In 2003, the counties of Lehigh, Northampton and Warren, New Jersey became the first in history to have a live-televised awards show to honour the achievements of high school theatre. The Freddy Awards run once a year, have numerous categories (including Best Actor in a Leading Role, etc) and are the subject of the energetic, joy-filled documentary Most Valuable Players , screening this year at Sprockets.
The counties of Lehigh, Northampton and Warren are a little sports obsessed. Members of the community attend high school sporting events of all kinds, regardless of whether or not their children are still on the team. In fact, these communities don’t schedule other kinds of events on Friday nights because they know they will be under attended. Most Valuable Players follows three schools as they create and present their large-scale musicals. Two schools choose Les Miserables and the third Bye Bye Birdie. Through casting, school rivalries, both delightful and temperamental directors, the students get a good look at what it means to be a part of a team, even if they’re not playing a sport.
I was skeptical about watching this film at first. I was a “drama kid” in high school myself, and went to a largely arts focused school. We put on a large-scale musical on the even years, and a “mini-musical” on the odd. In fact, my experiences with high school theatre are the reason why I went to Ryerson Theatre School to get my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Technical Production. High school theatre is a very tricky thing to capture on film, so I was concerned that it would be filled with cliques, prima donnas and token gay boys. I can honestly say with complete certainty that all my concerns were shattered within the first few minutes. The documentary focuses both on the creation and presentation of the musicals, but also the production of the Freddy Awards, highlighting the incredible personalities involved in both.
The film gives the viewer a sense of the community that comes from performance, whether it’s on stage for a single audience or on television for a national one. There was no focus on the many clichÃ©s that comes from amateur theatre ““ no over-zealous parents, no kids with dreams of being movie stars, no screaming directors (although a couple come close). It’s difficult to know how many of those things were cut out of the film, but it was comforting to see that there can be communities dedicated to the arts in which the art is actually the focus, especially one so sports focused.
The film keeps a wonderful balance between all three schools, along with the production side of the Freddy’s, so the viewer isn’t necessarily rooting for one school over another, but instead rooting for everyone.
Most Valuable Players is an incredible documentary that highlights some of the best of the high school experience, allowing for some nostalgia on the viewer’s part, while getting lost in the fun on screen. This film sets a stunning example for teens, showing that definitively that rough high school years can be weathered with a little help from your friends and your community.
Most Valuable Players screens this Saturday, April 16 at 5:45 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox.