Nick Preston’s Villain pulls a gun on Dad, played by Brennen Silk, while his Sidekick, Icarus Skelly, and Dad’s daughter Samantha, played by Aidan Passingham (from left), look on during rehearsal for SlugFest: A Musical, by VIU theatre instructor Ross Desprez. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

Vancouver Island-penned musical sluggish and proud of it

VIU theatre department debuts instructor’s original new musical, ‘SlugFest’

When a struggling small town with a slug infestation discovers slug slime is a medical cure-all, the citizens become enthusiastic about harvesting the miracle molluscs.

However, when some townsfolk oppose the harvest on ecological grounds, an RCMP officer is sent to mediate the dispute while a profiteering pharmaceutical executive arrives with plans of his own.

That’s the premise of SlugFest: A Musical, written by Vancouver Island University theatre instructor Ross Desprez and his longtime musical partner Tobin Stokes. Desprez’s theatre students were also present as he was developing the musical and some are now seeing it through to its debut.

“I guess in a nutshell it’s about the environment and saving the planet…” Desprez said, adding that although there’s a moral to the story, “I’ve always been big on the entertainment end of it. I think if you don’t entertain people then they’re probably not going to hear your message.”

The musical, a joint production of the VIU theatre department and Desprez’s professional theatre company The Other Guys, makes it debut at Nanaimo’s Malaspina Theatre on Oct. 23 and runs until Nov. 2.

Desprez said he’s had the idea for SlugFest tucked away in a drawer for the last decade but he’s only recently been going over the idea with his pupils.

“Over the last couple of years I’ve actually taken different drafts and I’ve read them with the students,” he said. “So that the people that are second year students now have actually been involved in the creation of the play from the first draft on.”

Desprez said it was important to get the students involved early on to give them a sense of ownership of the work. Student Rolando Burton said it’s not often an actor can say they’ve been part of an original cast production.

“We all worked with Ross a lot before and the fact that now we get to help him do his own work, it’s that much more personal for us,” he said. “It adds our personal drive to want to help him see it through because we were there.”

Cast mate Justine Makowecki said it was interesting to see the script progress over time.

“The first reading of it, it was very minimal, the script, and going to now when we have a full thing, it’s so cool to see that,” she said. “And seeing all of the music with it, learning choreography, it’s crazy to see how little we had last year around this time to seeing how much we have now.”

Desprez’s songwriting partner Stokes is a Victoria-based composer who writes symphonies, operas and choral pieces. Desprez joked that Stokes is “slumming” when they work together.

“I don’t read music or anything so what usually happens is I might have an idea for a song and I’ll sing it into my cell phone and send it to him,” Desprez said. “Or I’ll just send him a bunch of lyrics and go, ‘Here, run wild with it’ and then he’ll send me back something else that actually sounds legitimate.”

Desprez also brought in professional actor Nick Preston, who hails from Comox, to play the villain and Nanaimo artist Dale Schulz, known for his Hungry Bunny public art piece, is doing set design.

WHAT’S ON … VIU theatre department and the Other Guys Theatre Company present SlugFest: A Musical at Malaspina Theatre, VIU Bldg. 310, on Oct 23. to 26 and Oct 30 to Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. Tickets $15, $12 for students, available at the Malaspina Theatre box office, by phone at 250-740-6100 or online.

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