Canada bars Galloway for Hamas support

British MP George Galloway, due to speak at U of T’s Mississauga campus this month, has been refused entry into Canada following a ban imposed on Saturday by Canada’s immigration minister Jason Kenney. A spokesperson for the immigration ministry said the purpose of the move was to “to protect Canadians from people who fund, support, or engage in terrorism.” Galloway is a long-time activist for Palestinian rights and recently visited the Gaza Strip as part of an aid convoy.

“We are giving you now 100 vehicles and all of their contents, and we make no apology for what I am about to say. We are giving them to the elected government of Palestine,” said Galloway after he arrived in Gaza. In addition to fire trucks and ambulances, Galloway personally gave three cars and £25 000 to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. The Palestinian group Hamas is considered a terrorist organization in Canada and several other Western countries. The anti-war group Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, which opposes Canadian involvement in Afghanistan, had invited Mr Galloway to speak at a UTM conference called “Resisting War from Gaza to Kandahar” on March 30. Galloway is also an outspoken critic of NATO operations in Afghanistan.

Stephen Zhou, an event organizer, told The Varsity he was surprised by the ban. “They say he’s a supporter of terrorist organizations; they don’t care that Hamas is the elected government of Palestine. If they’re saying he’s a security threat, I don’t buy that whatsoever. We will explore legal avenues to overturn the ban.”

On Sunday, members of several anti-war groups held a meeting at the Ryerson University Student Centre and called for an end to what they deemed a “long-standing pattern of attacks by the government on free speech.”

Responding to the government’s decision, NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow said that the ban perpetuates a pattern in which views that contradict those of the Conservative government have been suppressed. “The minister of immigration is becoming the minister of censorship,” Chow said. “We don’t have to agree with everything Galloway talks about but, at bare minimum, he should be allowed to express his point of view so Canadians can make decisions themselves.”

“If he’s being barred on free-speech grounds, that’s an outrage,” said Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, adding, “You can come to Canada and talk rubbish all day long as far as I’m concerned. If there’s a security threat, that’s another matter.”

Galloway said he will take legal action against the ban, saying of Kenney, “That’s the way the right-wing, last-ditch dead-enders of Bushism in Ottawa conduct their business.”

The vice-president of B’nai Brith, one of Canada’s most prominent Jewish organizations applauded the ban. “We applaud the government for its explicit recognition that individuals who glorify terrorism, and promote hatred be denied access into Canada,” Frank Dimant told the Globe and Mail.

The ban on Mr Galloway follows a similar move by the Harper government in January when it refused entry to University of Illinois professor Bill Ayers for his participation in the radical anti-war movement “The Weather Underground” during the 1960s.

March Madness

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to determine the national champion is a well-designed event. If you win, you stay in, and if you lose, you go home. There are no relegation rounds, or consolation prizes. So in theory, small schools that nobody has ever heard of can knock off a top squad. This year, the first round of games, the essence of “March Madness,” saw underdog squads East Tennessee State, Morehead State, American, and Binghamton present huge challenges to basketball giants Pittsburgh, Louisville, Villanova, and Duke, before bowing out.

Aside from three number-five seeds knocking off twelves, the opening round produced one true shocker, as thirteen-seed Cleveland State toppled powerhouse Wake Forest. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons were ranked as a four, but earlier in the season were the number-one college basketball team in all of America. Wake Forest were one and done, a shocking development.

This year, March Madness took on a whole new meaning. Many had chosen Wake Forest to either run the table and win the entire tournament or make a deep run, and were quite upset by this turn of events. They lamented that there were no other teams worth cheering for in the tournament, especially after pre-tournament sleepers like Michigan, Boston College, and Temple all met the same fate as Wake Forest.

However, the tournament is not a complete write-off. Each remaining team has the potential to be your favourite. Here are the reasons to make each team heading to the Sweet Sixteen seem not seem so sour.

West Regional

Connecticut Huskies

Connecticut will compete for the championship this year because of Hasheem Thabeet. The mountain-like, 7’3” Thabeet is considered to be the second best player in the 2009 NBA Draft, and will be the first player to come from Tanzania. Thabeet only took up basketball at age 15, and, scarily, has the chance to improve. With a strong supporting cast, especially senior guard A.J. Price, who survived a brain hemorrhage in his first year, the Huskies will be a treat to watch. There is a possibility for a double championship, as the women’s team finished the regular season, 33-0.

