BWW Exclusive: Stratford Festival Company Members take Instagram by Storm with TWO SHOW DAY Q&A
Anyone who has had the chance to see a musical at the Stratford Festival will know just how talented each and every company member is. Both of this season's musicals boast true triple threats in their casts-and it now appears that six of them are in fact quadruple threats. In addition to the singing, dancing and acting, a group of inspired young performers may have just have added 'Social Media Influencer' to their repertoires. Six performers who share a dressing room for THE MUSIC MAN at the Festival Theatre have started a backstage revolution that has taken Instagram and the Stratford Festival by storm. Colton Curtis, Eric Abel, Devon Michael Brown, Henry Firmston, Jason Sermonia, and Gabriel Antonacci (whom I have listed last because that seems to be a trend) can be seen each week during their TWO SHOW DAY Q & A that is posted on Curtis' Instagram story (@coltonccurtis). Using the 'Questions' sticker, these imaginative actors make hilarious videos to answer a variety of questions-and they do it all from backstage during one of their shows on...you guessed it...two show days.
These Q & A's are not simply little anecdotes about being a professional actor. No...these videos are chock full of creativity and have surprisingly high production value considering they are filmed on a cell phone, with whatever props and lighting can be found, and often in a matter of seconds because the performers are literally in between scenes and can't miss their cue! It is so much fun to watch, that BWW absolutely had to sit down with all 6 performers to find out exactly how this all came to be.
"The very first day it happened, we noticed that Instagram had the question option and people had been doing serious questions and answers and we kind of made fun of them." Explains Colton Curtis, who posts the now famous videos on his account each week. "With the very first one we did, we had no expectations for it and the first post ever was Henry (Firmston) using a full can of hairspray on his hair. And from that the reaction was insane!"
"It was originally done because doing [THE] ROCKY [HORROR SHOW] in the afternoon and then doing THE MUSIC MAN at night is very difficult and I think we were...I mean, more these guys, they were like 'how are we going to get through this show tonight? We need something to take our minds off of all this hard work.' " Explains Gabriel Antonacci.
For the past two months, the now almost 100 videos have answered all sorts of 'Questions' from: "Who can sing the highest?" to "What is your pre-show ritual?" to "What is your least favourite musical?" to...our personal favourite: "Hi". These clever fellows have got a creative answer for everything!
When asked if they have their favourites, Eric Abel comments that there are a lot of "underrated ones" that have places near and dear to their hearts. All agree that an obvious favourite is when they took on the famous quick change from the FROZEN musical (seen in the video below)--In part, because it took a whole lot of work and planning and had quite the payoff.
Henry Firmston explains: "We had kind of planned that one for a while because [we wanted to show the] quick change and [we said] 'we've gotta do the glitter' so we had people bringing in costumes and lights and everything and we did literal screen tests!"
"We had two or three actual screen tests!" Laughs Gabriel Antonacci.
"[We were] testing different wigs out" adds Abel, who was the star of that particular video. Devon Michael Brown then adds that they even auditioned for who was responsible for taking off the wig--apparently the key to that video was all in the wig removal!
Abel shares that another favourite is the 'behind the scenes' video they did showing how they put together one of their first extravagant "bigger production videos" in which he is asked 'Why are you so fabulous?' "Now, whenever we do our big production ones, we typically have a second camera somewhere in the corner filming behind the scenes". He explains.
So how do they come up with these clever video responses? "I think we always collaborate on it all." Says Brown. "Someone may come up with an idea for one and then that will spitball-like 'maybe we can do this' or maybe something will change and someone will have a better idea or a different idea and that all helps it become the [final] product."
For many of the videos, the guys essentially take turns being lyricists, set designers, lighting designers, etc. Sometimes, the backstage crew of THE MUSIC MAN also gets recruited. The group is quick to give a shout-out to their dressers Mike and Deb who are not only incredibly patient and supportive and "shockingly not annoyed" with the behind the scenes production taking place...but they even recently helped out with the lighting on one of the videos!
BWW just had to ask about the 7th costar in these videos-A certain parasol that makes an appearance in many Q&A sessions. Just where did the parasols filled with confetti come from? "That's a good question!" Curtis laughs. Abel explains that they found them upstairs one night during warm-ups and nobody was using them this season, so they thought, why not?!
