Aug. 29, 2016

UCalgary staffer's prom fight paves way to LGBTQ activism

New musical profiles Marc Hall's high school struggle for equal rights

For most of us, our high school proms are an exciting moment in time, but get pushed back in our memory as the years pass.  Not so for the Faculty of Nursing’s Marc Hall, who has relived his grad party over and over — in a documentary film in 2002, Prom Fight: The Marc Hall Story, in a TV film in 2004, Prom Queen: The Marc Hall Story,  and in October of this year, in a musical, set to premiere at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts in Montreal.

It started in 2001, toward the end of Grade 11 when Hall, now a research assistant with Nursing’s Research Office, asked an English teacher about taking his boyfriend to the prom.

“I didn’t think there would be a problem,” he says, even though his school was part of the Durham Catholic School District. “I asked the principal, who had already heard about it, for a meeting and he kept putting me off.  When he finally met with me, he told me the school couldn’t ‘condone homosexual behaviour’ and I wouldn’t be able to go to the prom unless I went alone.”

The world premiere of Prom Queen: The Musical will take place at the Segal Centre in Montreal at the end of October. The production was inspired by the true story of teenager Marc Hall's fight to attend prom with his boyfriend.

The world premiere of Prom Queen: The Musical will take place at the Segal Centre in Montreal.

'I felt I needed to go as far as I could with the case'

As Hall explains it, what happened from there took on a life of its own.  After a meeting between the principal and his parents failed to change anything, friends created a website and a radio show host in Windsor sent the news out to hundreds of his contacts.

“The next night, I was on the news and the next day the school was surrounded by reporters,” says Hall.  Soon after, his family enlisted the services of a lawyer (pro bono) to fight the school board decision, but, along with the messages of support, came ominous notes and even death threats. “I was going to give up — it wasn’t worth it — until I got a random call from a 13-year-old kid who was looking to me for help.  From that point, I felt I needed to go as far as I could with the case.”

Hall and his boyfriend did attend the prom — after successfully petitioning the court for an injunction to allow them — but he dropped the case against the school board a few years later and moved on to a BA in psychology and sexuality and, eventually, a master’s in neuroscience. And then, about eight years ago, the writer and producer of the movie about Hall’s battle got in touch about a musical.  Hall was able to see the first act of Prom Queen: The Musical workshopped at Oakville’s Sheridan College in the fall of 2014, and is now preparing to give a talk at the Segal Centre for the musical’s opening night Nov. 3.

'If you look hard enough, you will find a support system'

“I felt like I was right back there,” Hall says about seeing the production. “The music and jokes are current, but the story is the same.  It is very surreal to see these people on stage playing you, your family, your friends.” Furthering the UCalgary connection, alumna Colleen Dauncey, BCom'08, is the composer of the musical.

All the excitement of being a celebrity, however, has not taken away any of Hall’s determination to make it better for those who have come after him.  “Originally, it was just about taking my boyfriend to the prom,” he reflects. “But it’s become about so much more, as corny as it may sound.  I really feel like it has become my calling in life — to help others. I have done some motivational speaking at high schools and elementary schools and what I say to these kids is ‘you’re not alone.’  If you look hard enough, you will find a support system: there will be someone who has your back.”

Prom Queen: The Musical runs from Oct. 27 to Nov. 20.  It features choreography from So You Think You Can Dance judge and choreographer Sean Cheesman. 

Following is a link to the 2002 Canadian TV documentary: Prom Fight - The Marc Hall Story

Prom Fight - The Marc Hall Story