Famous Alumni: Meg Ryan, Moby, and Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter

Purdue Boilermakers

Aside from finding nearby players, Purdue is looking to expand their profile across the country. In the Big Ten, Michigan State was given most of the attention, but it was Purdue that won the conference championship, their first ever. Although the Boilermakers have no trouble making it to the second round of the tourney, this year they upset the Washington Huskies to finally make it back to the Sweet Sixteen, where the local boys hope to upset the powerful Connecticut Huskies.

Famous Alumni: Neil Armstrong, Jim Gaffigan, and popcorn magnate Orville Redenbacher

Memphis Tigers

Perhaps the best way to describe the Tigers would be the sports equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield’s “I don’t get no respect” routine. What school did the most recent number-one pick in the NBA Draft, Derrick Rose attend? Memphis. What team went undefeated in conference play the last three years? Memphis Tigers. What school was a couple of missed free throws from winning the conference championship in 2008? You get the picture. Yet Memphis, which completed another fine season, despite losing Rose and other top players to the NBA, were given a number-two seed in the tournament. In this year’s tournament, coach John Calipari and his sharpshooting Memphis Tigers hope to gain some much-needed respect.

Famous Alumni: Fred Thompson, Dan Uggla, and Julia Sugerbaker from Designing Women

East Regional

Villanova Wildcats

This year, Villanova adeptly handled a brutal conference schedule, were undefeated at home, and won 25 games. The third-seeded Wildcats have a history of pulling off upsets, as they famously won the 1985 tournament as an eighth-seed, defeating Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas. Last year, Villanova was considered a bubble team, yet pulled off two victories as a twelve-seed and advanced into the Sweet Sixteen. This year’s edition, which brought back team leader Scottie Reynolds from last year, may continue the upset tradition.

Famous Alumni: Maria Bello, Jill Biden, Jim Croce, and Toby Keith

Duke Blue Devils

When it comes to Duke, there seems to be either two choices: you love them or you hate them. It seems like every year Duke makes the tournament, and much of the credit goes to Duke’s stoic leader, Mike Krzyzewski, affectionately known as Coach K. He has been with Duke since 1980. In the off-season, he coached the U.S. Olympic basketball team, leading them to victory. If Coach K can handle the pros effectively, what chance do other schools have? The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament was won by Duke, and North Carolina received the number one seed, as Duke settled for two. Motivation enough?

Famous Alumni: Andy from The Bachelor, Canadian Idol host Ben Mulroney, and the new judge on American Idol Kara DioGuardi

South Regional

North Carolina Tar Heels

The yin to Duke’s yang, the North Carolina Tar Heels are Duke hater-favourites, as well as the choice to win it all for the last two years by first fan Barack Obama. UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough has set the all-time record for most points scored in North Carolina and Atlantic Coast Conference history. Yet due to his size and explosiveness, he projects to be drafted 28th-overall in the upcoming NBA draft. Even Ty Lawson, his point guard teammate battling through a toe injury, projects higher. So if watching a point guard with a broken toe, and an undersized, non-explosive yet fundamental player lead a team to an NCAA championship sounds like fun, North Carolina is your team.

Famous Alumni: Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Rick Fox, Andy Griffith, and current American Idol contestant Anoop Desai

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Featuring only 4,500 undergraduates, Gonzaga is a tiny school in Spokane, Washington. The ‘Zags first made the NCAA tournament in 1995. Their second appearance was in 1999, and they’ve made it to every tournament since then. In the early years, Gonzaga was often a “Cinderella,” low ranked and pulling off upsets. Recently, they have taken on the role of favourite, upset by lower-ranked teams. Gonzaga needed a last-second finish against upstart Western Kentucky to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Gonzaga is an underdog. Guard Jeremy Pargo, forward Josh Heytvelt, coach Mark Few, and the rest of the ‘Zags may be leaving their future opponents in tears.

Famous Alumni: Bing Crosby and Jason Bay

Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma’s power forward Blake Griffin is an absolute monster, and will probably be the number one pick in the draft. Known as the terminator, Griffin plays the game hard. This season alone, he has suffered through injuries to both knees, a concussion stemming from a collision, and in the first round, survived being flipped onto his back. Griffin played a typical game against Michigan in the second round with 33 points and 17 rebounds. If this is typical of Griffin, opponents are going to double team Griffin sooner, leaving Oklahoma’s guards open for three pointers. If coach Jeff Capel can keep Blake Griffin from suffering any more major injuries, Oklahoma will be soaring into the final.

