Hanna Nes, Contributor
Grab your croquet bat, some corn nuts and an ice cold slushie because Heathers the Musical is coming to McGill! The Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society’s (AUTS) production of the hit musical adaptation of the 1988 cult film is running the last two weeks of this January (Jan. 19-28) in Moyse Hall. While they may be putting on a musical about nasty cliques, and unwelcome new kids, the cast and crew of Heathers has been a welcoming community for exchange students.
Heathers tells the story of high school senior Veronica Sawyer who becomes entangled in the drama between the most powerful clique at Westerburg High and JD, the mysterious new kid in town for whom she falls. However, this drama has a body count—as Veronica and JD’s passionate, twisted love story leads to the deaths of several of her classmates, which they attempt to pass off as suicides. The dark comic film, which was a box-office bomb upon release, has garnered a dedicated fan following, and was adapted into an off-Broadway show that premiered in 2014 to critical and commercial acclaim.
Although a comedy, it’s a show that also tackles many themes prevalent in today’s society, dealing especially with mental health and social issues common amongst youth, including bullying. I talked to director Kenzia Dalie about the serious themes addressed in the show, and how she wanted these topics to be portrayed in AUTS’ production:
“Heathers really hits home for me on the topics of mental health and bullying” she says. “People are so often ignored and pushed aside when talking about these issues. We have the power to listen and love and break the stigma that mental health is a private thing. I wanted to let this be apparent throughout the show, especially the scenes where characters are bullied to their absolute breaking point. This was difficult for me to watch these characters that I love so much be pushed to their emotional limits. But the extreme always seems to make an impression. Theatre has a way of laying our everyday lives out in front of us so that we can to look at ourselves and change our actions in real life”
Although much of the subject matter is difficult, the show maintains a wry and raunchy sense of humour throughout its runtime, with big belly laughs supplied by its sarcastic and endlessly quotable dialogue. The antics of many characters, who parody the basic high school stereotypes are seen time and time again.
Over the past few months, the cast and crew have become a close-knit community, spending several days a week rehearsing together and throwing numerous social events for company bonding. Primarily a mix of both McGill and Concordia students, there are also several cast members on exchange from various universities in the UK and Ireland. I spoke with a couple of the exchange students in the cast to get an idea of what the experience has been for them of becoming involved in theatre at McGill and in Montreal.
“A significant part of my university experience back home in Scotland is built upon the student theatre community”, University of Glasgow student Josh Bartholomew says. “So I am very happy to have been welcomed so warmly into this community at McGill, even as a student of UQÀM. I felt extremely welcomed by everyone at AUTS from my very first audition and they have continued to be so supportive of me and my busy exchange schedule.”
Darragh McArdle, a psychology student from University College Dublin, says “It’s been really great to be a part of the cast of Heathers and even more interesting to be a part of a theatre scene that differs hugely from that of Dublin’s. Even though I’m in a different city, different university, and different company, one thing that certainly matches with what I’m used to is the camaraderie between cast members and the passion that each and one of us has for performing, and even in the freezing cold Montreal winter, that is one thing that is truly heartwarming to see.”
When asked about the differences he has noticed and experienced so far between theatre at McGill compared to back home, Darragh said, “What I think Montreal has over Dublin is its theatre space. For us to be able to perform in a theatre which has been purposefully built for the use of students and their productions is something that is brand new to me. Coming from Ireland where, theatre societies, not just university ones, find it very hard to find proper spaces to perform in and instead are forced to turn to gym halls, conference areas, and ballrooms and transform them into makeshift theatres which, as you can imagine, isn’t ideal and comes with its fair amount of challenges, so I’m looking forward to being able to not have to help build a stage from scratch!” he adds with a laugh.
As the show prepares for its debut, director Kenzia Dalie thanks the cast and crew for all their hard work the past few months, saying “Seeing everything come together on and off stage is beyond anything I could ever imagine”. So don your favourite shoulder padded blazer and tease your hair sky-high, this show is going to be so very!
Heathers The Musical runs until Saturday, January 28th in Moyse Hall, at 7 pm. Tickets are 15$ for students, and 20$ for adults. Groups of 6 or more tickets save 5$ off of each.