'Celestial Bodies' by Jacob Margaret Archer
The Studio at Toronto's Young People's Theatre
A challenging dramatic monologue of body imaging which is difficult to discuss, ‘Celestial Bodies’ is treated with the utmost care, dignity, and respect for the human person.
Young People’s Theatre once again handles youth issues with care, class, and dignity for the human person.
Produced by Montréal’s Geordie Theatre, ‘Celestial Bodies’ becomes a hard-hitting, poignant tale of a young girl entering high school who becomes self-consciously aware of her diverse body image and how she appears different from others. But, though, when we look at the galaxy and the universe, there are diverse shapes, bodies and sizes that are beautiful and extraordinary in their own unique way.
As a retired 33-year schoolteacher, I will admit this is an issue which truly hasn’t become any easier to discuss with young people. If anything in our social media age, some young people become fixated on maintaining the perfect body image to the point of health and relationship issues with others.
Protagonist Stella is what I will call the normal teenage girl from my years in education – a fast talker because she’s trying to relay as much information as she can and how she is feeling about it. At the beginning of the story, she is sitting in a hockey locker room deep breathing to calm herself down after a panic attack. To calm herself down, Stella shares with us she is interested in the galaxy and dreams of becoming an astronaut. Whenever she feels panicky, she imagines she is wrapping herself up in the universe and the galaxy and this seems to calm her nerves.
Stella is at the pharmacy with one of her two mothers conversing with the pharmacist about weight gain. Her mother Imma who is overweight is very warm and accepting while her other mother, Andie, was a former Olympic hockey player from the Turin Olympics who is always giving pep talks to her daughter.
She’s going into Grade 9 and like any other young person going into high school wants to fit in. She tells us about a boy who was in her French class in Grade 8 and used to wink at her when he handed out the homework. Stella took a fancy to his winks and hoped more would come from this connection he made to her.
Going into Grade 9 poses its new set of problems. The boy who used to wink at her in Grade 8 is now very mean to Stella. He and another girl end up throwing a yogourt cup at the back of Stella’s head. She leaves the room with her dignity intact but loses her composure in the bathroom as she’s trying to get the yogourt out of her hair.
A girl, Essie (who is different from the others at the school) comes in to help Stella wash the blueberry yogourt of her hair. They later become friends. Essie encourages Stella to become part of the hockey team with her brother, Noah, whom Stella calls a cute guy. Noah learns of Stella’s interest in the galaxy. The next day, when she is at school, Stella’s science teacher makes a comment about her size and her wanting to become an astronaut which he realizes afterwards was a huge error on his part, but the damage inflicted through words is already done.
While in the cafeteria, bullies start taunting Essie and Stella once again and throw another yogurt cup. Because Stella has been practicing goalie moves, she captures the yogourt cup, and tosses it to Essie who then flings it back at the bullies. Essie and Stella are then given detentions even though they are the ones who did not start this teasing incident.
A staff-student hockey game in which Stella participates becomes a high point of interest where she maintains her dignity about herself and her place in the world, including the galaxy.
As Stella, Riel Reddick-Stevens remains most believably and consistently grounded in the moment and very real in her performance of a young girl who is confronting so much stuff in her life. She never ventures into tears or overacting but allows the words of the monologue and their meaning to speak for themselves. Director Jimmy Blais envisions this story with dignity and compassion for all diverse body individuals because he writes in his Director’s Note: “This play hits home for me and for whoever has struggled with body image.” Thank you so much for your candour, Jimmy.
Tim Rodrigues’s lighting design fluidly moves from shadows to warmth with ease from scene to scene and from moment to moment naturally. The multitude of colour hues from the galaxies has been effectively captured on stage.
I especially liked Eo Sharp’s set design. On the floor are pictures from the galaxy where there are pictures of planets from space. Reddick-Stevens believably moves from around the Studio playing space sometimes while standing on a planet or at other times in the middle of the galaxy. Reddick-Stevens also maneuvers around the stage in what looks like three mushroom stands. You’ll see them in the picture above. These set pieces are quite effective in providing an interesting visual perspective because nothing in the galaxy ever appears the same. Things are constantly changing shape and size continually. As Blais says in his Director’s Note: ‘We are like stardust’.
Final Comments: As a 33-year retired schoolteacher, I would heartily recommend ‘Celestial Bodies’ as a trip for elementary and secondary students, first as an opportunity to discuss with students the importance of self-care, self-image, accepting and loving ourselves in the way we have been formed.
Second, this is an extraordinary performance to watch a recent theatre school graduate share a story that gripped the attention span of the young audience members I saw around me.
Running Time: approximately 60 minutes with no intermission. There are some Q & A after the performance so check when you purchase tickets if you are interested.
‘Celestial Bodies’ runs until December 9 in the Studio at Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East, Toronto. For tickets, call 416-862-2222 or visit youngpeoplestheatre.org.
‘Celestial Bodies’ by Jacob Margaret Archer
Produced by Geordie Theatre
Directed by Jimmy Blais
Set and Costume Designer: Eo Sharp
Lighting Designer: Tim Rodrigues
Design Assistant: Sorcha Gibson
Production Manager/Technical Director: Aurora Torok
Stage Manager: Annalise Pearson-Perry
Performer: Riel Reddick-Stevens as Stella