Famous Alumni: Ed Harris, Vince Gill, and Ottawa Rough Rider quarterback turned politician J.C. Watts

This is part one of a two-part series continued in Thursday’s Varsity.

Watered-down justice

Eighteen students were shot last Tuesday in front of Convocation Hall.

Lucy Barker, a fourth-year human biology and history student, held a water gun to a line of students, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder facing south.

“Oxfam says a child dies every 17 seconds from unclean water, so we shot one student with tap water every 17 seconds,” said Leanne Rasmussen, a third-year international relations student who took a spray for the team.

Oxfam UT held a flashmob, a brief, spontaneous event executed in public to grab public interest and attention.

The event, which began at 4 p.m. and lasted about 10 minutes, was advertised through the group as well as U of T’s Environmental Resource Network and EnviroFest week organizers.

“It was fun shooting people, but I’m glad we got the message out to them,” said Barker. “We wanted show students just how many people are affected by dirty water conditions.”

As each student was gently sprayed, they collapsed to the ground while others held posters with facts about dirty water. Onlookers from across King’s College Circle stopped to look as they walked to class.

“It’s not just drinking water,” said Anda Petro, a second-year philosophy and psychology student. “Clean water is needed for proper sanitation and growing food.”

According to Oxfam, unclean water kills more than three million people every year and 4,000 children die each day.

“Last Sunday was World Water Day [March 22] and we wanted to do something,” said organizer Laura Phelps, a fourth-year political science student. “There’s so many issues: access, privatization, bottled water, it goes on. We needed something students could relate to.”

The event was organized after Oxfam suggested campuses start using flashmob tactics to raise awareness. Phelps said she believes this is the first flashmob at U of T.

“I just hope it got people talking; that’s the real test at hand.”

A classic in the making

For an international baseball tournament to truly reflect participating countries’ best talent has long been a dream of baseball enthusiasts. The Olympics, always played in the middle of the MLB’s summer schedule, have featured some of the best amateur talent on the planet, but the best of the best have always had other things to do when summoned to represent their countries on the world stage.

All of that changed in 2006 when 16 teams, some of them baseball powerhouses and others featuring teenagers more awestruck by the players than representing their country, gathered around the world and competed with passion and skill. The net result: a seemingly endless highlight reel of memories, insatiable enthusiasm for the 2009 edition, and general consensus amongst baseball fans that, despite being only the inaugural event, the World Baseball Classic truly was a classic.

The tournament survived several early obstacles before the first pitch was thrown. Many MLB coaches, executives, and agents were concerned about the possibility of star players being hurt while playing in essentially meaningless “exhibition” games. The WBC was thrown an existential curveball when the American government went through momentary indecision over letting Cuban nationals into the country to play in the semi-finals and championships in California. Under pressure, they relented and the tournament went on. Still, many stars choose not to play, citing obligations to their team, concerns about injuries, and a need to use the month of March to prepare for the regular season.

Many fans dismiss the tournament as silly. However, it remains glaringly obvious to anyone who loves baseball that the WBC is an overwhelming success, producing thrills and rivalries that match and sometimes exceed the drama of professional leagues’ playoff play.

It is tough to argue with 42,000 screaming fans in Toronto. From March 7 to 11, the first-round WBC was held at the Rogers Centre. In the opening and arguably most exciting game, fans watched as Team Canada put the tying run on second in the bottom of the ninth against a star-studded Team USA with perennial all-stars Justin Morneau and Jason Bay due up. While Canada ultimately fell to the US 6-5, the game was eerily similar to the first time the two teams met in the 2006 WBC when Team Canada pulled off baseball’s upset of the century, a captivating 8-6 victory over the Americans in Arizona.

The tournament has turned the age-old baseball proverb “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon” on its head, producing massive upsets and crushing disappointment. This sentiment can account for Team USA dropping that fateful game to Canada back in 2006, when its all-star line-up was supposed to effortlessly stroll to the championship. Similarly, the 2009 Dominican Republic’s team humiliated the entire country as it dropped two masterfully played games to the Dutch. Beyond the shocking outcome, the most mystifying part of those games was perhaps learning that the Netherlands had a baseball team.

