Chris Thompson, Cadence Milford and Gabriel Hopkins (left to right)
are three cast members of MAD’s Alone Together

How the MAD program’s original new play came together in the age of COVID

It’s no surprise to learn that the pandemic was a huge part of the inspiration behind Alone Together, a new original play by the Wood Street Centre’s Music, Arts and Drama (MAD) program. With COVID consuming an entire year of everyone’s lives at this point, it seems almost natural for creatives to produce work that reflects the strangeness of these times, and the isolation that comes with being stuck in them.

The show centres around a home for children from all sorts of backgrounds who have found their own community and family with each other. An unnamed pandemic changes the lives of the children and they must learn how to navigate their new normality.
Yet another, less expected inspiration was the song “Freak on a Leash,” by ‘90s alternative metal act Korn, off their seminal 1998 breakthrough album Follow the Leader. Specifically, it was the scatted midsection of the song that caught the ear of MAD instructor Carolyn Westberg, as some of her students recount.

“Our director, Carolyn, really liked “Freak on a Leash” by Korn… I’m pretty sure I’m telling this story right,” says Cadence Milford, a grade 11 student who plays Macy, a bubbly 11-year-old girl who is the youngest child in the home. “There’s one part that’s very primal and she imagined that as a kid picking up the phone and hearing their parent on the other end, and I think that inspired the entire show.”

Westberg came up with the concept and wrote the bones of the play, and then the students, who range from grade 10 to grade 12, fleshed out the script with additional scenes, according to Chris Thompson, a grade 12 student who plays Simon, one of the boys who has been at the home the longest, at 17 years old.
“He’s definitely had a very sheltered kind of life,” Thompson says of his character. “The home is very much away from the rest of the world.”

The students came up with their characters themselves and were taught certain exercises to learn how to get into character.
“Dave (Kanary, who teaches MAD along with Westberg) and Carolyn would make us choose an animal to use to symbolize our character,” explains Gabriel Hopkins, another grade 12 student, who plays Joey, an anxious know-it-all who obsessively studies his surroundings, and had a hard time connecting with the other kids when he arrived at the home. “Mine was a dolphin because my character was heavily based around intelligence. It was really annoying to pretend to be a dolphin onstage when you’re also a human being, but it helped.”

Another method involves a similar approach but with a colour to symbolize each character rather than an animal. The students were also encouraged to pick a quirk for their character and play it up to the maximum, and carefully construct their characters’ movement styles and voices to suit their personalities.

While the students hail their instructors as excellent mentors and guides, they are also thankful for the control they are given and the capability the teachers believe they possess.
“They’re very confident in our ability to get stuff done,” Milford says, referring to Westberg and Kanary. “Almost everyday it’s just ‘okay, go get done what needs to get done.’ It’s nice.”

Because the program is legally considered a cohort, the students don’t have to be masked or distanced during rehearsals, but when their choreographer comes in, that changes. The stage will also be further away from the audience than usual, meaning the students will have to project their voices even more and work harder to connect with the attendees. Unfortunately, they are also not allowed to sing during the show, so the play is entirely spoken.

While the students are all writers and actors, they also each belong to one of four production teams: public relations, set, costumes and props. Milford, who reached out to What’s Up Yukon and set up our interview, is on the PR team, while Thompson is on set and Hopkins is on props.

“The costume team will get all the costumes for all the characters, the props team will make or find all the props, and the set team will literally build the entire set,” says Hopkins.

MAD’s Alone Together runs from June 2-6. The shows start nightly at 7 p.m., except for the June 6 show, which starts at 2 p.m. There is also an afternoon show on June 5 at 2 p.m., in addition to that evening’s performance. The students have reserved seats for their family members, and the remaining tickets will be available at the door.
Visit https://musicartanddrama.weebly.com/ to keep up with the MAD program.