As a student, you wonder what goes on behind the door of the staff room, but the dynamics behind that door can be found in any office.

This spring, the Elmira Theatre Company is staging Staff Room, a play made up of a series of two- to three-minute vignettes showing the inner workings of a high school staff room.

“It is very true to life in education, certainly, but for everyone. You see what goes on from the perspective of a staff room’s walls. There is a lot of growth that goes on when you put in 20 or 30 years, you change a lot and you learn so much from the environment and the students and people that you meet, and now it is all onstage,” says director Denise Gismondi.

The show, written by retired teacher Joan Burrows, won Best Production at the Theatre Ontario festival in 2004, and has since been updated for 2017. Gismondi collaborated with Burrows for the Elmira production.

“Burrows wanted to do some updating and rewriting of some pieces of the play. There was one scene that she completely took out and we had to balance it with a couple of other scenes to balance out the first and second act.”

The production presented quite the challenge for the community theatre group, with around 40 different characters throughout. Along with fast wig and costume changes, the actors need to be able to change character on a dime. Gismondi says the troupe is doing great in rehearsals.

“There have to be at least 20 vignettes. We have eight actors with those 40 characters, and usually you have to develop a character from the beginning to the middle to the end,” she explained. “When they come on, they have to know who they are playing, they have to know what they are going to say, they have to know how they are going to establish their character right from minute one. Then they have to go for it, then they have to switch it up very quickly. They have been having a great time.”

The play, although starring teachers as the main characters, is relatable to everyone, says Gismondi. The first vignette starts at the beginning of a teacher’s career, and ends with the school’s graduation, and in the middle, different adventures and challenges for the many characters.

“Everybody has gone to school. Everybody knows something about education, about formal education and I think that this would be entertaining even to those who haven’t seen it through a teacher’s eyes,” she said. “We’ve all been mentors, we’ve all been in other business situations where these types of situations and relationships happen. Maybe it was a cafeteria at a place of work, but you would see a lot of conversations and a lot of the things people can go through in the course of a year.”

Gismondi wants Staff Room to bring back memories for those in the audience.

“I hope they have a wonderful time, that they think a little bit. Maybe it makes them think back to their school days, or if they happen to be educators, to have them think back to some of their experiences and for everyone, we want them to think about their favourite teachers. People are going to have, I think, all kinds of reactions to this. There is enough variety in all of these scenes to have something for everyone,” she said.

Elmira Theatre Company’s Melissa Roe and Dale Langdon rehearse one of the many vignettes in Staff Room, its spring 2017 production. [Liz Bevan / The Observer]
The play is Elmira Theatre Company’s first of 2017 to take the stage, and this year’s theatre season has a theme: Canada 150.

“I sit on the play reading committee, and we decided this season, in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we decided that we were going to have an all Canadian season. Burrows is from Richmond Hill and it is a great play,” said ETC’s Bev Dietrich.

The group will also be hosting a dinner theatre with Staff Room centre stage, something they have never done with their spring production before.

“We are doing the dinner theatre on Saturday nights this time. Usually it is something that we only do in the fall, and in the spring, it is the show only,” she said. “Never Enough Thyme is catering the dinner, and we want everybody to come out and have a great time.”

Staff Room premieres on Apr. 28 with curtains up at 8 p.m. The dinner and a show special runs on Apr. 29, May 6 and May 13.

For tickets visit www.elmirathreatre.com or call KW Tickets at 519-578-1570.

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