While the Dominican-Netherlands games may have been thrilling to neutral observers here in Canada, we—or the 10,000 of us who bothered showing up—experienced our own national trauma when arguably the greatest Canadian team ever flopped in a humiliating, indefensible 6-2 loss to Team Italy at home in the Rogers Centre.

The loss bumped the Canadians prematurely from the tournament, preventing a widely anticipated showdown with Venezuela where the winner would have advanced to the next round in Miami. The game was a comparably improbable upset to the Netherlands’ shockers, and it put a damper on what could have been a fabulous baseball showcase in a city not internationally known for baseball. The Italians went on to lose an anticlimactic blowout to a surely relieved Venezuelan team, stealing what would have likely been a wild, fiercely patriotic atmosphere at the Rogers Centre for many Canadian baseball fans.

These bizarre outcomes hurt the quality of the tournament. The WBC would have been better served by a second-round pool featuring the Dominican Republic rather than the Netherlands, especially after the Netherlands bowed quietly in consecutive losses to Venezuela and the USA. If the tournament had taken place over a longer period of time to reflect the participants’ talent rather than obscure factors that create single game upsets, it seems certain that the Dominicans would have advanced and Canada would have gotten its showdown with Venezuela. However, with most players bound by obligations to their professional teams, an alternate format is unlikely to materialize.

Many also argue that the WBC should be played in November, when many players are still close to peak form from the past six months of play, rather than in March, when they are warming up from three months of inactivity. Additionally, while marginally better than in 2006, attendance was abysmal at many of the games. In Toronto, all of the games except for Canada-USA drew fewer than 15,000 fans. In Miami, only 13,000 watched the USA and Puerto Rico play a thrilling sudden elimination game decided in the bottom of the ninth by a walk-off hit by the Americans.

Nonetheless, the tournament has brilliantly served a long-time need in the baseball community, providing invaluable entertainment for devoted fans, and going to great lengths to spur the growth of baseball programs in untapped countries like China, South Africa, and the Netherlands. With the United States advancing to at least the semi-finals this year, baseball fans should be able to bank on a regular four-year cycle of gripping competition that could someday come to rival soccer’s sacred World Cup event.

Do cops belong in schools?

Ever since 15-year-old Jordan Manners was shot and killed at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, escalated scrutiny has surrounded violence in GTA high schools. Beginning September last year, uniformed police officers were introduced to high school campuses across Toronto. Individual schools can opt out of the measure, and some have held forums with their communities before considering implementation.

“Our goal is to make our schools safe,” said police chief Bill Blair. “We recognize this can only be accomplished if we develop and maintain a respectful and trusting relationship with all our partners.”

Not all community members want police in schools. A coalition of students, teachers, and parents have formed to encourage alternative solutions.

NO COPS, the Newly Organized Coalition Opposing Police in Schools, launched in December 2008. After C.W. Jefferys and Westview Centennial rejected cops on their campuses, the group is now concentrating their efforts on Weston Collegiate Institute.

Kabir Joshi-Vijayan, an activist and grade 10 student, has been working with NO COPS on campuses around Toronto. He is also one of the hosts for Radio Basics on CHRY 105.5, which looks at issues facing working class communities.

“I think they already know that this is not going to help safety,” said Joshi-Vijayan. “It’s being done just as another way to increase the harassment and targeting of marginalized people in the school.” He pointed out that such policies disproportionately affect youth of colour, citing teachers’ testimony from an Ontario Human Rights Commission report that up to 80 per cent of expulsion cases in Toronto are of non-white youth. Joshi-Vijayan also argued that parents’ councils often only benefit more privileged families, who are more likely to be able to participate. He favours a model that brings in more social workers, where schools are engaged with communities and students are not criminalized.

To Joshi-Vijayan, cops in Toronto high schools are not just a matter of preventing violence, but part of a wider system that keeps marginalized groups marginalized. “If there’s a kid that’s troubled, that’s maybe doing something bad in school, if you kick them out of school, that kid is right away in a situation where crime is the only alternative.”

