Arts·Here & Queer

Welcome To Peak Twins: Tegan and Sara on opening up in a new way for their TV series High School

Canada's beloved queer twin duo sit down with Peter Knegt to discuss turning their lives from music to memoir to television — and Calgary playing itself.

The duo sit down to discuss turning their lives from music to memoir to television, and Calgary playing itself

Peter Knegt with Tegan and Sara Quin during the Toronto International Film Festival. (CBC Arts)

Here & Queer is an interview series hosted by Peter Knegt that celebrates and amplifies the work of LGBTQ artists though unfiltered conversations.

It would be fair to declare October 2022 the month of Tegan and Sara.

Their hometown of Calgary essentially already did so earlier this week when they renamed the bus route they took to high school "Crybaby" after their new album of the same name. And that album is only part of the reason this month is such a momentous one for the twin pop duo.

On October 26th, they'll kick off their first tour in over three years in support of Crybaby, which comes out five days earlier. But before that, audiences around the world will get to witness an account of their lives around the time they rode that Calgary bus when their series High School premieres on Amazon (today in the U.S. and October 28th in Canada).

Based on their joint 2019 memoir of the same name, the series is a poignant, deeply heartfelt exploration not just of what it was like to be Tegan and Sara Quin in 1990s suburban Calgary, but really what it's like to be a teenager in general (particularly if you're queer, and even more particularly if you're a twin). Guided by co-showrunners Clea DuVall and Laura Kittrell, the shows stars newcomers Railey and Seazynn Gilliland as the Quin sisters, with Cobie Smulders doing some career-best work as their overworked mother Simone.

High School premiered last month at the Toronto International Film Festival (which now screens episodes of new TV shows too), where I sat down with Tegan and Sara to discuss their show as part of a new video series: Here & Queer. (It was all the more special given that the very first edition my written CBC Arts column Queeries — published almost exactly five years ago today — was a love letter to their album The Con.)

Watch below:

In the interview, Sara shared that the most incredible thing for her about the entire experience of making the series was just how moving it was to see twins on camera. 

"Our story is just so specific in our minds," she says. "You know, I haven't known a lot of other twins. I've never been friends with other identical twins. I've talked about my experience and we've shared our experience through our memoir, but I've never visually seen it."

"The first time that the stars of the TV show Seazynn and Railey were on camera together, I think the word would be wept. I wept. I didn't just cry. I felt this incredible moving feeling of seeing us represented, us being twins, and queer twins. And it was just wonderful. I absolutely was shocked by that feeling."

The path to the Quins finding Seazynn and Railey —  who, notably, had never actually acted or played music before High School — is quite a story in itself: It started with Tegan coming across them on TikTok.

"[Their TikTok content] really reminded me of stuff that I had seen a few years ago when I was viewing old VHS footage of us in high school," Tegan said. "And I always had a camera and I was always filming myself and I was always interviewing people. And as I was looking at the parallels, I had this moment where I was like, 'These identical twins should play us on our show.'"

Railey and Seazynn Gilliland as Tegan and Sara in High School (Amazon Freevee)

Sara agreed, and they put up a TikTok asking people to help get Seazynn and Railey to follow them so that they would be able to send a direct message. Shortly after, the four were in contact, and the rest is history. 

"There's something about their raw energy," Tegan says. "And you can feel them finding themselves over the course of the show. Certainly that's what I witnessed on the set: their confidence grew, their performances grew."

"When they started to play music halfway through the season, their performances changed. It was like watching people really figure it out. And I think that we're so lucky that we found non-actors to do that because, I mean, I'm sure some actors could have pulled it off, but they just did such an excellent job."

Another major character in the show that hasn't had too much experience playing itself... is the city of Calgary. High School is both filmed and set there; they even used the Quins' actual old high school Crescent Heights as a location. 

"A lot of the people that worked on the show were very proud Albertans, whether they were from Calgary or they were from Edmonton," Sara says. "They were excited. They were like, 'Look, we're proud of the film industry in Alberta, but this is the first time that Calgary gets to play itself. Usually we're trying to make it look like this city or this city.' So everyone was so enthusiastic about making sure that Calgary looked like itself."

When the sisters were in the city during the shoot, Sara said it felt like being "gay Mr. Rogers."

"People would walk by us and be like, 'Hi Tegan and Sara! We're so glad you're shooting here!' And like, everyone thought we were on the show."

Musicians Tegan and Sara Quin sit outside their Calgary high school in 1998. (Calgary Newshour/CBC Archives)

"There are people in my life who still don't truly understand that is not a documentary and it is not us pretending to be us. [They] don't understand that it's fiction, including someone who's related to us, and I love it. I can't wait for people to watch it and be like, 'What the hell is going on? Where are Tegan and Sara?'"

High School premieres today in the U.S. and October 28th in Canada on Amazon Freevee and Amazon Prime Video. You can also buy the album Crybaby in stores and online on October 21st, and see Tegan and Sara in concert starting October 26th.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada and nominated again this year) and hosting the video interview series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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