Written by Mandy
Degrassi Junior High came into my life around 1987. I was 11 years old and just happened to be watching PBS when a show about junior high kids came on and rocked my world. I was hooked from that day on, and never missed an episode. I watched through Degrassi High and even ordered the series finale “School’s Out” on VHS for quite a bit of money because PBS refused to air it.
A few years ago, when I heard there was an updated version of the show coming out, I was skeptical. But from the first episode – seeing Emma all grown up and Spike (my idol throughout adolescence) back on screen with Joey, Caitlin, and Snake was enough for me to be hooked again on Degrassi; even if this was the next generation.
When it was announced that the first ever original Degrassi series marathon would be held only 3 1/2 hours from where I lived – and that the event would be hosted by two of the original stars, Pat Mastroianni and Stefan Brogren (Joey Jeremiah and Archie “Snake” Simpson) – I would have sold a kidney on the black market to be there. Luckily for my kidneys, the tickets were only 16 bucks and I was about to see the two guys in person while watching the original Degrassi series for 12 hours. It was an old-school fangirl’s wet dream.
This event was extra special, because even though there have been mall events for Degrassi: The Next Generation, I’m 28 years old. Those events are meant for the younger crowd, and I’ve been dying for something for someone like me, a freak who has watched the show for years and knows every lyric to “Everybody Wants Something.” This event was also being held at Austin’s Downtown Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a venue that isn’t your average theater. They have drinking games based on the movies they show (see the Degrassi one), have waiters running up and down the aisles, and crowd participation in everything is highly encouraged.
Everybody get ready and get into gear
I asked my best friend Dina, who had never seen a Degrassi episode in her life, to make the drive to Austin with me. My thought was that we would get there, perhaps get an autograph or two (because Pat and Stefan wouldn’t possibly stay all 14 scheduled hours of the event), and have a blast drinking with fellow fans. From the moment we walked in, I knew things were going to be better than I ever expected.
Two men passed by us on the way into the theater, and I had my first embarrassing fangirl moment by yelling, “Oh my god, it’s them!” Dina, who had no clue as to what I was talking about, jumped from my screeching. The guy taking the tickets confirmed it was Pat and Stefan and I stood there staring after them.
We grabbed our seats, picking a location near where I saw the microphones set up. The theater was pretty full of fans, most of them over the age of 20 and just as wound up as I was. On the bars in front of us were Degrassi Sing-A-Long lyric sheets and a description of how to play the Degrassi Drinking Game. At noon, a girl named Kier-la took the mic to open the event. She explained how Tim League, the owner of the Drafthouse, had come to her with the idea to do a Degrassi event, even though he hadn’t seen the show himself. Kier-la is Canadian, and she jumped all over the opportunity to organize it. She told the crowd how every Canadian watched Degrassi, and how the “School’s Out” special is still the highest rated show in Canadian television history. Then she introduced Pat and Stefan, and the crowd went crazy.
The plan was to show Degrassi Junior High, take a break for the Q&A, continue with Degrassi High and then there would be a showing of the series finale “School’s Out.” Pat asked if the finale had ever aired here. I confirmed that it hadn’t for most states, and being the fangirl dork I am, I spoke up and said, “It’s when Caitlin tells you, ‘You were fucking Tessa Campanelli!'” The guys looked at me and then announced to the audience, “That’s right, we get to say fuck in this one!”
The episodes started shortly after and weren’t in order. Keir-la chose episodes she thought would be important, since there wouldn’t have been enough time to show them all. The minute the theme song started, people went wild. Every time Snake or Joey appeared on screen, people would cheer or clap. It was like a Rocky Horror Picture Show viewing. Everyone was participating, screaming at the screen during his or her favorite scenes. (I and a few others broke out into, “I Believe I Can Fly” when Shane jumped off the bridge, and when Wheels hitchhiked and got in the child molester’s car -“You have strong thighs,” the creep says – the crowd yelled for Wheels to run.)