For the love of fashion

The theme of the 10th annual Toronto Fashion Week was “Show Love,” and celebrations were abundant, putting a spring in my strut that the trickiest of stilettos couldn’t discourage. Fashion followers, your faithful scribe was LOVEstoned, as my two unwavering adorations (fashion and family) merged on the runway. Here’s what’s hot for Fall-Winter 2009:

Designer Linda Lundström (full disclosure: my mom) debuted the Fall 2009 collection for her eponymous label, Lundström. The show was designed as a comeback after a year of major transitions. With a line entitled “The Conversation,” she displayed an elegant dialogue of outerwear and glam gowns topped with sumptuous furs. Featuring the most environmental of fabrics (materials made of recycled pop bottles, bamboo, and corn) it was chic and uniquely Canadian.

Naturally, I might be a little biased, so I looked out for objective opinions. Sarah Casselman of Fashion Magazine described the collection as “gorge,” while Fashion Television’s Jeanne Beker declared, “It appealed on so many levels. It was just all so desirable.”

Though it may have been grand to hear LL touted as a Canadian fashion icon, the next day she was back to being dear old mom. “Mosha, there’s a big scratch on the front left side of my car. Do you know how it got there?”

I evaded the question by dashing off, because there were a week’s worth of fall presentations to review.

The Gaudet show featured designers Norm and Gio Gaudet’s artfully hand-painted standout coats. Nada was soundtracked by Marilyn Manson, and the clothes were appropriately gothic, yet romantic. Bondage, Victorian influences, and plenty of leather were fierce and reminiscent of Givenchy’s aesthetic.

Andy Thê Ahn‘s show was beloved by society belles. “We needed something uplifting, joyful, and colourful. We need some hope sometimes,” said Thê Ahn as his design credo on press materials. Catwalkers opened the show from the opposite end of the runway in stunning mocha evening wear with 3D sequin flower embellishment. The show closed with four colour-block satin dresses that evoked a high-style Wonder Woman. My favourite look was a blush blazer with an oversize bow flap worn bare-gammed.

Pink Tartan explores a bold new theme each season, and this year it was disco-queen Grace Jones. “I was really inspired by her. She’s got a new album out and is the epitome of strength and power,” said designer Kimberly Newport-Mimran. Even with edgy inspiration, Tartan’s preppy Forest Hill-mom aesthetic always manages to seep through. Capri-length leather pants were paired with turtlenecks, while extravagant fur chubbies had tight little socialite shoulders. Working with black, white, and fuchsia, Pink Tartan riffed on lean-bean androgyny. While there were many desirable pieces, I lusted most for the Chanel lace tights that KNM sported end of show. One caveat: with such luxe togs, her low-heeled pointy patent pumps didn’t measure up.

Joe Fresh delivered winterlicious confections for the zippy supermarket chain. It was the fashion equivalent of President’s Choice Candy Cane Chocolate Fudge Crackle ice cream—pure icy joy, with a retro figure skating theme. “It’s very difficult out there right now. The whole show harkens to a time passed,” explained designer Joesph Mimran. Indeed, teacup skirts, sexy seamed ski pants, and a darling printed onesie were fast fashion at its best. “I think you go to the supermarket, do a shop and sneak it on to the grocery bill,” he said. While the line is perfect for those on a budget, a top-model appearance cost a pretty penny. The Karl Lagerfeld-approved Canadian coquette Irinia Lazaranu opened the show, charming the crowd with a little shoulder wiggle at the end of the runway. It’s tres mignon.

Attending the top secret Project Runway Canada finale show was a privilege. Supermodel Coco Rocha was in the audience, as Bowie-love Iman handled MC duties. That’s about all the confidentiality agreement will allow me to disclose. Instead, I’ll gush about past PRC alums Carlie Wong, Evan Biddell, and Lucian Mathis, who did not disappoint.

I met the sweet and humble Ms. Wong, who designs effervescent party frocks for Pretty Young Things. Her dresses evoked louche 1970s Paris nightclubs. With such a plentiful use of black and gold, it was very Jerry Hall.

Evan Biddell is last season’s winner and enfant terrible. Ear plugs were handed out at the beginning of the show to guard delicate ears against the blasting soundtrack. Though it sounded like an awful turn-of-the-millennium rave, the collection made up for the noise. Motorcycle jackets with thick zippers and sci-fi superhero dresses in chartreuse, teal, and purple were strong, and the chunkiest of wool scarves softened the mix.

