top of page

'Give 'Em Hell' by Madeleine Brown

Now onstage at PACE, 201 McDonnel Street, Peterborough

Credit: Dahlia Katz. L-R: Jalen Brink as Breaker and Jeff Dingle as Imaginary Rick Mercer

Joe Szekeres

‘Give ‘Em Hell’ is an inspirational historic community message by young people who deserve to have their voices heard. In order to hear these young voices, more has to be done in this production so they can be heard.

‘Give ‘Em Hell’ becomes a labour of love for the actors and creative team thanks to their selfless work and countless hours of preparation.

Written by Peterborough-born playwright Madeleine Brown and featuring a cast of eight local actors, the production retells the final 2012 school year leading to the closure of the arts-focused Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational Institute (PCVS). The students formed ‘Raiders in Action,’ a group to help fight the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (the ‘Em’ in the title).

The students formed many public rallies and raised over $50,000 to support a judicial review of the school board’s accommodation review process. Although the characters in the story are fictitious, the script details the power of real-life youth activism, the perils of self-discovery and what it costs students to stand for a cause that means so much to them.

The students' fight to save PCVS gained attention from Canadian artist Rick Mercer and was featured on his CBC ‘The Rick Mercer Report.’ I remember seeing this seven-minute segment years ago.

Sadly, the school closed its doors in 2012 as enrolment declined. The interior of the building was redesigned for alternative programming and is now known as PACE (Peterborough Alternative and Continuing Education). The remaining performances of ‘Give ‘Em Hell’ will take place in this building, which seems appropriate. There is an exhibition of archival materials from this tumultuous time in the school’s history.

The play opens in the present time. A young girl (Ziqin Chen) bookends the play's beginning and end. At the top of the show, she enters from the back of the auditorium and walks up to the front of the aisle on stage left. She stops and looks appreciatively at the stage for a moment. She then takes her camera out to take a picture. That moment was a nice touch as it wasn’t a phone camera. Chen appears at the end of the play again when she looks at the stage momentarily, turns, and heads back up the aisle and out of the auditorium, signifying she knows she must move forward.

The story continues when the ensemble enters and begins singing what I’m assuming is the school song—some lovely voices in this rendition.

Melanie McNeill has designed the PCVS school hallway set. It resembles a high school hallway, albeit a tad too pristine and clean. There are full-length lockers three-quarters around the stage. Two stripes of gold and yellow on the lockers, which I assume are the school colours, are painted on the lockers. As costume designer, McNeill has also selected realistic-looking clothing for the eight actors.

‘Give ‘Em Hell’ focuses on the ‘unique and special’ friendship between Breaker (Jalen Brink) and Bode (Isabelle Siena) and their leadership work to save PCVS from closing. Bode is also known as Cat since she sang the lead in the production of ‘Cats’ at the school last year. (Ironically, that show's title is not mentioned, but it’s inherently evident). We meet Breaker and Bode’s diverse friends who assist in helping to keep the school open: Leslie (Lion Addison), Moberly (Ella Cunningham), Bailey/Torri with a “D” (Eloise Harvey), Roo (Jessie Williams), Mayzie (Ziqin Chen) and Lou (Edith Burton).

There are outside adult influences on the students. Jeff Dingle is Breaker’s imaginary friend, Rick Mercer. Although Dingle’s hair length does not match Mercer’s, I could hear some East Coast voice. Dingle successfully emulates Mercer’s wide-open welcoming, inviting personality. Sarah Lynn Strange and M. John Kennedy offer some terrific bits of comedy. One occurs at the Kawartha Pine Ridge board meeting, where Strange’s ‘odd’ vocal sounds satirically represent the sometimes-nonsensical Edu babble commonly heard in corporate educational settings.

As stated earlier, this production becomes a labour of love for the students and the creative team. At the end of the play, it was evident how vital ‘Give ‘Em Hell’ is to the Peterborough community – a standing ovation from the audience members sitting around me. During the last few years of my teaching career, before I retired, student voice was an essential consideration in all decisions made within the educational setting. How will this decision and that choice affect students in the long run?

Aaron Jan’s direction makes it clear he also believes in the student and youth voice. Madeleine Brown’s script solidly supports this vision of the courage and bravery of youth when they set their minds to a passion in which they believe.

I’m all for this, too.

When I could hear the actors and the dialogue.

There were moments during the performance when I could not hear any spoken dialogue. And that’s frustrating as an outsider who wants to learn more about this historical moment. Much of the inaudibility comes from the actors’ upstage blocking, where the sound bounces into the ceiling rather than being jetted into the house. I don’t know if the company will have access to stage or head microphones that could be placed on the performers’ heads.

When I was able to hear the story, there are some finely staged moments. For example, the initial conversation between Jeff Dingle as Imaginary Rick Mercer and Brinker sets the tone for outside interest in this Peterborough historical event.

I just wish I was able to hear more moments.

I hope something will be done about the sound system for the remaining performances because ‘Give ‘Em Hell’ is a good story. It must be shared with the community. If head microphones are unavailable for performers, you’ll have to do vocal warmups to prepare your voices. Vocal projection is critical in that school auditorium because the sound reverberation will distort audience reception.

The production runs approximately 75 minutes with no intermission.

‘Give ‘Em Hell’ runs to September 23 at 8 pm. School matinees run September 19-21. All performances will be held at PACE, 201 McDonnel Street, Peterborough. For tickets, visit

‘GIVE ‘EM HELL’ written by Madeleine Brown
A 4th Line Theatre Special Event
Co-produced by Theatre Direct and Prairie Fire, Please, in association with Peterborough Museum and Archives

Directed by Aaron Jan
Stage Manager: Annasofie 诗慧 Jakobsen
Assistant Stage Manager: Cathy Ho-Nguyen
Production Manager: Autumn Coppaway
Set/Costume Designer: Melanie McNeill
Associate Set/Costumer Designer: JB Nelles
Lighting Designer: Logan Raju Cracknell
Sound Designer: Uri Livne-Bar
Production and Mentorship Partner: The Miikana Project
Production Mentorship Program Participants: Eve Knowles, Tashvi Menghi, Aanya Sharma, Elisa Torres
Protest Sign Designers and Builders: Downtown Youth Space (DYS)
Poster Design: John Wamsley
Graphic Design: Khira Wieting

Performers: Lion Addison, Jalen Brink, Edith Burton, Ziqin Chen, Ella Cunningham, Jeff Dingle*, Eloise Harvey, M. John Kennedy*, Isabelle Siena, Sarah Lynn Strange*, Jessie Williams

*appears courtesy of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association

Abstract Building
Black on Transparent_edited.png
bottom of page