The Young People’s Theatre brings Instant to the Toronto stage
The Toronto theatre scene has something for everybody, including a wealth of performances for kids and teens. Instant, written by Erin Shields and currently being presented by Young People’s Theatre, explores the pressures of fitting in and succeeding in high school as well as the perils of social media. My companion was a 13-year old in grade 8, and I think she was the perfect age for it.
Instant tells the story of three teens. Meredith (Michelle Rambharose) is an aspiring singer who is trying to build a following on You Tube. She writes her own songs, but is afraid to post them. Instead, she performs covers of others’ music. Jay is her best friend. He’s a rising star in his hockey league and hopes to play in the NFL.
They are clearly part of the popular crowd at school, and Rosie (Leah Fong) is clearly not part of that crowd. But after she posts a video of herself singing to try to raise money for her father’s expensive medical treatment, she suddenly becomes a sensation online and at school. Meredith is jealous of her success and takes to social media to undermine her. Things quickly spin dangerously out of control.
Instant is only 50 minutes long, but it manages to pack a lot in. There’s a full narrative arc, the characters all grow and change, and it has a satisfying conclusion. My companion said she really liked it.
We both agreed that the actors were all very good. Her favourite was Leah Fong, who played Rosie. She said that Rosie seemed like someone she would want to be friends with in real life. I agree. Though they were clearly in their 20’s, their portrayals of teenagers rang true to me.
Fong perfectly captured the bewilderment and excitement of a nerdy, awkward girl who is suddenly being invited to the cool parties. Michelle Rambharose as Meredith was also strong. She captured the bravado of a popular girl but also the fear of realizing the consequences of her actions. Dakota Jamal Wellman was a gentle giant as Jay. He’s the voice of reason in the play and always strives to do the right thing.
The actors address the audience directly for much of the play, describing and narrating the action. The set is simple – stacks of black cubes, which the actors move in front of or behind as they enter and exit. Periodically, faces of teens were projected on the cubes. I wasn’t really sure who they were supposed to be, and I don’t really think the projections added anything to the show.
There are definitely some mature situations and difficult themes in the play, but they are handled maturely and sensitively. The dialogue was authentic. The website says it is targeted for grades 7-12, but my guess is that older teens will probably roll their eyes a bit. There are a number of teenagers in my life, and they are all very skeptical of adult portrayals of the “evils of social media.”
I have to admit that going into the play, I assumed it would mainly be about why kids should be afraid of and stay off of Instagram. But I was pleasantly surprised that the treatment of social media was much more nuanced. Social media is just the vehicle these kids use to communicate. They do use it to bully, but they also use it to create. It gives them power and a voice.
In the end, my companion and I didn’t really think social media was the main point of Instant anyway. It was about figuring out who you really are and having the courage to be that person. We’re both glad we saw it.
- Instant runs until December 15, 2017 at in the Studio at Young People’s Theatre (165 Front Street East)
- Showtimes are Monday – Thursday at 10:30am and 1:15pm, Fridays at 10:30am, and Saturday and Sundays 2pm. See website for details.
- Tickets are General Admission, $19 for Youth 1-18 and Seniors, $24 for Adults 19+
- Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416-862-2222
- Instant features strong language and mature situations. Detailed content information can be found here.
Photo of Leah Fong and Michelle Rambharose provided by the company