Friday, January 6, 2017

Outta Here shines at Wildside Festival

OUTTA HERE shines at the Wildside Festival

By Wendy Singer

What happens when five students from Mountain Top School break out of their comfort zone to embark on an adventure? You will have to get to the Centaur Theatre Company's Wildside Festival to find out!
The cast of Outta Here take their bows at the Wildside Festival.

The Summit School Performing Arts is known for its stellar productions, developed and written with Director and Media Arts Teacher Jesse Heffring, Dara Murphy, and the student actors. They presented their production Outta Here at Concordia's D. B. Clarke Theatre in the spring to rave reviews. 

Summit School in St. Laurent serves 600 students with developmental disabilities from every cultural and socioeconomic background. Its “student first” philosophy allows each youth a chance to reach their full potential.
When the Wildside Festival's co-curator, Johanna Nutter saw Outta Here, she was impressed, referring to it as a "master class in authenticity". Nutter and Roy Surette, artistic and executive director of the Centaur Theatre Company and co-curator of the Wildside, saw the show's potential and were motivated to share it with a greater audience.

Johanna Nutter and Roy Surette at opening night.

The Wildside Festival has a mandate to be daring, and this year it's about people daring to be themselves. "This year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Wildside Festival," shared Surette yesterday on opening night. "This year our theme is diversity."

"The Wildside Festival is like a big banquet," added Nutter. "You have to sample all seven shows featured from January 5 to 15 to experience the full meal." Opening night provided two succulent appetizers, with Nisha Coleman's Best of the Fringe Festival's outstanding one-woman performance 
Self-Exile followed by Outta Here.

I was fortunate to have seen Outta Here in the spring, and was excited to see it again last night. It was simply amazing on several levels. 

Outta Here is an entertaining, well crafted piece of theatre. As we journey with the five lead students, we are privy to their beautiful, touching, humorous personalities. They are poised and animated as they weave through pointed dialogue and fun musical numbers with the full cast. The dances feature interesting and engaging choreography (particularly the restaurant and exam scenes!). The clever and catchy set design, coupled with excellent lighting make for an engaging theatrical experience.

In addition, Outta Here is packed with meaning and delivers an important message. By the end of the show, the actors voices are ringing with joy in our ears. They have taught us that they are living as any other student does, just trying to do their best, and how important it is for the greater public to know and respect that.

And what better a venue to educate and entertain  audiences beyond the special needs community than at the Wildside Festival. This is the golden opportunity that Heffring has been hoping for. "We want to share our students stories and abilities with a greater audience. These are young people who don't get the opportunity to play in the 'big game', or win awards or achieve academically. For them, this performance is their winning touchdown, their homerun, their standing ovation."

Cassandra MacIsaac played
Erica to perfection. 

Heffring recently produced Being Rachel, a moving documentary film about the making of Rachel at Risk. a previous Summit School performance. This documentary is yet another tool to bring these students', and ultimately the stories of so many other students with varying abilities to light. 

The Wildside Festival's initiative to share Outta Here with their loyal theatre-going community, and films like Being Rachel and Merrill Matthews' The Making of a Dream (based on the making of an I Can Dream Theatre performance), are creating the paradigm shift that is so much needed to make our communities more understanding and inclusive of the immense contributions that all of our students have to offer.

Self-Exile proved to be a tremendous opening for the Wildside Fest. In this show, Nisha Coleman asks the question, "Is it better to be loved for who you are not, than to be rejected for who you are?" The actor masterfully captivates her audience right from the top of the show with her humorous and compelling exploration of alienation, mental health, and identity. Directly on point with this year's Wildside themes of daring and diversity, Coleman finds joy after years of mental distress. It is nothing short of riveting to watch how she moves through the stages of life to get to where she can just be herself. Self-Exile plays at various times through to January 15.

Outta Here runs tonight, January 6, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, January 7 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For tickets call 514-288-3161 or online at, or visit the box office.

Enjoy the banquet! BRAVO Summit School!!

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