
Cond, who directed two other musicals during her time at KC, The Sound of Music and Annie Get Your Gun, remembers the student who did the sound production for one of them was unable to be there for a performance, so it was left to her.
“You’re the principal, you can run the sound,” the student told her. “They guilted me into giving it a try. Whistles blew when horns were supposed to blow at one point. It was very embarrassing, and it was all my fault.”
She also distinctly remembers teacher Ian Malcolm atop a tall ladder, with just a student steadying it, to replace the bulbs of the stage lights whenever one would blow.
“He would give me heart failure when he went up that ladder,” she laughed.
It took five years after arriving at KC in 1979 for Malcolm to direct his first play.
It was during that time that Barb Canton (then Edwards) ran the shows. She remembers one student painting a “really impressive” castle for the backdrop for the production of Camelot, only to see it painted over as soon as the final curtain had fallen.
“It seemed like such a waste,” she chuckled.
If you could project your voice so it could be heard in the back row of the auditorium, you could do it in any theatre, Malcolm said.
Being the only auditorium in Kingston, it was at KC that the Sears Drama Festival would be held year after year. Those festivals provided him some of his most lasting memories.
“The effect on the audiences on the nights we performed at the drama festival were really things I’ve never forgotten,” remembered Malcolm.
“An audience rising to its feet because the show was so good, and the performances so excellent, they weren’t watching teenagers anymore, they were in the world of the play. It’s wonderful to see that, wonderful to experience that, because I knew that it meant they were good enough to do what they wanted to do in theatre.”
As for that anxiety nightmare Beaty still gets from time to time, it happens with a lot of actors, she said.
It always starts with her running to KC.
“I run to the back hallway and I’m trying to find my locker. I open my locker and my costume’s not there. I zip back into the wing, and it’s inevitably a Shakespeare play. I don’t know my lines at all,” she reminisced. “I go upstairs and they try to shove a costume on me, and I run back downstairs behind those auditorium curtains. I remember the feel and the smell and look of them to this day.”
It’s always a musical performance onstage just before she is to go on. “I’m usually in a pure panic and I don’t know what I’m doing,” she said.
“My friends, my husband and colleagues I work with in my professional life know the KC auditorium because I tell them, ‘Oh, I had the KC dream last night,’” Beaty continued.
“I always wake from this dream grinning with affection because I’m like, there it is again, where I first learned to ride the adrenaline dragon that is essential to my professional career.”
What: The musical Chicago.
When: Saturday, May 4, 2 and 7 p.m.
Where: Auditorium, Kingston Collegiate and Vocational Institute, 235 Frontenac St.
Cost: Tickets are $20 at the door, $15 for students.