Playing The Part: Degrassi at Centennial

Playing The Part: Degrassi at Centennial
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By Aldis Brennan Features Editor

The iconic TV series Degrassi has recently become the longest-running Canadian television show ever. It is a show known for highlighting controversial issues that affect teens.

But what few people know is that Centennial College played an important role in the series’ development. It was, for the most part, Degrassi High.

Some of the cast and crew look back and remember what it was like to shoot a TV show at the Centre for Creative Communications campus.

Phil Earnshaw, director

Q: Why was Centennial College chosen as the set for Degrassi High?

A: It was a perfect win/win situation. For us it was a Godsend because there were what seemed like miles of corridors and plenty of classrooms for us to stage our scenes and it was all in the east end, close to the Playing With Time offices and all the alleys and houses that were the signature locations of the series. The Degrassi Junior High School in Etobicoke was miles away and it was tiny, we used to slide banks of lockers around to block staircases and doorways to make it look like the school was way bigger than it really was. There was also a real private school operating out of the ground floor so we had to share the building with them which made for more complications.

To have Centennial was a fantastic coup for us.

Q: Were there any particular parts of the school that were used repeatedly? What were they and why?

A: The corridors were great because they were all lit with natural light and the foyer was and still is very distinctive because of the long ramp leading to the second floor. I liked the front of the school too because we could stage really nice scenes of the kids arriving and leaving. Also because the school is nestled in a community it looks cozy and inviting.

Q: Were there any memorable aspects to shooting at the college?

A: One of the carry-overs from Degrassi High to Degrassi; The Next Generation was the classroom doors. The style of door they used to have at Centennial were distinctive in that they all had three windows stacked up on top of each other. Linda made sure when designing her new school in the studio they the classrooms all had the same doors as those at Degrassi High. Also the colourful panels that adorn the outside of Centennial also made it into the production design of the exterior of The Next Generation studio school.

Architecturally speaking, Centennial had a very fresh modern look to it and from my point of view as the cinematographer it was always a very nice place to photograph. There used to be an old-fashioned 3 story high-school type building that was on the Pape side, on the eastern border of the campus. I think it has been torn down now but we used to shoot in there occasionally too.

Amanda Stepto, played Christine ‘Spike’ Nelson

Q:
What was (the filming) like?

A:
Filming at the school was a big change from when we filmed Degrassi Junior High. Centennial was a lot bigger so we didn’t have to use the same, few classrooms and hallways and try to make them look different each time. It was also more convenient for most of the cast who lived in the east end.

Q:
What is the most memorable moment/scene you had at Centennial?

A:
One of the most memorable scenes I remember was when Joey had to walk through the cafeteria naked. After the scene was rehearsed and we were getting ready to shoot, Pat left the cafeteria so he could get undressed. I remember Linda coming into the cafeteria to speak to us to say how difficult this scene would be for Pat and for us basically to ‘behave’ and not make him feel even more uncomfortable.

Q:
How did playing this character on Degrassi change your life?

A:
I guess playing this character has allowed me more opportunities that I wouldn’t have necessarily had if I wasn’t on the show. I got to travel all across Canada, parts of the U.S. and Europe and have met a lot of great people and made life-long friendships in doing so.

Q:
What did you do in your downtime in East York?

A:
Although we might not have been filming throughout the entire day, we still had to stay on the school premises. Could you imagine trying to wrangle 50-100 kids who have wandered onto Danforth? We were allowed to venture out during our hour lunch break although that really wasn’t enough time to venture very far. And since we filmed throughout the school year, most of us had homework that we had to catch up on so we did that during our downtime.

Stacie Mistysyn, played Caitlin Ryan

Q: What do you remember about shooting at Centennial College during Degrassi High?

A:
I remember doing a lot of scenes on the ramp (since I had a lot of scenes with Maya in the wheelchair). I also remember napping between scenes in the ‘quad’.

Q:
What was it like?

A:
It was nice to have graduated to a much bigger space than the previous school we shot at. It felt like my ‘school away from school’ since we were there a lot, for full days, eating lunch there, etc – but more fun.

Q:
What is the most memorable moment/scene you had at Centennial?

A:
Without a doubt, when Joey walked through the cafeteria with nothing but a hat on!! Second most memorable, for me, was giving Claude a bloody nose in the hallway.

Q:
How did playing this character on Degrassi change your life?

A:
Probably in the sense that she made me more aware of the dangers of being impetuous (acting first, getting all the facts later). She also gave me more confidence and a much needed escape from reality during my teens.

Q:
How does the new set of Degrassi: The Next Generation compare to the old one at Centennial?

A:
No comparison! Where Centennial is a real school, TNG is shot on a set – the entire school, hangouts, houses, have been created on one giant lot. Centennial felt more like I was really going to school whereas, with TNG, I felt like I was going to the studio.

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