Call it life imitating art.
For their upcoming stage adaption of the 2003 Jack Black film School of Rock, some Whistler Secondary School theatre students had to learn how to play new instruments in just a few months.
"It's the most ambitious show I think we've ever put on," says Oscar Steiner, a Grade 12 student who's staring in the lead role of Dewey Finn. "We have two bands. Most of us in the School of Rock band didn't play the instruments we're playing in the show. It's ambitious for sure, but it came together really well."
Around 55 students in the school's theatre program were busy last week putting the final touches on the production, which will run at the Maury Young Arts Centre on Thursday, March 1, Friday, March 2, and Saturday, March 3 for the public. (There will also be a special matinee for students from Grades 5 to 7.)
While Steiner and Michael Murdoch (who plays Ned Schneebly) spent the summer adapting the play, the team has been working on the production since September. "I play piano, so I do have a musical background, but I did pick up guitar for (the play)," Steiner says. "That's probably what I'm most happy with: that I had the opportunity to learn a new instrument."
For those unfamiliar with the blockbuster film: it revolves around Dewey Finn (Jack Black's character) who's recently been kicked out of a going-nowhere band called No Vacancy. The down-on-his-luck musician is living with his friend (Ned Schneebly) — a substitute teacher — and his friend's girlfriend when a prestigious prep school calls him in to work one day.
Finn seizes the opportunity to make some cash and decides to try his hand at teaching music. He quickly realizes his new students are talented and decides to sign them up for a Battle of the Bands contest where the prize is $20,000.
"The rest of the show is him teaching the kids how to rock, what it means to be a rocker, and it culminates with their performance," Steiner says.
To that end, the show features two bands: the School of Rock group and No Vacancy, which will play some classic rock for the crowd during the scene changes.
Wency Reyes plays drums in the latter group — his second time taking part in a school play.
"I've been playing drums since I was six," he says. "It's good for me to get out there and perform in front of people. But I have stage fright going in front of 200 people each night. I remember last year, my first time playing with this school, it's scary, but it's fun playing with a lot of people."
While the substantial behind-the-scenes crew might not have to face the spotlight, they were still experiencing the crunch last week. Last Thursday, Feb. 15, a group of students spread out in the school's common area putting the finishing touches on the 16 flats that will make up the backdrops.
"I think now that everyone realizes the play is closer, we're starting to work harder," says Callie Hirsch, a Grade 10 student working on backdrops. "I also didn't realize how much work it takes. The flats make a big difference in the production. It looks more professional."
For teacher and director Sandra Droulis, the best part of the process is the coming week as everything starts to come together. "It's the most rewarding part of my job — seeing it all come together and seeing the kids' excitement. With something like this, they have such a strong purpose — to put on a show — that they all come together," she says.
Other community members and organizations have also helped with the production this year, she adds. The Whistler Blackcomb Foundation and the schools' Parent Advisory Council both helped fund the play, while Nesters Market will provide food for the actors and local music teacher Jeremy Thom helped the students learn their instruments.
"It's my seventh year (at the helm of a play)," Droulis says. "It's becoming more routine where I know ahead of time what needs to be done and I'm more proactive about certain things."
The public can help support the school's theatre program by purchasing a $15 ticket at artswhistler.com. "We usually sell out for the weekend shows," Droulis says. "It's a lot of fun."