“A couple of years ago I thought they’d have to drag me out of our basement room kicking and screaming,” Maynard Morrison says about the underground space where he taught drama to Sydney Academy students for twenty-five years. Now, moved upstairs into a new room, Morrison is “tickled pink to get into a place that feels like home.”
The beloved basement room was an incubator for over a generation of aspiring actors, directors and writers many of whom went on to a career in theatre. Some of Morrison’s students even went on to work with their former teacher in the Rise & Follies and The Summertime Revue. But despite these fond memories, Morrison says the move upstairs has “reinvigorated” him.
“The basement room was longer with more square footage,” as Morrison describes it. “But it only had one window that didn’t open and it lacked fresh air and sunlight.”
It was also fairly isolated from the hubub of the rest of the school, a feature which will enhance its new use as the school’s music room.
Morrison credits Brian Dwyer, the high school’s new principal, for originating the idea to move the drama class into its new digs on the second floor of the school’s “New Wing” (the Cape Breton way of describing the newest part of the building, built over twenty years ago.)
“Mr. Dwyer is a big supporter of fine arts programs in our high school,” Morrison says. “He also set up the art class in the room adjacent to the drama room.” And there are plans to bring more fine arts to that part of the building.
Morrison believes the new drama room to be the largest classroom in the school and should seat about eighty people with a good view of the stage. While basically a rehearsal space, the room has been adapted to accommodate performances.
“When the students first came in September, they said it wouldn’t work,” Morrison recalls. But from September to the last school day before the Christmas holiday, everyone pitched in to make the space their own. Lighting brackets were bolted to the ceiling. A simple raised platform was placed before the bank of windows at one end of the classroom. The students painted the stage with three coats of flat black. Blackout curtains covered the windows. Another student hemmed the crossover curtains that form the back wall of the stage and create a tiny bit of backstage area. A storage closet has been recreated into a lighting booth equipped with a second hand lighting board and a basic but adequate sound system. Much of the wall space is covered with movie posters which further lessens the feeling of being in a classroom.
“I really want to establish this room as an interesting place for the students and staff to visit even if they’re not in class, “Morrison says, “and also to provide a venue for people who only get to perform in their basements at home.”
Already Morrison has noticed some changes; “This place is becoming cool.”
Morrison in past years usually worked on one major project with his Grade 12 students that they would perform at the UCCB Dramagroup’s Festival Of Plays. “Now I have three things on the go and if someone comes along with a good idea I’ll have four,” he says. All of the projects will be staged in the new space.
The first project is a reading theatre performance of The Elephant Man being staged in January for special education students.
During the Academy’s Winter Carnival, Room 22 – Live!, will premiere. Morrison says this show will feature “whatever I can find that’s interesting – a hodge podge of music and sketch comedy hosted by a student. It’ll be loose enough in structure and content that I hope to do a different show every couple of weeks.”
The main show Morrison is working on with his Grade 12 class has the working title What? and will be a collage of material exploring language, communication and understanding. What? is scheduled for sometime in April.
With lots of projects to work on, a location that puts him in contact with more of the school’s students and more of his fellow teachers, Morrison says happily that the new room is a “nice change for me after being used to living in the basement.”