The McGill Drama Festival (MDF) is an annual theatre festival that runs at Players’ Theatre. The shows of MDF are written, directed, acted, and produced by students. It’s the only production on campus that is entirely student-run. As such, MDF attracts students from across Montreal to participate in this unique theatre experience, and every year, Players’ picks the best scripts from student submissions to run in the festival.
What does this year’s festival have in store? The Bull & Bear spoke with some of the festival’s writers and directors. Pare’s Immaculate Contraception takes place in the small town of Cocksgag, where the pastor’s daughter Evelyn panics over her potential pregnancy in the church bathroom. Outside the stall, the town’s Purity Ball is being held, with Evelyn’s father running the show. According to Pare, the show is “a mish-mash of absolute craziness,” that strives to balance comedy with themes of sexuality, religion, and morality. On the other end of the spectrum, Suzanne, written by Jonathan Dick, is a heavy drama about a woman grieving the death of her boyfriend. Gretel Kahn, the festival’s coordinator, remarked that MDF doesn’t tend to see a lot of heavy drama, but that Suzanne is “exceptionally well-written,” and “demonstrates the variety that student theatre can bring.”
Somewhere from far left field comes Brunch! The Musical, written by Vitta Morales. Morales and Karras took on the challenging task of writing original songs, and Director Harry Skinner chose to up the ante further by staging a live band to play at Players’. Brunch revolves around the employees of a brunch restaurant and their everyday battles with the struggles of the restaurant industry, all set to song and dance. Musicals are always a challenge to produce, but Skinner is excited about the result. Even with the limited casting options he was presented with, Skinner is “extremely happy with who we ended up with,” and even with songs that are tough to perform, “all of them have delivered.” The three other shows in this year’s line-up are: Ground Control, a sci-fi comedy about astronauts lost in space, Pinot Noir, a comedic murder mystery, and My Children, a dark comedy about a disgraced superhero trying to find his place in the world. Coordinator Gretel Kahn said that the script selection committee strives for “a variety of shows” to showcase all that student theatre can offer.
While McGill provides several opportunities for student actors, opportunities for student writers and directors are few and far between. That’s why MDF attracts not only McGill students, but students from across Montreal seeking venues to bring their shows to life. One such playwright is Faith Pare, who wrote Immaculate Contraception and attends Concordia University. Faith said that the best part of MDF is “the thrill of seeing something I wrote come to life.” This sentiment was echoed by Ottman Benchekroun, writer of Ground Control, who said this is the first time he’s been proud of something he wrote.
MDF gives students a chance to direct in an environment less competitive than other full-length productions on campus. Kahn said, “If it wasn’t for MDF, I wouldn’t have been able to direct a play last year.” MDF is a rare shot at theatre involvement for many students who otherwise would not have a place to showcase their talents. It’s also a great chance for newcomers and first-timers to participate in theatre and grow their skills. Steve Greenwood, Director of Immaculate Contraception and writer of Pinot Noir, said that the best part of MDF has been watching his cast grow in skill and confidence, especially his first-time actors. MDF offers a chance for less experienced actors because the productions are shorter, and often less demanding and rigorous than full-time productions. Many who start at MDF go on to participate in more shows at McGill with the experience and passion they gain from the festival.
Every year, MDF strives to bring the best of student theatre to Players’. The first MDF was staged in 1988. Of the six plays shown, a panel of judges declared Colin Krivy’s to be the Best Production. Creevey went on to win the festival several times after that. After Krivy’s passing, his family set up a fund in his name and today, the best playwright is given the Colin Krivy Award in recognition of their work. Kahn, who has been involved with MDF since her first year, said, “I’m always impressed with the quality of plays that MDF produces. The quality has improved every year that I’ve been here.” She expressed her hope that people will “come, enjoy, and support local student theatre.” This year marks the festival’s 30th anniversary as an important and cherished opportunity for student actors, directors, and playwrights to bring their talents to the stage.
The McGill Drama Festival will run at Players’ Theatre on the 3rd floor of SSMU, from February 7th-February 10th and February 14th-February 16 at 7pm. There are three shows per night, with a ten minute intermission between each play. On Saturday, February 17th at 2pm all six plays will be shown in a round-robin. Tickets are $6 for students and $10 general admission. A full schedule of the festival is available on Players’ Facebook page.
Correction: In a previous version of this article we misspelled Colin Krivy’s name as Colin Creevey and said Steven Greenwood was the writer of Ground Control when he was in fact the writer of Pinot Noir. We apologize for the error.
Editors Note: A previous version of this article suggested that having an emergency contact list for cast members was not standard practice, this has since been corrected. We apologize for the error.