High school sex scandal

University of Winnipeg students star in Canadian premiere of hit off-Broadway play

  • Naughty! Tatiana Carnevale as Diwata (as “Time Traveling Mary Warren”) with Jonathan Lawrence as Howie (as “Gay Teenage Abraham Lincoln”) in the Stage16 production of Speech and Debate.

Sex, secrets, performance art blogs and blackmail. What else do you need from a night at the theatre?

Stage16’s latest production marks the Canadian premiere of Speech and Debate, a hugely successful off-Broadway play.

It also marks the transition of Stage16 founder Ryan Segal into the director’s chair. Segal founded the company in 2006 with friends Joseph Tritt and Jillian Willems. He’s always had a passion for theatre, but said he really loves working behind the stage.

“When the opportunity arose to produce Speech and Debate, I thought it was the perfect chance to step out of my comfort zone and take on the role of director,” Segal said.

The play is situated around three high school misfits who develop an unlikely bond while trying to expose a sex scandal within their high school.

However, the play is also about the ways people receive information and divulge secrets, make friends and then blackmail them. Using their blogs, interpretive George Michael dances and musical theatre performances, the characters set out to reveal the truth.

Segal first heard of the play when it had its world premiere at the Roundabout Theatre in New York City. It was the inaugural production of the Roundabout Underground – an initiative to produce plays by emerging playwrights and performers.
The play ended up extending its planned engagement several times.

While the success of the production throughout the United States was one thing that drew Segal to the story, it was playwright Stephen Karam’s accurate depiction of the teenage characters that sealed the deal.

“Karam perfectly captures the way teenagers talk and interact. I found the dialogue so organic, so wacky and completely hysterical,” Segal said.

Another interesting angle was the use of blogs and instant messaging as a means of dialogue, and how it depicted social interaction.

The cast is made up entirely of University of Winnipeg students: Tatiana Carnevale, Nyk Bielak, Jonathan Lawrence and Connie Manfredi.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with a cast and crew of all University of Winnipeg students – many friends from before – who have been amazing collaborators throughout. This is more their production than mine and I am very fortunate to have the chance to work with them on this hilarious play.”

Published in Volume 64, Number 5 of The Uniter (October 1, 2009)

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