Licking old wounds is considered to be counterproductive, and it usually is; but sometimes it can be instructive. Please bear with me.
During intermission Friday evening at Cornwall Collegiate and Vocational School’s production of The Threepenny Opera, by Kurt Weill and Bertoldt Brecht, the common somewhat frantic theme of conversation in the audience was about the “damn air conditioning”, which was drowning out almost all the dialogue and some of the singing. This may be just a detail for building maintenance crews, but it is a significant detail for the audience and the performers.
Here was a pretty credible production of a very difficult vocal work, thwarted by some drone’s refusal to do the right thing. Yes, there was a system of microphones which were apparently being run to the satisfaction of someone sitting in an area not affected by the overwhelming hum of giant fans.
A little background. The production last night was performed by senior high school vocal music students. The setting was a “Cafetorium”, a rather prosaic compromise between theatrical knowledge and institutional food, in which the food won. Picture a ceramic and masonry box with a skylight and a huge picture window backstage (so that blackouts are impossible before sunset, 9 pm in June). Picture a stage that is about at eye level for the audience looking up at the performers from institutional plastic and metal chairs on the flat floor. Add to this totally inadequate lighting, a proscenium curtain with gaping holes in it, and you have an idea of the level of respect that school planners have for theatre in a culture that has a remarkable amount of theatre, in a town that has a remarkable amount of hockey (or as they say in the USA: “ice hockey”–presumably to distinguish it from the seldom-encountered field hockey.)
More background. This facility was a replacement for a remarkable theatre with a balcony, raked seating, and other amenities, which was demolished because some engineer speculated that the facility had suffered structural damage in a previous earthquake that made it unsafe. This dire pronouncement was later discovered to be totally untrue, but by that time, it was too late to retrieve what had been lost.
The “damn air conditioning” referred to above was installed because the section of the school which was built to replace the condemned structure has no openable windows. The concept of sealed environments was developed for public buildings such as schools during the 1960s to defray heating costs. This decision did not take into account the possibility of installing effective fresh-air circulation systems, but rather kept heating costs down by recirculating air with ever-increasing carbon dioxide levels. In fact, costs were further reduced in the seventies and eighties by turning off the system one hour after the school day ended (although students and staff often had extra-curricular activities late into the night), and turning the system back on again when the doors opened for class in the morning. Apparently students and staff were assumed not to require normal levels of oxygen for health and brain operation.
And while I am on the topic of idiotic school design decisions, I would like to know what fool first decided that institutions in a snowbound country should have acres of flat roofs that have come to require perpetual repairs because they perpetually leak.
Back to the show.
The program did not tie names with parts, so I have no idea of the names of the remarkable performers who played the roles of Mr. Peachum and Low-dive Jenny and Celia Peachum and Macheath and Lucy Brown and Reverend Kimball and the trio of dancers. There were flashes of brilliance in some of the other performers as well, notably Polly Peachum. The wonderfully garish bed and the somewhat fragile jail cell were very effective, as were many costumes and hair and makeup effects.
I just wish we could have heard the major parts of the show that were not belted out. But that’s just a detail in a hockey town.
Some production details from the printed program:
Cast (In No Particular Order)
Justin Bellmore, Cora Lauzon, Chris Meister, Justin Merpaw, Courtney Riviere, Britanny Boots, Andrea Torrance, Max Helmer, Louis Zhong, Chelsea Bellmore, Kurtis Clark, Sarah Hickey, Megan Jesmer, Casey Taylor, Sarah Pisciuneri, Nick Merizzi, Doug McFarlane, Jesse Arthur, Bryce Clothier, Marc Turcotte.