Students at Gravenhurst High School (GHS) are less than a week away from performing The Great Immensity, a musical full of mystery, comedy and contemplations about climate change.
The Great Immensity follows a woman named Phyllis who sets out to find her husband, a documentary filmmaker that has gone missing while on assignment. She crosses continents in search of him and uncovers a mysterious plot along the way. The drama department at GHS used to put on a musical every other year, but due to COVID disruptions, there hasn’t been one since 2018. Now, musicals will return to the school with pay-what-you-can performances of The Great Immensity at 6 p.m. on June 8 and 3 p.m. on June 10. Drama teacher Earl Sacrey first came across the show during the closures and downtime caused by the pandemic.
“I was really moved by it and I fell in love with it, just as a fan,” Sacrey said. “Then when it came time to sort of get our school year up and running and pick some projects, I looked at the crew of interested students I had, and I thought, ‘Actually, this would be a good fit.’”
The musical has the right number of cast members and the right tone to fit the students’ abilities, he said, along with having an important message. It gives them a chance to work with issues-based material that highlights the impacts of climate change while still depicting some goofy, light-hearted moments.
The Great Immensity also presents an opportunity for the cast and crew to work on a more tech-forward show. The increased use of technology in creating the multimedia experience means there are new problems to solve, Sacrey said, but it’s also been an entertaining exercise for the students.
“One sequence, for example, has a singing shark in it, so we had to figure out a program that could map someone’s face onto a cartoon shark and film and record all that,” he said. “There’s been a lot of tech learning and just a lot of fun with some of the different effects that we can play with.”
The cast and crew have been working on the musical all semester, meeting a few nights a week after school to rehearse and run songs. In addition to being a fun extracurricular for drama lovers, the show has been a great chance to create new friendships and renew others while making something great, he said.
With less than a week left until they take the stage, nerves are running high. They still need to build a few set pieces, lock in their lines and smooth out the tech side of the production, but Sacrey said he knows stress will turn into excitement as they near their performances.
The Great Immensity first appeared on stage in 2010, so it’s a newer show that isn’t performed often. On top of seeing something unique, Sacrey encourages people to see the show to benefit from the energy and enthusiasm of the students.
“It’s material that not very many people have seen before, so that’s kind of exciting,” he said. “If you don’t come to school theatre a lot, and you don’t even know any teenagers, I think it’s easy to forget how [exciting] things get and how passionate they are. From my perspective, at least, it’s a real panacea to just be in a room with them all the time.”
Grade 11 student Oliver Gonneau plays the elusive filmmaker Karl in the upcoming show. Though he’s been involved in theatre for years, this is his first school production.
“The best part has definitely been some of the other cast members and some of the other people there,” Gonneau said. “It’s been a great opportunity to meet people with similar interests as me, and it’s quite the talented cast, in my opinion. It’s been a lot of fun to learn from them and all put on a great show together.”
The musical is bigger and more formal than the student productions he’s been a part of in the past. Credit for the professional nature of the show goes largely to the excellent direction of Sacrey, Gonneau said.
Practicing the songs, especially the ones that include more cast members, has been one of his favourite memories so far. Preparing for next week’s performances has been a lot of fun as well as a lot of work, so he’s excited to show people what the cast and crew have been up to.
“I would encourage them to come out and just to see what it is that a bunch of high school students can do, what kind of show they can perform for you,” he said. “Not just to make you laugh, to make you smile, but also to make you think, to take a current issue and put it in a form of theatre that’s both easy to understand but also leaves you thinking.”