Since January, walking into Calgary Academy’s Black Box Theatre is like stepping into a cluttered time machine.
Scripts, costumes, and Uber Eats bags litter the floor and bleachers, black curtains hang from the ceiling, and every day, a new Rubik’s cube, mixtape, or another 80s-themed set piece appears in the theatre. Drama productions can be noisy and chaotic during the rehearsal process, but the final product is worth the effort.
With opening night less than a month away, CA students are almost ready to put on another show. It’s time to (re)experience one of history’s most iconic decades with the Senior Production of Back to the 80s.
Bringing Small-Town America to Calgary Academy
Set in a fictional American town, Back to the 80s is a musical chockful of tongue-in-cheek references. From Rick Astley, Star Wars, and the eventual rise of the internet, anyone who grew up in the 80s is sure to find laughs and fond memories during the performances.
Getting into character can be challenging for the students, especially since they are 40-ish years removed from the decade. CA student Marissa B., who plays school nerd Feargal McFerrin, found getting into character required some additional research.
“With a lot of things the character was saying, I thought: what does this mean? I felt like I was just saying words. I definitely asked my parents, watched the play, and researched the role.” – Marissa
While students juggle acting, choreography, and singing—they aren’t figuring everything out alone. Students have their fellow cast members as well as several directors to guide the overall process.
CA staff involved in this production are known as directors, but witnesses to these rehearsals would call them collaborators. Students are rarely told what to do—working alongside the directors to block out scenes, try new ideas, and identify what feels best for their “classically 80s” characters.
During rehearsal, scenes rewind like a cassette tape—as “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” plays for the third time in a row, you can hear the rhythmic stomping of Music Director Jason Valleau as he plays acoustic renditions of 80s hits and fellow students singing along as they memorize monologues from the bleachers.
Accompanying the noise of rehearsal are the conversations throughout the theatre, from students running through scenes to directors comparing notes. No matter the student or teacher, there’s excitement in the air. Senior School students have been preparing for months to step onto the stage.
CA student Sarah T., who plays the new girl in town, Eileen, knows that while pre-show nerves are inevitable, the cast is still excited to perform. She remembers previous years when everyone hyped themselves up before the show by singing, dancing, and goofing around backstage.
“Last year, some guys sang a song backstage while we watched. I think one watched The Muppets and learned one of the entire dances, which was wonderful to see.”
Putting on a production the size of Back to the 80s requires the focus and attention of all cast and crew.
Though students have put in the work, stress and nerves are a shared experience for all the actors.
Managing cast morale alongside tech, costumes, and everything else in the production requires a steady hand, something Creative Director Leeanne McLim has provided for years. She notes that this year’s play, cast, and crew feel special in many ways.
“I feel like our program and community have grown hugely this year… we have junior high students creating sets, band musicians on stage, and student choreographers more involved than ever.
We have a community of kids helping each other with the rehearsals. It’s been a collaborative process—even more so than previous years.” – Ms. McLim
Travel Back in Time this May
Back to the 80s opens May 10, and it’s sure to be an unforgettable show. Senior student Caleb H. notes that while the cast is excited to put on their show, the most rewarding part of the production has been the hours of work they’ve all put in.
“For me, getting from September to May is the beautiful part of the play because it’s such a long process. We’ve been in this for the entire school year basically, and we’re finally going to show people this hard work.”
With music from the Proclaimers, B-52s, and Bonnie Tyler, Back to the 80s helps audiences experience an entire decade in only a few hours. CA parents can purchase tickets through Rycor, accessed via their PowerSchool login. Don’t miss the opening night of this totally awesome nostalgia trip!