‘Can you keep a secret?’ Mystery brings new life to theatre arts

Sean Previl
By Sean Previl March 11, 2016 11:20

Windsorites have been let in on a secret: a different way to enjoy musical theatre.

Known as the Confidential Musical Theatre Project, 27 local actors were brought to the Water’s Edge Event Centre March 5 to present Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. The catch – no rehearsals, no name reveal until opening night and all of the performers only found out who their fellow actors were an hour before the show.

Long-time Windsor performer Dave Banwell, who played the character of Roscoe, said it was an experience unlike any other.

“It relies on the actor’s instincts to know what to do in certain situations and watch out for the other actors when you’re actually on stage,” said Banwell.

“It’s all part of the wonder of just being up there and wondering how the hell is this all going to come together.”

Melissa McLeod belts out a high note as part of a group performance of “Montage” from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. It was the first show for Windsor’s franchise of the Confidential Musical Theatre Project. (Photo by/Sean Previl, The Converged Citizen)

Melissa McLeod belts out a high note as part of a group performance of “Montage” from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. It was the first show for Windsor’s franchise of the Confidential Musical Theatre Project. (Photo by/Sean Previl, The Converged Citizen)

CMTP was born in Toronto in 2014 under the direction of musical theatre teacher Marion Abbott. Now, 15 franchises are open, including Vancouver, Chicago and New York City.

The shows utilize both musical theatre performance and improvisation, similar to the show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Actors are provided with scripts beforehand, but they have to react to their cast members and the environment on the spot, which can lead to interesting results. For example, a past CMTP show required an actor to angrily walk offstage through a door, but the door didn’t open.

Cast member Bob Mero said the mystery of the unknown is what makes the show exciting.

“You can come in and pretty much do whatever you would like to add to the show,” said Mero.

“It’s totally off the wall, very impromptu. Think on your feet, go for it, have some fun.”

Abbott said she formed CMTP to do shows with her friends, but to save money and time she had her friends rehearse at home, then come to a theatre to perform only once.

“I love the idea of people of not knowing who else is in the cast, because then they come with no expectations (and) no fear.”

The idea caught on and franchises came into existence.

Windsor franchise owner Sarah Ilijanich, who also owns Lakeshore Academy of Fine Arts, said she first learned about the project through one of her instructors. She then bought into the project because of the opportunity it gives to actors.

“Actors have amazing talent and this is the opportunity for them to be raw and organic and to come up with their own ideas on the spot,” said Ilijanich.

The premise of each show is simple. Actors audition by submitting a video performance. Those who are chosen receive a script, but are sworn to secrecy about the show. Until opening night, performers can post on Facebook where and when the show will be, but must leave blank spaces about what role and show they’ll be performing.

Despite not knowing this information, about 250 people attended.

Performer Lia Pizzuti, who has starred in Windsor musicals before, said she came to see how the show’s improvisational format would work without the cast being able to rehearse together.

“So many things could go wrong when people really don’t know what they’re doing and they’re all meeting for the first time,” said Pizzuti.

Louanne Whent attended to support her friends in the show.

“It’s a night of entertainment, it’s a night to support people you know … also, just respecting the fact of what they’ve gone through to pull this off,” said Whent.

The next show in Windsor will be in October and people can audition at www.confidentialmusicaltheatreproject.com.

“Can you keep a secret?”

Sean Previl
By Sean Previl March 11, 2016 11:20

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