Theatre Under The Stars Pride Night is building a prom for everyone

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      “I don’t universally love all musicals,” laughs Anna Pontin. It might be a strange admission from the star of Theatre Under The Stars’ (TUTS) production of The Prom, but The Prom is a bit of a strange musical. “But I think The Prom is really special. It’s witty and sarcastic and smart and political, while also being cheesy and fun and romantic.”

      Four of its main characters are down-on-their-luck actors, including a pair of very famous Broadway performers who’ve just had their newest show critically panned. The titular prom belongs to Emma (Pontin), an Indiana teenager who’s had her school prom cancelled because she wanted to take her girlfriend. When the Broadway stars decide to involve themselves to drum up some good publicity, the storylines meet. 

      Compared to the Ryan Murphy-produced film for Netflix, TUTS’ stage production—which runs until August 23—is much funnier: it’s less obsequiously slick, and leans more into the absurdities of every plot element. The performance-industry inside baseball, the high school melodrama, and the morality lesson about the importance of tolerance are all lovingly skewered—with belly laughs and full-cast dance numbers. 

      Pontin, who’s going into her third year studying English literature at UBC, doesn’t have “a huge background in theatre.” But a friend encouraged them to audition. Like their character, Pontin was a queer teenager in a small town (in her case, it was Yellowknife, NT).

      “It was challenging—I think in a way it’s challenging for any teenager to be out in high school,” Pontin reflects. “A lot of my friends were straight, and thankfully the community’s very supportive and I had a really supportive family, but it does start to feel like you’re deviating a little bit at an age when you kind of just want to fit in and be like everyone else and be cool.”

      Pontin’s character has to deal with unsupportive parents and an actively hostile community. Her story is also directly based on Constance McMillen, a real girl from Mississippi whose school cancelled its prom rather than let her take a girl in 2010. 

      “It’s been really meaningful to embody that and put myself in the position of a person who didn’t get all the love and privileges of acceptance that I got,” Pontin says. “It’s pretty intense to put myself in those shoes. But Emma is like a braver, cooler version of me.”

      Greg Armstrong-Morris, who plays washed-up Broadway star Barry Glickman, has a similar relationship to their character. Armstrong-Morris came out shortly after high school, to a supportive family, while Barry became estranged from his family. The play doesn’t tie up any loose ends with either Barry’s or Emma’s families—something Armstrong-Morris appreciates.

      “One of the things I like about Barry is he has this moment where he realizes, ‘[Reconciliation]’s not going to happen, and I need to be okay with that, I need to move on and stop waiting for this person,’” they tell the Straight in a phone interview. 

      While Emma creates relationships with all of the weird Broadway actors who crash-land in her high school, her connection to Barry is strongest. The two of them share a cross-generational bond that reflects the importance of elders and found family in the LGBTQ2S+ community. 

      “Anna is so wonderful to play that with,” Armstrong-Morris says. “I’d never done TUTS before, it’s been a long time since I’ve worked with really young people. I had my concerns—are we going to trust each other? Am I going to seem like this old man? … [But] that was a fantastic part of the experience, and I love that intergenerational part of [Emma and Barry’s] relationship, that they have that bond because they have something so important in common.”

      “There’s so many people in the show that I really, really look up to, and [Greg] is absolutely one of them,” Pontin adds. Their scenes together were some of the first that both actors ran, and really established the production as having a joyful, welcoming vibe. “We were dressing however we wanted, presenting how we wanted, and it just felt so special.”

      The Prom’s message of inclusivity isn’t just limited to the stage. The fifth annual Pride Night, on July 31, sees all cushion and program donations be matched by TUTS in support of Vancouver Pride Society. There’s plenty of LGBTQ2S+ people in the broader cast—as to be expected from any musical, especially in Vancouver—and celebrating in such an explicit way is something the team is looking forward to. 

      “It’s so important to take over spaces, big spaces, to celebrate,” Armstrong-Morris says. “I guess I have to go find a prom dress—a really tacky prom dress!”

      It’s extra-special for Pontin, as they’ve never been in town for Vancouver Pride before, and they missed Yellowknife Pride due to being in Vancouver. So Pride Night gets to be her first taste of community celebration.

      “I’ve never really been to Pride,” she says. “I’m so hyped to have it come to me.”

      Theatre Under The Stars Pride Night 

      When: July 31, 8pm

      Where: Malkin Bowl, 610 Pipeline Road, Vancouver 

      Admission: From $20, tickets available here