Ensemble cast perform The Theory of Relativity

Community, connection and young people overcoming the uncertainties in their life. These were some of the key themes of the fall musical The Theory of Relativity that brought the Abdul Majeed Shoman Auditorium to life last week.

Presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI), The Theory of Relativity was developed at the Canadian Music Theatre Project, with music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and based on the book by Brian Hill.

It proved to be an apt choice for the school’s 2021 musical. The Theory of Relativity is a story about college students sharing their stories about home, childhood, family, love, loss, and the uncertainty that comes with their ever-expanding worlds.

There are many parallels to be draw with real life. With the world, not to mention the King’s community, still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, and every action and decision taken at school subject to change at any moment, even the musical — the biggest production of the school year — was not immune to uncertainty.

According to co-directors and faculty members Jana Zeineddine and Meghna Gandhi, it was unknown if they would even be able to stage the show that year.

“We went into the process with the understanding that there would be a possibility that we would not be able to,” says Zeineddine, who notes that they only got the green light to proceed around two weeks before the show. “Which is so hard to work with because, energetically, you are building up momentum towards the final performance with a live audience. That combination of the audience’s energy with the performers’ energy is magical.”

Fall Musical

The directors, upon first hearing the premise of the play, knew instinctively that this was a story they wanted King’s students to tell. And fortunately, their audience was able to experience the magic Zeineddine refers to in person — a performance made all the more special as the performers made the audience a part of, not just a spectator of, the show. 

The cast of The Theory of Relativity was itself unique in that there were no traditional “stars” of the show. The whole ensemble cast was in fact the star, according to the directors.

“It was a difficult concept to get across,” explains Gandhi. “It’s not about you, it’s about all of you. You move, everybody moves. They freeze, you have to freeze. Otherwise, the attention gets pulled to you and that’s not what we want. We want the audience to experience the power of connection through the ensemble.”

Another challenge for students was practicing the “device model” of theater for the first time, which essentially gives the participants ownership over their creative choices, according to Gandhi.

“The minute we started giving them ownership for developing the backstory of their own character I think that is when our students started feeling empowered and that's when they started building into and connecting with the character,” says Gandhi.

The musical was a real test of skill for the students, who not only had to sing but to express real depths of emotion through their performances. Judging by the reaction of the audience, who laughed, cried and gave a standing ovation, their performances were convincing.

Fall Musical

“In any performance at the educational level it's always important to have that element of creative ownership — that's how they learn, that's how they make mistakes,” says Zeineddine. “That's where emotional intelligence, communication, reactivity, and learning to manage yourself come into play.”

Just as each student’s performance was integral to the storyline of the collective ensemble, The Theory of Relativity was undoubtedly a community effort made up of many parts. Students, educators and staff from all areas of the school pitched in to make the production come to life.

“The cast, the technical crew, the production team. We employed so much of the community here to help us, it’s a testament to what this type of work really entails,” says Zeineddine. “The production is a reflection of the really great team behind it.”

It was a journey in every sense of the word for both the actors and directors, according to Zeineddine. “Coming out of the pandemic to do a show about connection with an ensemble of 16 actors on stage the entire time, to work with two new teachers in a process they have never done before — it has been an educational and emotional experience for them,” she says. “Talk to any of the cast members, it’s been impactful for them — and that is what education is about.”

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