I took a break and walked up to a merchandise table to talk to Pat, who was setting up. Let me just say, this was like a dream come true. I was chitchatting with Joey Jeremiah! I told him how far I had driven and how I had been a fan for a long time. He showed me a DVD he was selling, full of stuff that he and Stefan shot back while they were filming the original show. I bought it for five bucks, and told him that my daughter was really upset she couldn’t be with me today. I explained how she was seven, loved both the old and new series, and had told me sarcastically as I left that she hoped I enjoyed meeting Joey and Snake since I wasn’t taking her. I had picked up three small buttons to buy and he was laughing, calling me a bad Degrassi mom. He threw a button in for her, no charge, for her backpack. For the rest of the event, I was known as the bad Degrassi mom who didn’t bring her kid.
The lights came on briefly as they announced that they would be showing the last episode of Degrassi Junior High before the break. Keir-la announced if anyone had problems with graphic language or content, they might want to go ahead and take a break early because they were also showing a short film, titled “Pizza Shop.” She encouraged the crowd to pick up their song sheets and start singing, since this was the last episode of DJH we were watching. Everyone broke into the theme song as the episode started, some of us standing and singing loudly without using the song sheet.
When the short film started not one person got up to leave. It opened on a black screen, with an audio track of a man verbally abusing his girlfriend. Among other things, he tells her he’s going to kill her. When the couple finally appears, they are sitting in a pizza shop arguing. Stefan is standing nearby with another woman. Eventually, the owner of the shop makes the violent man leave, and the woman he leaves behind begins to ramble. She tells Stefan and his girlfriend how horrible things are, how the man beats her, how she thinks he’s going to kill her. Midway through her story, she turns to Stefan and asks him if he was on Degrassi. He looks shocked but she rambles on, talking about her screwed up relationship, occasionally pausing to tell him how much she loved that song, “Everybody Wants Something.” The boyfriend is outside making scary hand gestures and Stefan is stuck with this obviously cracked out woman as the film ends.
Everybody wants something, they’ll never give up
When the lights came up, Stefan walked to the front of the theater quoting various lines from the show – “You have strong thighs.” “You don’t get pregnant on the first time.” Pat, wearing a Don’t Mess With Texas shirt, said they decided to show “Pizza Shop” because we were probably tired of that “fluff shit.” As it turns out, Stefan’s film reenacted real events. He explained that the situation is comical now, but at the time it was terrifying. His then-girlfriend, who is in the film, didn’t want to do it because she was having a hard time reliving the moment. They show the film at events across Canada, and it’s also being shown at various independent film festivals.
Stefan said they were happy to be in Texas, and that they were amazed people knew who they were. Pat said that Canada has an inferiority complex, so it shocks them to see the reaction in the United States and all over the world. They encouraged everyone to not be shy, to ask questions, and the Q&A began.
The first question was for Stefan. Someone wanted to know how his character got the nickname “Snake.” He explained that none of the cast were professional actors, but kids scouted out from schools. At the audition, Stefan wanted the part of Joey Jeremiah. There were only 5 main characters to cast and 60 kids auditioning, so most people were like “screw this” when they saw the producers spending a lot of time with Pat. At the end of the audition process, each person was handed an envelope. Inside it either said, “Yea! You made it!” or “No, go home.” Stefan said he didn’t even open his envelope and had started to leave when Kit, one of the creators, came up to him. Kit asked him if he played any instruments. Stefan said he played the violin at school. Kit said they’d see him next week at rehearsals. Stefan was stoked, thinking he was Joey Jeremiah. Later they had a meeting with him and said, “You can either be called Snake or Slim.” He went with Snake.
