Students Produce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Friday, January 13, 2012

This year’s student-produced musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, was bawdy, silly, and fun.

Based on plays by the Roman playwrights Terence and Plautus, the 1964 sex farce follows a Roman slave who attempts to win his freedom through helping his master to win his love. The comedy features music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and plenty of over-the-top stock characters (including “Domina,” who dominates her husband, the “Geminae” courtesans that are sold as a pair, and “Hysterium,” who today might be diagnosed with a classic anxiety disorder).

While the musical is now nearly 50 years old, much of the humour of the performance had a contemporary, self-reflexive flavour. Characters marveled at extra-diegetic music. As a sort of impromptu play-within-a play moment, Chorists dangled paper stars on ropes to assist Pseudolus in setting a romantic scene for the lovers. Upon his long-awaited arrival, boastful soldier Miles Gloriosus approached the orchestra and threatened the orchestra conductor’s life. Meanwhile, the play’s satirical portrayals of social hierarchy, and its themes of freedom and sacrifice, remain poignant and relatable, even in the twenty-first century.

The value of this short-run musical extended far beyond its entertainment value for its audiences. Cast, crew, and orchestra used an innovative advertising strategy--by performing songs from the show in the auditorium before their classes (see image above). The fundraiser preview night, on January 30th, raised over $800 for the Attawapiskat emergency fund.

As part of the Theatre Production (EDUC 5499Q 005) course, and under the guidance of faculty member Reed Needles, the musical also offered hands-on experience. It gave students a chance to see a dramatic project through from script to performance, and it showed the value of collaboration in theatre production. Co-director Cody Mitchell explained, “It was a great experience to work with so many wonderful, talented people who made it a pleasure to come to rehearsals each night and made it so worth all the hours I put into the show.” These live theatre performances also provided teacher candidates with practical knowledge and skills for putting together future dramatic productions. “I found this to be invaluable as a future drama teacher, where putting on shows is expected,” observed co-director Jeremy Harris. “I now feel confident I could help begin this whole process inside a school setting successfully.” “It has to be a collaborative effort to be truly successful,” Mitchell added. “The actors have to make discoveries on their own, just as students do in a classroom.”