Hook Up
Chris Thornborrow & Julie Tepperman. Photos: Jeff Higgins & Sam Gaetz

A theatrical hybrid is making its way to the stage in late January and it’s not holding back. Tapestry Opera and Theatre Passe Muraille present the world premiere of Hook Up, a story of the complex freedom and responsibility of being a freshman, away from home for the first time.

Hook Up follows three friends heading into their first year at university, along with all of the new rules, new environment and new freedoms that experience entails. But freedom soon becomes complicated for these young adults. Questions of consent, shame and power begin to surface as they try to figure out what this new life holds and how it works.

For composer Chris Thornborrow and librettist Julie Tepperman, social media and cyber bullying were at the forefront when a few years ago, they created a seven-minute piece for Tapestry’s annual LibLab [now called Composer-Librettist Laboratory] workshop. Originally intended for a middle-to-early high school audience, complications arose as the content was considered troublesome.

“There were big language and content restrictions” says Tepperman. The pair had to ask themselves how they would share this important issue, while still staying within the education system’s guidelines.

The original test piece was soon scrapped and for their second draft, the idea was to target young adults. High school kids aren’t likely to look to their own age group as a role model, so the pair pivoted to a university-setting. “They want to look up to someone older, someone in university,” says Tepperman.

Hook Up Poster
Image: Patrick Hunter

What was most important for the duo was the placement of the female characters. The story needed to “put women in the centre of the narrative as subjects rather than being peripheral characters,” says Thornborrow “It isn’t in the news. The actual unpacking [of the issue] isn’t talked about.”

Thornborrow’s work manages to straddle a variety of genres—he composes classical chamber as well as film music. With this production, he doesn’t have to choose. “Opera sits in between those two worlds,” he says. The chamber music elements show up in Hook Up’s upbeat rhythms, adding moments of surprise. From his film work, he uses some of the music to subtly tell the story in the background. Together, these elements “create opera. It’s a heightened experience.” 

Image: Dahlia Katz

Working in a more traditional operatic mode was the original choice for the story—until that didn’t work. Having young adults in university singing in full operatic voice “didn’t feel authentic,” says Thornborrow. “It wasn’t a choice of this is the better aesthetic, it was—this [a musical theatre style] is the most effective and impactful way to [tell] the story.”

For most performances, there will be an opportunity for audience discussion after the show facilitated by CANVAS Arts Actions Programs. For Thornborrow and Tepperman, the purpose is to have “a platform for people of all ages to engage in a really difficult conversation that isn’t often talked about” says Thornborrow.

Hook Up premieres January 30th and runs until February 9th, 2019. Click here for tickets and more information.