A younger girl asked about the “Accidents Will Happen” episode, and the audience groaned. [Nice to know everyone is as fed up with the topic as I am.-willa] Stefan explained what we already knew, that Viacom (who owns Noggin) decided not to air the episode because of content. Pat said the same thing had happened with Spike’s pregnancy in the original series which he thinks is weird, because Degrassi is almost like a public service announcement. Stefan explained that in Canada, no one said a word. It was like, “Oh well, another girl got an abortion.”
Then it was my turn to ask a question. I confessed to being a big, longtime fan, and Pat teased me by calling me a “bad mom.” I asked them if either of them had any hesitation when they were approached for Degrassi: The Next Generation. Pat joked that he was mostly interested in how much money they would pay him, so I followed up by asking if they were concerned about playing the same characters for so long. Pat explained that he thought he would only be doing the first episode, a kind of passing of the torch to the new series. Stefan’s character would appear as a teacher, and Spike would come back as Emma’s mother. They said they could make Joey a computer repair guy, who would show up every now and then.
Pat told them he wouldn’t let them do such a lame thing to Joey. As much as he would have loved the work (considering there isn’t much acting work in Canada) he wasn’t going to do it. Pat kept his word until they came back to him during Season Two, with the offer of a different storyline. Pat said going back to TNG was like going back to high school again, having that second chance to have fun on the set and be a better actor than he was back then. He’s had the chance to do things with the character of Joey that he never got do in the original series, and now he has the confidence to do them.
Someone asked what they were like back in high school. Pat said he decided to steal a car during the DJH days and for a month he had to find his own way to the set. Everyone else was allowed on the studio van, but he had to find his own way there as punishment. Both explained the set was like summer camp, everyone had assigned chores and they had to do their own cleaning up. Stefan said there were obviously no hair or makeup people on the show. The wardrobe came from Goodwill and Salvation Army, and was divided into milk crates with the character names on them, like “Snake” or “Joey.”
Pat said that today’s set is a different story, but that everyone was close back during the original filming. The friendships portrayed on camera were pretty true to the friendships they had off the set. They also explained how they were paid a flat rate for a week of shooting, regardless of how long they were in an episode or if they were just extras. They looked forward to being extras because they could just goof off in the back and see if the director or anyone noticed them. Stefan mentioned a scene where he and the original actor who played Shane (Bill Parrott) stole a desk. They were shocked, because they were stealing a desk in the background and no one noticed.
Next came the embarrassing romance story. Someone in the crowd asked if anyone had dated off camera. Pat joked that they hooked up, partied together, and then got high. Stefan added, “Then we all took acid and jumped off a bridge.” Pat said that when Joey and Caitlin started dating during DJH, he developed a crush on Stacie Mistysyn. He thought, “If we’re dating on the show, why can’t we date in real life?” Everyone was on the set and he ordered flowers for her. Stefan told us “This does not end well.” They were shooting an outside scene when the flowers were delivered. Immediately all the girls on the set ran to Stacie to ask who sent them. The card read, “I think you’re great and I hope we can be more than friends.” He said he watched her reading the card thinking, “She’s my bitch. Wait, she’s not smiling. She’s got her head in her hand crying.” When there was a moment, Stacie walked over to him and said, “Pat, umm, the flowers were beautiful, but I don’t feel the same way about you.” Someone in the crowd yelled, “There’s always Tessa!” Pat said it was okay because he got Stacie drunk that New Year’s Eve and they fooled around.
Someone asked if kids in Canada really called each other names like “broomhead,” which was prevalent in the original series. Both answered no, and Pat added, “What kind of vulgar language can you air on PBS? Cocksucker? Asshole?” The writers had to make up swear words that sounded bad, like broomhead. The cast hated using the fake words, but they had to because of the script.
The next question was: If Joey and Snake got in a fight, who would win? They both looked at each other, sized each other up, and Pat said that Stefan outweighed him. Stefan said that Pat had the lower advantage and Pat told us about another story. They were on the van on the way back from the set for DJH. Pat explained he had kind of an acne problem back then, and Stefan had made a remark about his zits. Pat said he was fucking pissed, so he slapped Stefan. Stefan joked with us that it was the only physical contact they ever had outside of lovemaking.
