Suicide, bulimia, murder: 'People are going to be surprised'

Robert Williams Telegraph-Journal
February 11, 2018
 
ROTHESAY | It's provocative, in your face, unapologetic and incredibly timely.
 
Heathers: The Musical, based on the cult '80s movie Heathers, starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, is coming to the stage of Rothesay Netherwood School from Feb.  22 to 24.
 
But don't worry, said director Dayna Ellis, it's a high school version.
 
For those unfamiliar with the original movie, it's a black comedy set in an Ohio high school that deals with issues of suicide, murder, bulimia and bullying.

It's not the type of show for the faint of heart, and it's not something you would usually find on a high school stage.
 
To give you an example, Anika Nice's character of Miss Flemming says in one of her monologues, "Whether you kill yourself or not is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make."
 
It's edgy and definitely out there, admits Ellis, but she said that's all the more reason why it needs to be done.
 
Revisiting the story in 2018, almost 30 years after the original 1988 movie, the play provides a well-timed commentary on mental illness and teenage angst.
 
Ellis said when she was first approached about doing the play by 16-year-old Sarah Slipp about a year ago, her initial answer was "No way, you can't do it in a high school."
 
But she said the more she thought about it, and after choosing the high school version which was edited by the writers to fit a high school stage, the more she said she appreciated the idea and the opportunity it presented.
 
For the actors, it has been a character study of the darkest parts of high school, and an opportunity to talk about the issues as a group.
 
The cast has gone through bullying workshops, the school has brought in speakers to talk about language, identity and LGBTQ+ issues and the matinee on the 24th will feature a question and answer period with Danny Miles, a resident of psychology.
 
"My first time reading the script was quite shocking almost, because it's so different than anything we've ever done before," said Grade 12 student Brooke Streeter. "They are all real issues, but almost to a ridiculous extent. But with us talking about it every day and doing workshops about it, you realize the issues are all around us all the time. We're just so oblivious."
 
The format for this play is also quite different than in years past, explained Ellis. Usually, the school play has over 100 actors and features 12 weeks of rehearsal.
Not this time around.
 
The 27-person cast is four weeks into rehearsals, with just two weeks until opening day.
 
"I think part of that decision was that we knew we had a lot of talent this year, and we wanted to give those people who are serious about theatre the opportunity to have more of a role," said Ellis.
 
Opening night is set for Feb. 22 and will run through to the 24th, marking the last school play for Grade 12 students Martha Pitre and Streeter.
 
"People are going to be surprised," said Pitre.
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