First Drafts is a series of five musicals that reimagine, reconstitute, and reanimate the Western “musical theatre canon” in a way that acknowledges the truth of where we are now and where we hope to go. First Drafts is grounded in an urgency to make space for stories that must be told now and must continue to be prioritized in our art form.
We are releasing these works in a variety of media that reflect the hybrid delivery model of our work and learning in the past year. Four of the works have been recorded as podcast-style audio recordings, accompanied by production-style photos that showcase the costumes and sets that were designed and built for these works. The fifth production was rehearsed and presented fully online. Both a video recording and an audio recording of that piece are shared here.
Thank you to all our guest artists and staff for your support and dedication as we navigated this journey. Most importantly, thank you to our students — both from our Honours Bachelor of Music Theatre Performance Class of 2021 and from our Advanced Diploma in Technical Production for the Performing Arts Industry — for your hard work, perseverance and unrelenting commitment as First Drafts was brought to life.
A Note from the Dramaturge
A version of this note was presented on the first day of rehearsal
I heard it said recently: “I love musical theatre, but musical theatre harms me.” My heart has broken many times over the last eight months. It brought me a lot of pain recently to consider how if George Floyd was not murdered, I most likely would not be here and this show would not be happening.
If I could speak to George Floyd, I would tell him that nothing happening now could be worth his life. May I ask as we move forward in this work for us to consider our own anti-Black racism and for us to consider what it means to live in an economy that has been built and continues to be built on the souls and bodies of black folks. I realize that this is a painful way to start rehearsal, but I did not want it to go unacknowledged.
When we took the feedback from our students about what show they would like to work on, a few things came up in overwhelming numbers: The first is that they wanted to work with Mary Francis Moore who I agree is an absolute treasure. The second is that they wanted to work with writers who have been historically left out of the musical theatre canon. The third is that they did not yet feel ready to write these musical themselves.
We took that feedback and conceptualized First Drafts. We invited writers who have historically been excluded from the musical theatre canon to write a musical that speaks to where we are now and where we are going. In doing this, these writers have begun to write the first draft of a new, more expansive canon. There are not enough good things I can say about these writers. It takes, on average, five years to develop a musical. These writers have put these incredible musicals together in a short couple of months.
Another thing I really want to stress is that this project is called First Drafts. There is an industry-wide problem where we have not taught our audiences what it means to watch a new work in development. We are always expecting and holding everything to the standard of a final draft. It’s because of this problem that so few new Canadian works gain the support they need to move forward with their development. I believe we remedy that problem by presenting new works just as they are, with support and care. We are also adding disclaimers to viewers to remind them what they’re watching is an early draft of a production, and we’ll be providing that context for this work as well.
I would love to extend that same care and sense of humanity to everyone working on this project. To our directors and choreographer, who only received scripts for many of these pieces last week, this is also a first draft. To our writers, who just found out how many people would appear in their shows (and some of whom sadly had to cut characters to adjust). To our music team, who is still discovering what the music will be. And to our design and tech teams and tech production students, who have been working diligently to create a set that is stunnnnning without ever seeing a script or hearing a piece of music. To our generous SMs, who I imagine some of whom will be stepping into this role for the first time. And to you, the cast, for stepping into a project without fully knowing what it was going to be. This is a first draft for all of us.
It’s so important that work like this happens because it’s the work that will change our future canons. There is no work this large happening anywhere in Canada right now. It’s exciting, but with this ambitious undertaking comes many hurdles. I want to ask that we all do our best to approach those hurdles with grace, forgiveness and humanity. And I want to personally thank you all for showing up and doing the work.
Going forward, our main value at Theatre Sheridan is radical inclusivity. An inclusivity that includes a diversity of people, cultures and aesthetics. We recognize that even in this large project there are still voices left out, and our work right now needs to correct that for future drafts.
Art is a way of reminding people we exist. We need new art and different art, and I am so excited that the students at Sheridan will take part in creating something new. Thank you for taking part in First Drafts.
- Jordan Laffrenier
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