It’s easy to see why a company like Eternal Theatre Collective (ETC) would be drawn to a musical like Bare. Edgy and controversial, it explores gritty themes of sexuality, drug use, teen pregnancy, religion, and more. Speaking directly to the young artists themselves, it is all wrapped inside a rock musical seemingly tailor-made for a company who, we are told, range in age from 13 to 25.
But a company like ETC offers much more than an opportunity to perform in a show like Bare. It also provides its youthful company an opportunity to get their feet wet, or to continue honing their skills.
So, rather than deal in negatives, and in this production they are legion, it is just as important to concentrate on the positives. A noble sentiment perhaps in a review, but with many of those in this company likely going onto be the theatre artists of the future, it is sometimes more important to encourage, rather than dash.
Among this cast of 14 are some real stars-in-the-making, with Caleb Lagayan and Ashlyn Tegos as the real standouts. Providing realistic portrayals, the two also have the vocal skills to match. Lagayan has already started to make his mark locally since graduating from Capilano University’s musical theatre programme, but the real surprise here is with Tegos who is still in high school. There is little doubt these two have a future on Vancouver’s professional stages.
There were also a few wonderful individual moments from others in the cast, but sound issues, especially in act one, made it near impossible for any of them to showcase any real capabilities.
And while we often talk about enthusiasm ruling the day in amateur or pre-professional productions, this cast goes one step further with an astounding fearlessness inside such an intense and challenging show.
In his musical directing debut, Seamus Fera goes for broke. But sometimes, less really does mean more. In this production it is in the quieter, focused moments, without elaborately complicated staging which resulted in many strained necks in the audience, where this production found its strength.
Finally, the Unitarian Church is an inspired choice as venue for a show that also tackles issues of religion head-on. While the only thing that could have made this better was to somehow convince a Catholic Church to allow the production inside their walls, it adds some level of authenticity. Even with Unitarians falling on a more liberal and inclusive side of the religious spectrum, a show like Bare is still a risk, and that they opened themselves up to ETC is admirable.
While difficult to recommend based on opening night, Bare does give audiences a peek into the future of the artists in Vancouver’s theatre scene. And for that, at least, I was grateful.
A final word for anyone who does decide to attend, go for the slightly more expensive “premium” seats. Whether by design or by the requirements of the venue, the speakers are located in the back of the church nave, and the sound is virtually lost if you sit in the balcony. And while sightlines are problematic on the main church floor, at least you have a better chance of hearing.
Bare with a book by Jon Harmere and Damon Intrabartolo, music by Damon Intrabartolo and lyrics by Jon Hartmere. Directed by Seamus Fera. An Eternal Theatre Collective production in association with UBC Players Club. On stage at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver (949 West 49th Ave, Vancouver) until June 8. Visit eternaltheatre.com for tickets and information.