An all-time favourite with little audience members, this fantastical musical reminds us all that “a person’s a person no matter how small”.
The show has a new director, the wickedly smart Thom Allison. He's a career actor (most recently appearing in Kim's Convenience), originally from Winnipeg. He stood out early on when he became the youngest student admitted to Ryerson Theatre School at age 17. And this is another first for him; he has never directed before. We sat down with Thom to find out more.
Q. What do you look for when choosing a project?
A.- Certainly an interest in the story is the first factor. If I'm acting, then it's about the role and the character's journey. Also, I have a very visceral instinct that I've learned to listen to. If it's good for me, my solar plexus feels very open and light. If it's a bad idea for me, my solar plexus tightens as soon as I'm offered the show.
Q. Why did you decide to make the jump from actor to director?
A. - Even at theatre school, I was interested in directing. I directed a show each year I was at Ryerson Theatre School - just independently as a lunch time show at school. But then my career took off and I've been lucky enough to have that very rare thing of a constant career as an actor. In the last few years, I started to realize I wasn't as hungry as an actor. I wanted to be responsible for more of the storytelling. I think I always thought I would come to directing eventually but it is a little sooner than I expected. I don't think I'm done performing but a new door is definitely opening, thanks to Allen MacInnis, YPT’s Artistic Director.
Q. And what about this play attracted you?
A. - I've always thought of myself as a bit of a cartoon in my heart. I grew up with Bugs Bunny and The Muppet Show. Two shows that where the real comedy was geared toward intelligent adults. I knew, even as a kid, that I wasn't getting all of the jokes but I also knew I would grow into them and I appreciated not being talked down to. Seussical is so smart. Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) gave children very big, grown ideas to mull over and didn't give them easy answers. He encourages them to ask questions and have empathy. The musical does that too. I like that.
Q. What was the directing experience like for you? What did you learn? And were there any moments you wanted to jump in and get on stage?
A. - I've had an amazing time directing the show. I have to say, every day was joyful and a new learning experience. I've learned a lot about trusting your team. I've learned directing can't be about ego. The joy of it is letting everyone play in the playground and the best idea wins. I've also learned to trust my instincts and that no idea is too small. I have to say, I didn't ever really feel like I wanted to be in the show. I've loved being inside it but not having to do it. Not to indicate that it's been a "relaxing" alternative to performing. It's just as exhausting - simply because there really are no breaks. The director is always working out something new or planning or re-planning with the choreographer or chatting with wardrobe or lights or something. It appeals to my anal-retentive side.
Q. What was your own experience with Dr. Seuss as a child?
A. - I actually wasn't really exposed to Dr. Seuss as a child. I did know How The Grinch Stole Christmas. I would watch the animated television special every year. . . still do. But we didn't have the books at home. My dad is from the woods of Nova Scotia and my mother is a 1st generation Canadian whose parents were German-speaking Dutch Mennonites from Russia, so Dr. Seuss wasn't naturally in their spheres of cognition.
Q. Why should parents make sure their kids don't miss seeing this musical?
A.- The world seems constantly full of reasons to find our way back to understanding and acceptance. It can be a minefield for our children. Seussical reassures children ... and parents. . . that being a good person, though not always easy, is always going to be a worthwhile achievement. Plus, it's a hell of a good time.
Q. Two of the performances are geared towards young people with autism. Where did this idea come from? And can you tell us if that impacted how you directed the play? Are there additional challenges?
A. Many theatres are adopting this wonderful program. I'm thrilled that it is something people have gotten onboard with. My best friend's son is autistic. She's also a theatre professional so it's exciting for him to experience what she does for a living.
The program doesn't impact how I'm directing the show in terms of it's conception. I still fill the show with all of the ideas and concepts that the show sparks in my imagination. But as far as creating challenges goes, it actually doesn't make challenges, it makes great opportunities to share the show with a wider audience. It simply means that by softening some of the lighting and effects for those two shows, we have the opportunity to engage these children in a theatre experience that is gentle enough for them to enjoy without being overwhelmed by too many bells and whistles.
Seussical™ opens to the public on Friday and runs til December 31st. Recommended for ages 5 & up.
YPT will offer two Relaxed Performances during this run, one for school audiences and one for families, each geared toward young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder but good for anyone who finds traditional theatre experiences somewhat of a challenge.
Young People’s Theatre | 165 Front Street East, Toronto
Tickets: $10-$41; HST & service charges extra | Prices subject to change without notice | Online: youngpeoplestheatre.ca