Liberty Street aims to be vibrant voice of a generation …

The Toronto Star
SPOTLIGHT, Sunday, February 5, 1995, p. E5
Liberty Street aims to be vibrant voice of a generation Uncertainty the
‘reality of being in your 20s in the ’90s,’ says producer

by Rita Zekas TORONTO STAR

We’re not in Melrose Place, Toto.

This is an apartment complex heavy on lava lamps, fuzzy dice, Arborite
tables, chenille bedspreads . . . .

We’re on Liberty Street, set of the new CBC series brought to you by Linda
Schuyler, producer of the venerable Degrassi series.

Degrassi was geared to the angst of late adolescence and teen years and
earned Schuyler and her partner, Kit Hood, a pair of Emmy Awards, a
smattering of Geminis, and a Canadian Film and Television Award for
Personal Achievement.

There is inevitable spillover in Liberty. One of the actors on Liberty
Street, Pat Mastroianni, was also a regular on Degrassi.

Liberty Street, telecast Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., is focused on 13
twentysomething (that Gen X thing shall not rear its head) tenants in a
converted ramshackle warehouse in Toronto called The Pit, presided over by
the Mastroianni character, Frank Pagnozzi.

Among the other tenants: Mack Fischer (Joel Bissonnette), a recovering
cocaine addict; Janet Beecher (Kimberly Huie), a single mom from Halifax
who is a law student; Christine Beecher (Melissa Daniel), her young
daughter; neo-hippie idealist Annie Hamer (Henriette Ivanans); Nathan
Jones (Billy Merasty), a native Cree coming out as a liberated homosexual
in a big city; and Wade Malone (L. Deal Ifill), a well-educated,
middle-class radical.

The series is a spin-off of the two-hour pilot X-Rated, which aired last
February and was skewered by media and target audience alike. As a result,
Schuyler and staff went back to the drawing board.

There are endless floors of clutter in the warehouse, decor by Sally Ann.

We all had starter apartments like that.

Ifill is hanging out between scenes with Daniel. His name is pronounced
“Eiffel,” as in Tower.

“I’m Ifill, he’s Paras,” he quips, referring to Dean Paras, who plays the
brooding and bitter Stuart.

The affable Ifill seems comfortable in Wade’s skin. The character’s very
real to him.

WEIRD SENSE OF HUMOUR

“Wade is a young musician who does publicity and promotion to make ends
meet. He wants to play and produce music and tends to stick to himself
because he likes to watch and listen. He has a weird sense of humor.”

Ifill appeared on Degrassi Street for four years as the school president,
but wasn’t featured in the Liberty pilot.

” I went to Humber College for three years taking theatre. I couldn’t do
the pilot because I was not allowed to do professional work while going to
school. My character was not in the pilot, he was originally to be a
compilation of two characters.

“Wade is a new, neutral name. I didn’t want something considered a black
or stereotypical name.”

He’s 23. He’s been acting for 10 years.

“I’d auditioned for Degrassi at 15 or 16. They called me back and asked if
I wanted to come on as an extra. Linda gave me that chance.

“I grew up there. Linda was not really like a mom, more a big
sister/mother figure. Linda watched me grow up ; I’ve watched her. I’ve
seen things I never thought she would consider doing character-wise. I
don’t mean graphic but dangerous; good dangerous.

“She has surprised me in a good way. I figured Liberty Street would be
sanitized. I’m glad it’s raw and grungy, way cool. I think it’s
representative of the way we live. Linda and the writer talk to us –
Melissa included , the 9-year-old.”

He describes his apartment as a “love shack.”

“My love shack with my silk sheets. They set my room as a surprise –
condoms all over the place. Velour couches . Very cool . Serious sound
equipment. Candles. It looks like the setting for a Teddy Pendergrass
video. ”

Or something out of an early Dean Martin Matt Helm movie.

Schuyler has come upstairs after overseeing the scene. She’s as cool as
her cast, dressed fashionably in Queen West black.

“I’ve had to readjust my thinking and I didn’t get there overnight. You
have to assume a series of firsts. I’m dealing with young adults: first
drinking, first sex, have driver’s licence . . . living on their own for
the first time. People in their 20s are inexperienced adults. In Degrassi,
their parents are still there.”

Schuyler moved out of her home turf in Paris, Ont., in her 20s. She has no
kids herself, but a 10-year-old stepson.

“Funnily enough, Degrassi and Liberty kids could be my kids. But I’m also
their boss. I was conscious of storylines evolving with age and as the
cast grew, we allowed them to evolve and grow. The last season of Degrassi
we had to either recast or follow the kids on so the decision was made to
do School’s Out.

“I had written a first proposal (for Liberty), a story on kids in their
20s, and the question came up, could we keep the same cast? It was not
realistic. Horizons open, you meet new people.”

After the pilot, there was much rejuggling.

“It was focus-tested,” she winces. “Painful. Try sitting behind a one-way
mirror while people are decimating your work. You want to pound on the
window saying, ‘You missed that point.’ CBC stood behind me. It’s my fault
if you missed the point.

HAVE FUN, MAKE MISTAKES

“The (pilot’s) X-Rated title is distancing. We tried to be the voice of a
generation, the peer group is 20 to 30. They’re no different than we were:
feeling pressured because you are an adult, feeling awful if someone looks
together.

“All that uncertainty is the reality of being in your 20s in the ’90s.
It’s hard to get jobs. I have never seen so many entrepreneurs – look at
the number of ‘zines generated in the basements of their parents’ house.
It’s easy to say it’s so bleak, but we’re still hopeful with kick-ass
optimism. The message in our stories: Have fun, screw up, make mistakes.”

As for the sex scenes, Schuyler consults the performer.

“We start from a premise that they are sexually active. Statistically we
know they are having sex earlier.

“There’s only as much skin as a performer feels comfortable with. I
schedule a lot of time for the read-through of the script. I leave a lot
of sex scenes to director and performer. If we force something, it would
look fake.”

Schuyler also strove for realism in setting and cast.

“The casting is eclectic but the casting reflects Toronto. I cast this way
because the tenants in this building are what I see on Queen Street West.

“Our cast thinks these apartments are brilliant. I don’t want to live like
this, I like my house in The Beach, but my first apartment was a
three-storey walk-up. I have my experiences living in a building like
this.”

It was an intimidating project for her, flying solo.

“It was very intense. For 16 years, I had a partner, now all the risk is
mine. The scariest piece was the director, because Kit was the key
director. I worked with Bruce MacDonald, Paul Lynch, Gail Harvey, Alex
Chapple. I wanted to establish a team of directors not necessarily bound
by restrictions of TV, who don’t have a traffic-cop mentality.”

Liberty Street is a real warehouse, a real street. They discarded a lot of
names before they arrived at their title.

“The obvious was staring us in the face.”

Note: L. Dean Ifill’s name is misspelled (L. Deal Ifill)

Subject(s) – The Toronto Star : television Toronto Canada
Edition: SU2
Length: Long, 997 words

Copyright ) 1995 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved.

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