‘Give ’em Hell’: Theatrical production about student activism in final year of PCVS debuts

The set and stage of 'Give 'em Hell,' in the PCVS auditorium.
'Give 'em Hell' will be performed in the auditorium of the former PCVS building, closed since 2012. Photo by Eddy Sweeney.
Edward Sweeney - CFFF - PeterboroughON | 13-09-2023
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Premiering on Sept. 15, a local theatrical production is telling the story of Peterborough Collegiate Vocational School’s (PCVS) closure and the students’ fight to keep it open.

Written by Peterborough local playwright Madeline Brown, Theatre Direct’s Give ‘em Hell features a cast of local teen actors and will be performed in the auditorium of the former PCVS building, built in 1827. The school closed in 2012 and since has been occupied by Peterborough Alternative and Continuing Education (PACE).

Give ‘em Hell chronicles the final school year at PCVS, starting in September 2011 through to June 2012. It focuses on the protests, actions, and personal developments of the Raiders in Action – the student activist group,” says playwright Brown.

According to Collin Chepeka, a former PCVS student involved with organizing the Raiders in Action, the protests to keep the school open began after a recommendation to close PCVS.

“Throughout the course of the year [the students] put on numerous protests, the biggest one being bussing 400 students to Queen’s Park from PCVS,” says Chepeka.

Brown began development on Give ‘em Hell in 2020, working with the director Aaron Jan and building partnerships with Peterborough-based groups like 4th Line Theatre and Peterborough Museum & Archives.

Since Brown did not attend PCVS, getting the stories and experiences of past PCVS students and alumni was essential to the writing process.

“I had a lot of phone and Zoom calls with people who were part of that year,” says Brown about collecting source material for Give ‘em Hell.

One of the PCVS students interviewed by Brown was Chepeka, who was closely involved with the Raiders in Action.

“[Brown] has done a great job of amalgamating, not just my experience, but, a bunch of student’s experiences into the two main characters and a lot of the side characters,” says Chepeka.

A memorable moment for Chepeka and many other students was when PCVS won the Spread the Net challenge, in which schools raised money to help reduce malaria in African nations, and was featured on the Rick Mercer Report. The host of the show, Rick Mercer, spent a day at the school to celebrate the fundraising, but he recognized the students held a secondary motive for wanting to be featured on national television.

“They did want to raise money for Spread the Net, but they also wanted to win that prize because it would mean that I would come to the school and put their school on television. They felt, in their heart of hearts, that if this opportunity came and their school was put on television, the province would see the error in closing this school,” says Mercer.

Mercer is featured as a character in the play because of his involvement with the story. Even the title of the play, Give ‘em Hell, is influenced by Mercer telling the students to ‘fight like hell.’

The show will have six public performances, and will open on Sept. 15. From Sept. 19-21, Give ‘em Hell will be performing three school shows for local student groups to come see the show. For more information, visit Theatre Direct’s website.

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