My friend Dina had the final question of the night. She asked how was it shooting the show on one day, then going back to school the next. Stefan explained he went to a school for performing arts and you had to list what projects or shows you were on. He wrote down he was doing Degrassi Junior High and his math teacher, Mr. Anderson, called his parents that night asking why Stefan had to go to another “special school” called Degrassi Junior High. He wanted to know about Stefan’s “special” need, and how he could meet them.
Dina then asked if there were fans at their schools after the show had aired. Pat explained that they didn’t have a fan base until after the show went off the air and was in reruns. He said there were fans in Canada during the first run but no one would admit it. Almost every school in Toronto had a kid on DJH, so people didn’t think it was a big deal. Pat said that they don’t treat their local talent/celebrities special at all, but if an American star shows up, people go wild.
They’ll take your money and never give up
The guys then went outside to sign autographs and hawk merchandise. I got in line and Stefan signed my Sing-A-Long sheet and talked to me for a few minutes. I told him how much an event like this meant to a girl who would miss school to catch episodes when she was 11, and that as much fun as the mall tours probably were, I was 28. I explained it was nice to go somewhere to see the original stuff, have the chance to meet them, and have a good time with people a little closer to my age. He said they were having a blast and were hoping to do more of the events.
They started up the behind-the-scenes stuff, the reunion special, and everything else. By the time Degrassi High began, the alcohol-inspired crowd really started getting into it. When Claude arrived to break up Joey and Caitlin, people were booing. When Claude would kiss Caitlin, people gagged and screamed “no!” The best part was during the episode “Showtime Part 1.” Claude was off on a rant after Caitlin had broken up with him, and his poem was rejected for the talent show. Someone in the crowd yelled, “Go whine about it in your LiveJournal.” Seeing as I am a fan of LiveJournal, I yelled back to the guy, “Best comment ever!” When Claude shot himself in the bathroom, people were clapping and cheering. It was insane. Of course, when Snake found his body, people were upset for poor Stefan. They showed the episode where Joey bets people he will streak through the cafeteria and once everyone saw Pat’s ass, there were catcalls and squeals.
Pat and Stefan came back inside to thank everyone for staying the full time. They asked for a show of hands again of how many had seen “School’s Out.” Besides mine, there were just a couple of other hands. The guys were excited, and said they couldn’t wait to hear out reactions to it. Stefan also said he was glad to hear people hated Claude’s character as much as they all did.
“School’s Out” simply blew everyone away. There were quite a few shocked faces when we got to see breasts, Joey getting laid, Snake cussing, and Caitlin saying the now famous words, “You were fucking Tessa Campanelli!” Tessa ends up pregnant and has an abortion, Wheels ends up in jail for drunk driving and killing a baby, and Snake lays out the truth for all his best friends. This end was enough for those fans who never knew what had happened to the Degrassi High characters. I saw people crying in the audience, including my friend Dina – the girl who had never seen one episode before that day.
When it was over, I went out to the lobby because there was one last thing I needed to do. I stepped up to the two guys and asked if they would take their picture with me. When I got between them (like a dirty Joey/Snake dream I’ve had many times) they both started in on me. Pat said, “Here she is, taking pictures to show her pissed-off kiddo what she missed.” Stefan said something similar and got me laughing. I told them they were harsh on the guilt. We took the picture and I got a hug from them both and they thanked me for coming.
After I got in my car, the squealing began. I had spent the past 12 hours watching my favorite show, marathon style, in a theater full of fans. I got to hang out and talk to the men who launched a thousand fantasies, and they were the most personable and nice people one could ever hope meet. I talked to them about things other than Degrassi, and they didn’t blow off me or other fans. I got my picture taken in between the two and snagged a couple of hugs. For this Degrassi fangirl, it was the perfect day.