SCAET building at Sheridan's Trafalgar Road Campus

A meteoric ascension in theatre for recent Sheridan/UTM grad

Jun 15, 2023
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Anthony Palermo added actor, director, writer and composer to their resume even before earning their credential in Sheridan and University of Toronto Mississauga’s Theatre and Drama Studies (Honours Bachelor of Arts) joint degree. Shortly before graduating this spring, they staged the Canadian debut of The Gray: A Wilde Musical in Concert, a novel twist on the Oscar Wilde classic A Picture of Dorian Gray.

A headshot of Sheridan/UTM graduate Anthony Palermo and an image from the poster for their production The Gray: A Wilde Musical in ConcertThe Gray is the brainchild of Palermo, who created the book, music and lyrics for the production staged at Hart House Theatre, on top of directing it. The new work originally found success as an audio drama, produced in 2022 by Victoria College Drama Society and currently streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.

Inspired by Wilde’s classic and set in David’s Disco, a nightclub that briefly existed in Toronto’s Gay Village in the late 1970s, The Gray follows Dorian, a young singer-songwriter determined to be a star. After his photograph is taken, he becomes obsessed with the image and power it holds.

The Gray was sparked by real-life events – a series of unsolved homicides, missing queer people and the mysterious 1977 fire at David’s Disco. “The inspiration came from events in the queer history of Toronto, which I’ve always been fascinated by, as well as Justin Ling’s book Missing from the Village, featured in a CBC podcast series,” says Palermo. “I became extremely engrossed with that past as well as the queer themes in Wilde’s novel, and they sort of blended together in my mind.”

Creating historical fiction was of great interest, and having the work performed in Toronto, set in the Gay Village in the 1970s, was very important to Palermo. “It’s significant to have it on stage and to have queer bodies performing. This is really special,” they said. With an original, glam-rock-inspired score, The Gray explores self-expression, generational queer trauma and what it means to find home in LGBTQ+ spaces.

Palermo hopes the success of the Hart House performance of The Gray will lead to the musical play being picked up and performed in other venues. “I’m so grateful that the story resonates with people,” they said.

Debuting The Gray was but one of many milestones celebrated during Palermo’s ascension in theatre as a student. They were invited by the Musical Stage Company to compose and direct music for One Song Glory 2022 – a musical theatre training intensive. They were also an artist-in-resident for Soulpepper Theatre Company’s Queen Youth Cabaret and in 2022, they wrote and performed a one-person musical called She, Men and the Giant F*cking Snake.

Recently, Palermo directed Angels in America at St. Michael’s College and acted in hit television shows such as Workin’ Moms and Macy Murdoch, a spinoff of Murdoch Mysteries.

Now a graduate and ready to build on already-found success in the industry, Palermo reflects on the myriad of opportunities and experiences that impacted their time as a student, offering advice to current students: “Get involved everywhere…try everything at least once.”

Listen to the original audio drama.
Read more about Anthony Palermo.

— A version of this story was originally published on the HartHouse website. Photo by Hayley Andoff.

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