The kids are alright: How the young cast of Concord Floral grew up on its stage
The gothic tale of Toronto suburbia changed the lives of its ensemble performers
The folks behind the play Concord Floral have a lot to be thankful for heading into this holiday weekend. After being shortlisted for the Governor-General's Literary Award for English-language drama on Tuesday, the show — which had its first iteration back in 2012 — opened to rave reviews at Canadian Stage's Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto a night later. But that's just gravy for the show's young cast, many of whom have been part of its various incarnations for most of their adolescence.
Written by Jordan Tannahill and directed by Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner, Concord Floral re-imagines Giovanni Boccaccio's medieval allegory The Decameron in a contemporary Toronto suburb. Its characters — an ensemble of performers in their stars teens and early twenties — uncover a secret in a massive abandoned greenhouse which they all frequent, unleashing havoc and changing their lives forever.
For the ten actors on Concord's stage, their characters' evolution has mirrored their own — though their stories are less of the surreal and gothic variety and more about the power of good old-fashioned creative collaboration.
I've done a lot more learning or growing here than I have in any school or institution. Because you actually feel heard and it's really taught me what it means to listen and understand each other and our worlds.- Erum Khan
"I think began my adolescence as a very competitive person," says Micaela Robertson, who is about to begin university and has been working with the production since 2014. "But through this process, I learned that being ambitious while supporting a collective is going to be way more beneficial to me as an individual."
Robertson's feelings are similar to that of many of her colleagues — including Erum Khan, who first became involved in Concord Floral as a cast member and is now the show's assistant director.
"I've done a lot more learning or growing here than I have in any school or institution," Khan says. "Because you actually feel heard and it's really taught me what it means to listen and understand each other and our worlds. It's an ensemble piece — we say that a lot, but it really is. Everyone has an equal voice as a collaborator, whether you're a performer or part of the directing team. It feels very non-hierarchical."
Ofa Gasespe, who graduated high school this year, has only been with the production for eight months, but was surprised at how quickly the experience influenced her worldview.
"I think the process has taught me to be empathetic with myself and to be patient with myself," she says. "I think as teenagers, there's so much pressure on us to grow up and get it together. Sometimes you can be really hard on yourself. But I'm understanding that things take time. Growth is a process and it doesn't happen overnight — it has different levels and different layers for everybody."
Gasespe said that when she first began working on Floral, she thought the theatre process meant walking in and playing a character. But the play's directors Brubacher and Spooner encouraged her and her castmates to be themselves on stage as much as possible.
"They wanted us to understand that [these characters] are kind of a part of us and to let ourselves be seen," she explains. "And it's a lot harder to be vulnerable about yourself than it is to be about a character — you know what I mean? I think when you go on stage, generally you're there to put on a costume and be someone else for an hour an a half. But being yourself is really hard. And I think the greatest thing I've gotten through this process is the vulnerability and the trust that happened with the people I work with."
For Theo Gallaro, who, like Khan, has been involved since the beginning of the show, the process has defined his own coming of age.
"A lot of times, these performances and workshops happened when I was coming to understand myself and who I am as a performer, what I want to be doing," Gallaro says. "Being involved in it since 2012 and seeing the play develop, it's been a really good insight into the ways that a piece of work can change. It's made for really cool insight into the process of a work that's really sprouted from a small thing to this. It's led me to reconsider what I want to be."
As Concord Floral's latest iteration continues through October 16, it's clear its cast will have heavy hearts about their experience as they move forward into their adult lives.
"In this process, we were very lucky," says Rashida Shaw, who also works as a theatre creator in her own right. "It's very rare to like every person you are working with. You enjoy not only going to work, but also just hanging. We hang out so much during the rehearsal process and then outside of rehearsal you'd think we'd be sick of each other — but we're really not!"
Concord Floral. Written by Jordan Tannahill. Directed by Erin Brubacher and Cara Spooner. Through October 16. Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto. www.canadianstage.com