Grade 12 students Carson Gervais and Liv Bernemann are responsible for finding husbands for their five daughters, and transporting an audience back to a small Russian town in 1905 – and all in eight shows over two weeks.
The students are the leads in Brookswood Musical Theatre Co.’s Fiddler on the Roof.
The play is set in a mostly Jewish settlement in Imperial Russia and tells the tale of Tevye and Golde, a poor couple trying to figure out how to raise dowries for their five daughters so they can find each husbands.
Their lives are set against the backdrop of international events, including the Russian pogroms (anti-Jewish violence) and the Russian revolution.
On top of this Tevye and Golde struggle to figure out what to do about daughters who want to marry for love in a culture where marriages are arranged, and all while to living by their faith.
Gervais noted that his character, Tevye, doesn’t have the typical relationship with God that most would have had: “He talks to [God] like He’s his best friend.”
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So what on earth could Gervais and Bernemann have in common with their characters?
They say a lot. Bernemann said they were just starting to study the Russian Revolution when she was cast.
“It’s really interesting playing a character in a point in history that I’m really fascinated with. It’s like I understand the history better now that I’ve put myself in the shoes,” she said.
Gervais and Bernemann see parallels between the social issues of today and 1905 Russia, including the scapegoating of immigrants and refugees around the world.
“So yeah, history repeats itself,” Bernemann commented.
Her mom played Hodel, one of the daughters, when she was in her high school’s production of Fiddler. Bernemann thought she might be cast as Hodel but never expected to get Golde.
After Gervais received the role of Tevye, he realized the amount of work needed.
“After the shock went away, I was like okay now I have those monologues to do,” he chuckled. “Let’s get down to reading them and try to find myself in this role.”
Bernemann has been performing since the age of five and was in two previous Brookswood shows (Urinetown and Thoroughly Modern Millie).
Gervais fell in love with performing in school, his first part being in the ambitious Belmont Elementary performance of Pete’s Dragon in 2013.
“When I came to Brookswood, I was tall so they were like ‘do basketball’ so I did some basketball,” he said. “I wasn’t very good at basketball. I tried some rugby. I wan’t very good at rugby.”
In Grade 10, he took part in Urinetown.
“I loved not just the theatre and acting and singing… but the community, the family that you build when you do a production at Brookswood is unlike anything. Because you put so much time and so much effort into this, it’s like a second home.”
Fiddler on the Roof brings together about 60 students – cast, crew and a live orchestra. Teachers Gordon Hamilton and Sheri Eyre direct, while Derrick Turi is in charge of the music and choreography is by Jordan Allarie. All the shows start at 7 p.m. at 20902 37A Ave. Shows run Feb. 7 to 10 and Feb. 14 to 17. Tickets ($12) can be bought online at brookswoodfiddler.brownpapertickets.com.