Lucian Matis is a true artiste. Antler-topped creatures took their place one-by-one at the end of the runway, forming a beautiful line-up of airy looks. His wood-nymph palette of neutrals like soft blacks and ashy browns was whimsical and delicately ornate. Buried in the midst of so many shows, his vision stood out as unique and transformative.

As I did the kiss-kiss and sipped my last glass of champagne (hard work, isn’t it?) at the closing party, I thought of how to sum up such an uplifting season. Canadians are wonderfully fashionable, and we need to embrace our homegrown talents. I’m reminded of Iman’s words: “Canadians have to support [their own] fashion industry. The British industry has lost most of its talent to the rest of Europe. There is great talent here and they really should support it.” I couldn’t agree more, but tomorrow I think I’ll take a fashion sick day.

Sunday morning, I awaken to a phone call. “Mosha, it’s Mom. I can’t wait to talk about next season. I have this idea…”

Fashion never sleeps.

Give PACS a chance

After a troublesome year, the Peace and Conflict Studies program at the Trudeau Centre is undergoing serious reform. New staff, a new supervisor, and a name change are on the way for PACS, following decisions from a review committee.

After two prominent faculty members, Thomas Homer-Dixon and David Welch, abruptly left for positions at the University of Waterloo, the program was left with only one faculty member until a program review committee was organized. U of T’s VP and provost Cheryl Misak said she would support the immediate replacement of both faculty members.

Since Homer-Dixon was the director, the program wants to find a replacement as soon as possible. But it will be at least another year before full-time staff are hired.

“We haven’t even started the [hiring] process yet,” said David Klausner, chair of the review committee and vice-dean of interdisciplinary affairs. “We’re in the process now, right at the moment of hiring seasonal instructors to fill those two positions just for next year.”

He said the program has also been given permission to create a new faculty position.

“I’m hoping, with a little bit of luck, that we may have a director appointed […] within the next week or two,” said Klausner.

The review committee, with representatives from the PACS program and related departments, has raised other issues with the program. A separate curriculum review committee will be set up next year, to look into concerns like making the program more interdisciplinary.

“There’s a very strong consensus, and the students agree with this, that at the moment, it isn’t very interdisciplinary. For the most part, it’s a political science program,” said Klausner. He pointed out that similar programs at other universities have significantly more input from faculties like sociology, anthropology, English, and history.

The Munk Centre’s School of Global Studies will have oversight of PACS, taking over from University College. With UC’s resources stretched, the review committee felt the program could be better served under the Munk Centre’s auspices.

“For the foreseeable future, until adequate space becomes available, the Trudeau Centre will continue to be housed in its present space at University College,” said Janice Stein, the director of the Munk Centre. “It will have the same resources as it has had as well as the additional resources that the Munk Centre makes available.”

PACS may also get a new name. “The committee approved that we change the name from Peace and Conflict Studies to Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies,” said Klausner.

The name change would reflect the push to broaden the focus of the program, but it has to be approved by the Faculty of Arts and Science curriculum committee, which will not happen for at least another year. Some students have objected to the change, on the grounds that the committee was pre-judging the curriculum review that would be underway next year.

Awake and Sing!

Musical theatre is one of those things that people either hate or love. Ain’t no in-betweeners when it comes to Sondheim, Fosse, or that mid-90s phenomenon known as Rent. Even rabid fans of the genre would never claim the form to be high-brow. For me, it’s one of those things I love in spite of myself, something I claim I only listen to on occasion, when in fact the most-played item on my iTunes is “My Junk”—the vaguely nonsensical ode to teenaged infatuation from Spring Awakening—which just happens to have landed at the Canon Theatre this past week.

This isn’t the first time Spring Awakening’s popped up in Toronto. Back in the halcyon days of 1986, the late Bill Glassco produced a version of Frank Wedekind’s (non-musical) Spring Awakening that did the unthinkable: casting real teenagers. Maybe that doesn’t seem so wild now, but the show was shut down pretty quickly. Glassco and director Derek Goldby were slapped with an obscenity charge, and Spring Awakening went back underground.

Written in 1891 by renegade German poet and playwright Frank Wedekind, Spring Awakening was a straight-up piece of expressionist theatre; a layered series of narratives focused on growing up in a repressive environment—sexually and emotionally—portending much of the political unrest that would come to define Germany in the 20th century. Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik’s musical version of Spring Awakening diverges from the racy material that got everybody in such a snit back in the 19th and 20th centuries, but doesn’t entirely do away with the all the discord—it just makes it a little more hummable. And a little more razzle-dazzle.

