Tales of Degrassi Kids

STEVE TILLEY, EDMONTON SUN

As any self-respecting beer commercial will tell you, there’s nothing that Canadians cling to more fiercely than those things that make us different and distinct from our neighbours to the south. So while American teens in the late 1980s were being weaned on the harmless adventures of Zack and Screech on Saved by the Bell, our own future Generation X was tuned into tales of pregnancy, abortion, drugs, AIDS and even the sudden death of parents on Degrassi Junior High.

And when it comes to the 21st-century followup series, Degrassi: The Next Generation, airing on CTV in Canada and Nickelodeon offshoot The N in the U.S., it seems some of us just can’t let go of our uniquely Canuck fixation.

“In the States, the young audience is watching,” said Stefan Brogren, best known to Degrassi viewers both old and new as Archie “Snake” Simpson, now a teacher at the show’s titular school. “The market in Canada is 18 to 34.”

Then there’s the generation in between, college-aged men and women who caught Degrassi in reruns during the ’90s and became just as hooked as their older brothers and sisters.

And that’s the likely audience for tonight’s appearance by Brogren and Pat Mastroianni (Joey Jeremiah) at the John L. Haar theatre at MacEwan College’s west-end Centre for the Arts campus.

Like Brogren, Mastroianni grew up in the limelight as a Degrassi kid, and has returned to play an older version of fedora-sportin’ Joey on Degrassi: TNG.

And oh, the stories these guys can tell. From being made to wash their own lunch dishes on the Degrassi Junior High set (welcome to Canadian television, fellas) to fans that border on stalkers, Snake and Joey have seen a thing or two in their day.

“We’ve had some people at the shows that are verging on a little bit scary,” said Brogren. The pair have been doing public appearances and speaking engagements for a little over a year now.

One woman in her late 30s would follow the pair from one speaking engagement to the next, addressing Mastroianni and Brogren by their characters’ names and asking Brogren if he was “feeling better” following the revelation on Degrassi: TNG that Snake has leukemia.

“She wasn’t necessarily all there,” said Mastroianni. But those are the exceptions to the rule. Most people who come to listen to Brogren and Mastroianni are just longtime fans who see these two guys as something like old friends.

“We rely on those hardcore fans to come out to the shows,” said Mastroianni. “If you’re not a hardcore fan, why would you want to sit there for two hours and listen to a couple of guys talk about a TV show?”

Brogren and Mastroianni say they’re grateful for the opportunities Degrassi has given them, and don’t feel they’ve ever been unfairly typecast because of the time they spent wandering the halls of Canada’s most famous junior high.

“You can always go with the assumption that maybe they see me as a Degrassi kid, and they don’t want to cast me in a specific job or anything,” said Brogren.

“But for the most part I really haven’t felt it. I think that Pat’s a strong actor and I’m a fairly decent actor, and when we land roles, we land roles because we’re right for the character.”

Added Mastroianni: “If we didn’t deserve to be in this industry, we would have given it up years ago.” And broken the heart of at least one unhealthily obsessed fan, no doubt.

Brogren and Mastroianni appear tonight at the John L. Haar theatre at the MacEwan College Centre for the Arts campus, 10045 156 St.

Tickets are $7 for students and $10 for the general public.

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