Behind the scenes of the annual arts and science and health sciences musicals

Novera Shenin
April 21, 2022
Est. Reading Time: 6 minutes

C/O Kilyan Sockalingum (Unsplash)

With dramatic ups and downs, take an exclusive look into the rigorous process of student-produced musicals

McMaster Arts and Science Musical: “An Inquiry Line” 

Waiting in anticipation to enter the interview that will determine if they speak for the voice of a generation as valedictorians, five arts and science students reflect on their time in the arts and science program. With elaborate choreography, each main character had a musical number that represented a throwback to their time within the program and conveyed their internal battles.  

Loosely based on the well-known musical “The Chorus Line,” the annual arts and science musical “The Inquiry Line” took place at The Zoetic Theatre on March 18 and 19. 

Elle Klassen is a fourth-year arts and science student casted to play the role of Jordan, a disenchanted arts and science student and one of the five potential valedictorian interviewees. Jordan’s song was a rendition of “Cell Block Tango” from the musical “Chicago,” where they sing of their perils within first-year arts and science courses.  

“My character Jordan was intended to be the former gifted child archetype. They had a tough time balancing work and school as they came from a rural, low-income background. They are intended to be a little unpleasant and are irritated by people who had a lot of school spirit. Throughout the musical Jordan reconnects with art-sci to realize the value of their experiences within the program,” explained Klassen.  

Given that auditions were held early October, the musical was an accumulation of almost five months of effort with cast members partaking in four-hour rehearsals on top of academic obligations every week. Two months before the performance dates, rehearsals comprised of the entire weekend.  

To further immerse themselves in their role, Klassen and her castmates would contemplate the attributes they thought their characters would exhibit, such as what type of person the character would be and their visual aesthetics. This process aided in the main cast being able to learn their lines more naturally as they developed an increasing sense of the different intersections of the student experience that their characters were intended to portray.  

“I didn’t even have to work on my lines that much outside of rehearsal because of how much initiative the main cast took to learn about their parts. While everybody was amazing and supportive, I thought the creative team could have taken more of a hands-on approach to show greater initiative,” said Klassen.  

"I didn’t even have to work on my lines that much outside of rehearsal because of how much initiative the main cast took to learn about their parts. While everybody was amazing and supportive, I thought the creative team could have taken more of a hands-on approach to show greater initiative."

Elle Klassen, fourth-year arts and science student cast to play the role of Jordan in "An Inquiry Line"

Boasting two directors, two vocal directors, two choreographers and one conductor, members of the musical team with experience in previous arts and science musicals found this production to be particularly well organized. This was especially evident during the notoriously hectic tech week, the week leading up to the musical.  

“The dress rehearsals leading up to the show were extremely chaotic, but somehow everything always comes together by the performance day. I was so impressed by the backstage managers who managed to handle last minute issues that popped up with a lot of grace. The closing night was amazing,” said Klassen 

Health Sciences Musical: “Healthsci Hears a WHO?” 

The HSM is a fully student-run musical, written, produced and performed by students to raise funds for charity. This year the HSM geared its donations to the Black Health Sciences Bursary and the Arts for all Co.  

Following along a theme of graduation and identity, the plot revolves around the entire graduating health sciences cohort being given a task whose only instructions are a single word: “Who?” The catch is everybody must pass this task in order to graduate and if there is even one individual who fails at the task then nobody graduates.  

Yuna, one of the leading characters played by second-year health sciences student Sarah Baik struggles under the shadow of an overachieving brother as she attempts to change herself to fit in by trying her luck at popularity. Her character explores the themes of retaining friendships and sibling dynamics within the context of contemporary student experience. After an emotional fight with her seemingly perfect brother who is only trying to look out for his sister as she strays further from her authentic self, Baik’s character does her main vocal number to the tune of “Choose to Be Mine” from Waitress the Musical.  

During the writing process, the entire team of over 80 people contributed towards finding melodies and lyrics that would best represent each character. Everyone voted on final song and lyrics selections and whichever one received the most was selected collectively. 

Rehearsals took place for five hours every Sunday, with the first couple of hours being spent with the vocal directors learning the musical numbers, the middle hours spent with the choreographers and the last hours being used to run scenes from top to bottom. Shows were set to run at the Zoetic Theater and the team even arranged special public transport routes to safely allow audiences to attend and exit the performance. 

“My experience in the role was super positive, we all learned and grew together. The team is super talented and there is a lot to learn from them. I got to meet a lot of people across the years which was something unique. Sometimes you have a test on Monday, but you have rehearsal on Sundays. It taught me a lot about time management which was good for learning self-discipline,” explained Baik.   

"My experience in the role was super positive, we all learned and grew together. The team is super talented and there is a lot to learn from them. I got to meet a lot of people across the years which was something unique. Sometimes you have a test on Monday, but you have rehearsal on Sundays. It taught me a lot about time management which was good for learning self-discipline."

SARAH BAIK, SECOND-YEAR HEALTH SCIENCES STUDENT CAST to Play Yuna in "Healthsci hears a who?"

Unfortunately, the HSM was cancelled on its opening night due to members of the team testing positive for COVID-19 just a few hours prior to performance.  

Upon tensely deliberating on which direction to take following this turn of events with the venue for performances already booked and paying audiences at stake, the team made a decision to prioritize collective safety, even at the cost of months of their hard work.  

“There were a lot of devastating emotions because it got cancelled. It didn’t hit me until an hour or so after I got the news. Everyone knew this was a possibility, but no one was prepared for it to happen. It was a tough decision because you felt like you let a lot of people down, not only the show organizers but also the audience. It was difficult but at least we had each other and got stronger,” said Baik.  

Through it all, Baik and her cast mates praise the efforts of the production team who took the time to listen and validate the opinions of all cast members before deciding on a final decision to cancel the musical. The production team stayed strong for the rest of the team amidst the myriad of feelings about COVID-19 and the restrictions it brought forth.  

“We all were depressed for a good few days after, processing the grief, but we are back and moving on knowing it was for the best. A lot of bonding came out of this as nobody understood our frustrations as well as the HSM team,” said Baik.  

The HSM is now exploring other avenues to deliver its shows at later dates.  

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