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Markham's Young Talent Shines At The Fringe Theatre Festival

Composer and director Jeff Jones, on the left, poses proudly
 with his cast after their opening performance.
 Back row:  Kyle Higgins, Dan MacEachern and Ryan Allen.
 Front row:  Dayna Chernoff, Tess Barao and Megan Poole.

(July 7.07)          Charcoal Sketch Productions premiered their song cycle “...of enigmatic things” last night to an enthusiastic audience at the George Ignatieff Theatre in the University of Toronto.  The show, which is playing within The Fringe, the annual Toronto Theatre Festival, offers not only great original songs but boasts also a strong Markham connection. 

            Composer and director Jeff Jones was a co-founder of the Markham Youth Theatre and has brought together a cast of six young people, four of whom have performed in a number of that theatre company’s productions.

            “...of enigmatic things” is a program of sixteen original songs composed over a number of years by Jeff Jones and stitched together into an energetic and entertaining hour with the collaboration of these young and talented singers.  In addition to writing the songs, and directing the actors, Jeff Jones plays guitar and leads the four piece band that provides accompaniment.  The show will have a run of seven performances at The Fringe, July 6-12, and July 14.

            “ ... of enigmatic things” is about honestly confronting the issues and emotions of life.  It sounds the depths of despair but also trumpets hope and redemption.  “So Hard To Be The Things I Dream”, “Claustrophobia”,  “My Psyche Needs A Secretary”, “Life Sucks” (featuring a hilarious kick line), “I Would Like To Apologize”, “A Summer Night”, “My Daddy’s Back Seat” are just a sampling of the songs that have been aptly described as “infectious”, wonderful tunes, with great rhythms, and with lyrics that can be alternately brutal and funny.  

   attended the show’s opening last night and met with the composer /director and the six cast members after the show.

            Jeff explained that the songs were mainly about issues he struggled with during his twenties but that putting together a program like this is ultimately about the joys and stresses of the creative process itself. 

“After you write stuff for a while you start seeing that the actual act of writing ends up having different meanings, because you are doing something and creating something and they tend to fit together,” he said. 

The idea he has been in pursuit of, he explained, is that “it’s actually about chasing things, about trying to get things done and that, in itself, has value.”

            “A lot of these moments in the show are about the fact that doing something, trying to succeed at something, trying to understand something is the most glorious thing in the world.  And that is what the show is about.”

            Rather than attempt to write a story from scratch it occurred to Jeff that he could create a song cycle from some of the work that he had written over the years.  He met with some of the early members of the cast and a collaborative process began in which sixteen songs were chosen and arranged to form a thematic unity and sequence even though there is not a specific story line.

            Let’s meet the cast.  Tess Barao, whose character is called simply “Girl 3”, has been involved in the genesis of the show from the very beginning. Tess is no stranger to our readers, and to fans of the Unionville Theatre Company who were captivated by her performance in the lead female role this past February in the UTC’s production of The Music Man.  Tess has honed her skills in productions of Markham Youth Theatre and will be appearing in September as the Witch in the company’s production of Into The Woods.  That show is already into rehearsal, so, needless to say, Tess has a busy schedule these days.

            Equally busy is Dayna Chernoff who plays “Girl 2” in “...of enigmatic things”.   Dayna has also been very involved with the Markham Youth Theatre, appearing last summer in Rocky Horror Show, and, like Tess, will be perforning this September in Into The Woods, Dayna playing the Baker’s Wife.  She grew up in Thornhill and attended Unionville High School.  Dayna has also been active behind the scenes, working as stage manager on a show with the Toronto District School Board.

            “Girl 1” is played by Megan Poole.  Megan is a graduate of Pierre Elliott Trudeau High School in Markham and has performed in a number of productions of the Markham Youth Theatre.  With the Unionville Theatre Company she has appeared in Anything Goes, The King and I, The Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan.  Visitors to the Markham Village Music Festival and Arts In The Park have also had the opportunity to enjoy Megan’s great voice.

            Dan MacEachern, who attended Markham District High School, shows his flair for both drama and comedy in the role of “Boy 1”.  Dan is another cast member who broke into theatre with the Markham Youth Theatre where he performed in Man Of La Mancha and has also been involved in a number of Unionville Theatre Company productions, including Peter Pan.  He has recently been cast in the role of Gaston in the Scarborough Music Theatre’s production of Gigi which opens in November.

            Kyle Higgins creates the challenging character of “Boy 2”.   A Scarborough native, Kyle appeared in many musical productions at Wexford High School, including Godspell, Jesus Christ Super Star and The Music Man and performed also with York Minstrel Community Theatre.  He has completed his first year in Sheridan College’s music theatre program.

            “Boy number 3” is played by Ryan Allen who is a fourth year student in Opera at the University of Toronto.  But he is a multi-dimensional talent and likes to think of himself as someone who can work both on stage and in front of the camera.  He has appeared in film, playing in Get Rich Or Die Trying and has hosted a television program with Y.T.V. 

            As Ryan explained, the excitement of participating in “... of enigmatic things” has come from the creative process.  Because the songs were all written separately over the years by Jeff Jones, melding them into a show featuring six performers meant creating a character for each of the actors.  Through the process of rehearsal, give and take, with all the cast giving Jeff input, a character emerged for each performer, and even the sense of an evolution, even if not of a defined story. 

            “... of enigmatic things” is on until July 14 so why don’t you “Fringe” this year and come down and see a great show that just happens to also include some great home grown Markham talent!

            You can click on for the exact schedule of shows.  Or see our own webpage, for further information.  You can also visit .

Grant Weaver    


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