In both Wedekind and Sater’s versions, Spring Awakening spotlights a small group of teenagers, specifically the radical free-thinker Melchior Gabor (Matt Doyle), and Wendla (Christy Altomare). There’s also the tortured Moritz, a young man whose troublesome lust gets in the way of his Latin conjugations. Through a fusion of bouncy ensemble numbers (reprise of “Mama Who Bore Me”) and pensive duets (“The Word of Your Body”), Spring Awakening tempers the darkness of the original play while creating something entirely distinctive.

Although much of the darker element has been stripped from the musical (Wendla and Melchior’s sex scene wasn’t consensual in the original), Spring Awakening never claims to be Wedekind’s direct progeny. Instead, it aims to take a hundred-year-old relic, radical as it was, and make it accessible to a new audience. That includes casting teenagers and early twenty-somethings, an age bracket rarely given an entire show. Here, it’s the two adult characters who are relegated to the thankless Mom-and-Dad roles usually consigned to Angsty Daughter #2. It’s refreshing because it demonstrates that the new guard of mainstream theatre is loosening up with regard to edgier content such as masturbation, isolation, and curiosity about anatomy and pleasure. It honestly illustrates the physical and emotional awakening that these characters are experiencing.

One of the most fascinating conceits of the musical is the formal conventions that Sater and composer Duncan Sheik have done away with. Spring Awakening knows that it takes place somewhere in turn-of-the-century Germany, and the dialogue reflects that. But when the singing starts, what the audience sees is a group of real kids performing as themselves, bringing their secret inner rock star onstage for all to see. In one scene, the boys sit rigidly in class before shifting seamlessly into the frenetic “Bitch of Living,” pulling out their mikes and leaping off the hard-backed chairs. It successfully blurs the line between performance and reality, emphasized by the audience members who sit onstage with the cast, their emotional responses integrated into the action. The performers make no qualms about responding directly to them with a smile or nod. It’s the subtlety that makes it effective, especially since musical theatre is not known for that specific quality. This synthesis underscores the contradictions that make being a teen so beautifully complicated.

Further narrowing the division between the people onstage and off is cast member Andy Mientus (who plays the predatory Hanschen, seducer of would-be pastor Ernst). He began his involvement in Spring Awakening by way of Facebook. “I originally saw the show when it was off-Broadway, and my friends and I were all really into it. I made the group for us to post information on and all these other people started to join.” Producers of Spring Awakening eventually asked him to maintain the page, and it’s now the official Facebook group with more than 20,000 members. Even after being cast in the touring production, Andy still moderates the official blog (, making backstage videos and interacting with Spring Awakening devotees. Within all this, Andy has managed to keep loving the show and everything it meant to him at the outset.

“Because of the way I was cast, and my history of loving the show without a dream of being in it, it would be very difficult for me to fall out of love. Of course, there’s that honeymoon period at first, but now I feel like I’ve got a good handle on the show—it doesn’t feel like work anymore. It’s a great place the show is in right now—we’re all still excited by it, but more solid about what we’re doing. I really know what I want to do with this character now. There was a lot of play and exploration at the beginning. Now that allows me to just enjoy the show.”

Across the board, everyone has enjoyed Spring Awakening, reaping it with critical praise, major awards, and a cult following. Still, the show has its detractors. Jonathan Franzen, best-known for that lengthy novel of family dysfunction The Corrections, famously slagged off the musical in the forward to his translation of the Wedekind original, calling it “insipid” and “overpraised.” Harsh, but spot-on in pointing out the unapologetic way in which the adult creators of Spring Awakening have capitalized on the thrill of watching sexy teenagers “discover” each other for the audience’s benefit. I don’t see why that’s a problem for a show that admits to being about the mysteries (and sometimes absurdity) of sex. It certainly won’t stop me from playing “My Junk” twelve times in a row while my roommate shoots me dirty looks. Not those kinds of dirty looks.

Spring Awakening runs until April 19 at the Canon Theatre (244 Victoria Street). Tickets are $25-$99 and are available at Onstage student rush tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the box office day-of two hours before performance time, one ticket per person, with valid student ID.