Ross Sheppard students explore identity in musical revue
'Identities' takes place from May 3-6
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At Ross Sheppard High School, LGBTQ students have found their safe space on the stage.
The school’s musical theatre class is currently working on ‘Identities’, a musical revue based on real life experiences which explores how young people identify themselves in today’s world.
Drama teacher Kristen Forsyth said she wanted to put a different spin on songs from popular musicals such as Grease, Rent and Hairspray. The production challenges gender stereotypes -- one musical number has students performing ‘Summer Loving’ from Grease, with the girls acting macho and the boys acting sensitive.
“This year it seems like I have a lot more students in my drama classes, not just musical theatre but my other drama classes, who are gender non-conforming or in the LGBTQ+ community,” Forsyth said. “So I started looking at how I could give these kids a chance to express their stories.”
The show is almost entirely developed by students. During the audition process, Forsyth asked students to share a life-changing experience that helped them understand their identity. Those stories are what inspired the scenes in Identities.
“With the theme of identity, we’re not only looking at gender non-conformity … but how our stories reflect who we are,” Forsyth said.
Coming to terms with one’s identity is an experience Mordecai Lazzer can relate to. The 17-year-old Grade 12 student identifies as non-binary or androgynous. Lazzer said the drama program at Ross Sheppard has always been welcoming, but Identities takes that a step further by giving Lazzer a broader outlet for their voice.
“It’s allowed me to express who I am … It’s really let me come out of my shell and be open more, not only with my drama friends but with people out in public in the world,” Lazzer said.
Lazzer's experience of growing up with an older sister and mother who expected they be more feminine is one of the stories made into a scene.
“That’s basically what my story is about – how I tried to go from one spectrum to the other until I found my place in the middle,” Lazzer said. “I’m not specifically feminine or masculine – I’m kind of just myself.”
Kassondra McNeil, who identifies as female and straight, remembers when she acted in a play in Grade 10 called ‘Bye bye birdie’, which emphasized traditional gender roles as “macho” men.
“To come this far and kind of do something that’s the complete opposite, which talks about being you – maybe you’re a tomboy, maybe you don’t identify with a particular gender at all - it’s really nice to explore that especially because a lot of the world hasn’t quite grasped that,” she said.
Forsyth has been encouraged by how her entire class has embraced the production.
Lazzer hopes the production will encourage young people who are unsure about their identity to explore what makes them unique.
“I want people to educate themselves more and be comfortable with who they are.”
The performance takes place on May 3 and 5 at 7 p.m., and again on May 6 at 1 p.m. at 7 p.m., at St. Jean Theatre at the University of Alberta.