As for the confetti, "We found a pink piece of paper that was left over from one of our company meetings and we just ripped that up" explains Brown.
"We're very crafty people!" Curtis chimes in to the laughter of the others.
"Did you see that 'Phantom' mask!?" adds Abel-proudly alluding to his quickly made arts and crafts masterpiece for a video in which an iconic moment from THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is recreated.
"The other thing to take note of is that happens normally, in like, a minute." Explains Curtis. "We're like 'Oh no we have to be on stage, let's get this done!' "
And sometimes they only have one shot. According to Firmston, when they finally shot their FROZEN video, they had one chance to get it right because they simply would not have had the time to re-set everything and do it again. Now that's pressure.
With the frequent use of self-made confetti, random props, and furniture often getting flipped over or rearranged (like when they recreated the 'barricades' scene from LES MISERABLES), BWW was curious to know if one of the guys is the designated cleanup person. "It's usually Gabe" several people say at once as laughter fills the room. "It's usually me because I don't have to do 76 Trombones or Shipoopi, or the Footbridge...or the Library...so they're like 'Gotta go' and I'm like 'I'll just be here sweeping'..." sighs Antonacci, who is the one member of this dressing room who plays a River City adult and not a teen boy in THE MUSIC MAN. When BWW comments that there seems to be a running theme even in the videos of Antonacci being the butt of the jokes, he proudly proclaims, "That's kind of my brand".
The unique thing about a Two Show Day at the Stratford Festival (a world renowned repertory theatre company) is that it is not the same show. These performers are also in THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW over at the Avon Theatre. Although the Q and A is typically done from backstage at THE MUSIC MAN, they once attempted to do it from behind the scenes at ROCKY. "If you scroll through the Q&A highlights and watch them all...all of the sudden there's a ROCKY blurb and it's like 'what??' It seems so out of place!" Laughs Curtis. With ROCKY HORROR being such a short show and the Phantoms being on stage so frequently, they explained that it was tricky to do Q&A's during that one. That said, on November 10th there is a rare two show ROCKY HORROR day and maybe just maybe the guys will give the ROCKY HORROR Q&A another try!
Although these six actors are the creators and most frequent participants in the Q&A's, many other company members have made cameos in the videos. The young children of River City are particularly enthusiastic about it and often send in questions of their own. Abel laughs that initially they were getting questions like "Who can sing the highest?" but then they would start getting some suspicious questions that would ask, "Who can sing the highest...out of the kids?" The kids have even taken on the role of entrepreneur and two of them, Aidan Benton and Logan Brideau, are brainstorming "Two Show Day Q&A" merchandise to sell. It's unclear if this "passion project" will be for the world at large or just for the company to enjoy, but "stay tuned" says Curtis.
All six Q&A'ers agree that they could not have predicted how popular this project would be or what it would evolve into, but they are enjoying every second of it. That said, now that it is picking up steam..."If anyone wants to sponsor us..." Curtis (kind of) jokes...The group then goes on to rhyme off a list of potential sponsors that we're not sure we're technically allowed to list in this article. They include a certain footwear and apparel brand that has been in the news a lot lately and propose the slogan: "Jump Darling, theatre will catch you". You've gotta admit, it's catchy!
The guys end the interview with some important disclaimers...
We have never missed a cue
No one has ever hurt him or herself
We have never used any costume pieces from other shows
With the above noted professionalism in mind, it is clear that this can only be a good thing for the Stratford Festival. These performers are engaging theatre patrons in a brand new way, and their love for what they do is shining brightly through with each video that they make. They have committed to continuing with the videos right through to the end of THE MUSIC MAN on November 3rd, and possibly beyond that since they do have that two show ROCKY HORROR day on November 10th.
In the meantime, be sure to tune in to the next TWO SHOW DAY Q & A on Friday September 14th! Just do it!
The best way to make sure you don't miss the magic is to follow @coltonccurtis on Instagram. And while you're at it, give everyone else a follow too: @ericmackabel, @thedevonbrown, @jasonsermonia, @thefirmstonator, and @gabrielnacci
Jump darling, theatre will catch you.
Photo and Video Credits: Colton Curtis
Sept. 14: Edited to include the correct name of the Instagram feature used to ask questions