On a chilly evening three days before Halloween, I walked over to the George Ignatieff Theatre near Trinity College to watch the Trinity College Drama Society’s (TCDS) production of Carrie: The Musical. I wasn’t really sure what to expect — of course, I knew Carrie’s story, but I had never read Stephen King’s novel nor had I watched any of the movie adaptations. In that way, I was going in completely ignorant of what was in store.
TCDS’s staging of the show was a terrific introduction to the story. The musical format allowed the cast and crew to illuminate character motivations that would have felt more one dimensional when conveyed in other mediums. Song highlights for me included the titular “Carrie,” sung by Emma Exley’s Carrie; “Once You See,” sung by Mai-Yin Johnston’s Sue, a well-meaning classmate; and “The World According to Chris,” sung by Avril Bridgen’s Chris, who spends the entirety of the play tormenting Carrie. Through these numbers, characters and their intentions have the space to be understood.
Walking out of the theatre, I felt that the play had managed to say something meaningful, not only about the politics of kindness but also about the very spirit of the U of T drama itself. Though the performances were convincing, as most characters came off as callously apathetic or cold, the chemistry and positive energy among the cast were impossible to ignore. I’d never expect the cast to be as antagonistic toward each other off stage as they were while performing.
Similarly, the inception of the musical reflects the powerfully positive environment of U of T drama. Directors Isabella Cesari and Caitlyn Grant first thought of the idea for Carrie while working on another TCDS production during spring 2021. They ended up pitching the show to the same production company in fall 2021. In an interview with The Varsity, Cesari described this as a “nice full-circle moment.”
The show was supposed to run in spring 2022 but was pushed back due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, Cesari noted that they wouldn’t have it any other way, given the incredible cast and crew they snagged for the production. This way, they were also able to run the production for Halloween, adding a little spooky touch to my weekend, and to that of other audience members.
The atmosphere was further enhanced by the creative ways in which the crew used special effects. They faced some challenges, especially since the George Ignatieff Theatre doesn’t allow stage blood, which prevented them from staging the conclusion in its most obvious form.
But with the help of Costume Designer Kara Ruiz Austria, Cesari and Grant used costuming and lighting to create the illusion of blood being poured over Carrie, making for an interesting and intense narrative climax. With the help of George Ignatieff Theatre staff, Set Designer Emelia Findlay also managed to get a bucket hoisted up by a string for act two, ramping up the tension, with anticipation literally hanging over the heads of cast members.
The cast also had to learn a lot of material very quickly, with a turnaround time of only six weeks. But Cesari wrote that, all in all, things turned out much better than she expected on that front. She added that setting the play in 1976 was a good idea because it “gave the actors and the creative team room to go outside their own experiences and create a distinctive story world onstage.” In an interview with The Varsity, Johnston added that the cast and crew spent long days preparing for the show, but that Johnston’s great experience was bolstered by a stellar team.
Ultimately, Cesari wrote that she hopes the production brought some positive attention to Carrie, which was mostly overlooked when it ran on Broadway in the 1980s. “I also would like to think audiences connected emotionally with the story of an outsider through no fault of their own,” Cesari added. “And that the question of ‘What does it cost to be kind?’ resonated.”
Cesari concluded by encouraging students to go out and watch more U of T theatre productions, which are put on by a variety of companies on campus. Though Carrie completed its run on Halloween weekend, TCDS will be running Tim, Dick and Harry on November 24, 25, and 26 at 7:00 pm. Tickets are currently on sale for CAD11.62.