DHX TelevisionÂ confirmed today thatÂ Fresh TVÂ will deliver a 30-episode sophomore season of the hit original seriesÂ BackstageÂ forÂ Family Channelâ€™sÂ 2017 broadcast season. The popular tween drama, which debuted in March 2016, has gained international acclaim and a devoted fan- following for its layered portrayal of daily life at an elite fine arts high school. The commissioning decision comes on the heels of Familyâ€™s Big Ticket Summer Concert announcement, revealing three of the series stars â€“Â Josh Bogert,Â Aviva MongilloÂ andÂ Mckenzie SmallÂ â€“ will make their touring debuts as performers on this yearâ€™s concert tour, accompanied by additional performers from the show. Production is set to being this summer in Toronto.
BackstageÂ follows a group of immensely talented teenagers as they live through the highs and lows that come with attending the prestigious Keaton School of the Arts. From the angst and disappointments to the new friendships and crowning achievements, being a student at Keaton sets you on the path to becoming a star. Lifting the curtain on how these young musicians, dancers and artists see the world, their confessions and dreams are highlighted as they sing, dance and carve out the destiny they see for themselves â€“ making it big.
The seriesâ€™ stars: Josh Bogert as Miles; Aviva Mongillo as Alya; Mckenzie Small as Scarlett; Devyn Nekoda as Vanessa; Alyssa Trask as Carly; Julia Tomasone as Bianca; Matthew Isen as Jax; Colin Petierre as Sasha; Romy Weltman as Kit; Kyal Legend as Julie; and Adrianna Di Liello as Jenna.
Commissioned by DHX Television, and with international distribution handled by DHX Media,Â BackstageÂ was created and developed by Fresh TV. Executive Producers are Brian Irving, who also serves as producer; Jennifer Pertsch, also the co-creator and a writer; Lara Azzopardi, the seriesâ€™ co-creator, show runner, writer and director; Tom McGillis and George Elliott. Directors for the series include top music video directors RT! (Snoop Dogg, Sean Paul, Shane Harte), Director X (Iggy Azalea, T.I., Drake), Wendy Morgan (Dragonette, Janelle MonÃ¡e) and Warren Sonoda (Johnny Reid, George Canyon), as well as Mario Azzopardi (Stargate SG-1,Â The Outer Limits,Â Degrassi) and Lara Azzopardi (I Am an Apartment Building,Â Rewind).
Lara Azzopardi has been a producer on such shows asÂ Lost Girl, The Listener, The L.A. Complex and Combat Hospital, and totally switched genres when she became showrunner, writer and director on Backstage, Family Channel’s series about the artisticÂ kids attending an arts high school.
Pregnant with her third child, she expected the usual six to eight-month show development so she could give birth before filming would begin. Nope: Producers Fresh TV accepted her series bible and pilot script on a Friday and greenlit it the following Monday. Filming 30 episodes of Backstage in 30 days was tough enough, but Azzopardi had just given birth, meaning baby was on-set through the entire process. Combine that with the fact her cast was made up of singers and dancers with little formal acting training, and Azzopardiâ€™s ride has been a wild one.
I’m fascinated with the behind-the-scenes of television, and I think you’ve got to be the only showrunner I know that was hauling a newborn around during production.
Lara Azzopardi: It was not planned that way! [Laughs.] I would never have been able to do that if it was my first baby. I don’t think I would have had the courage. It all kind of worked out in a crazy way and I felt I knew kind of what I was doing. But when I think about it now, it was pretty insane.
Fresh TV pitched this “Fame for kids” idea to you. What was it that excited you about their idea?
They had put together a two-page document that had a very general synopsis of the school and stock characters of the people they wanted to see in it. I had never done a kid’s show before. I had written a freelance script at the beginning of my career for Degrassi and that was eight years ago. When I met them, they had read a spec script and a script from The L.A. Complex, and they wanted to meet me from that.Â I’m a huge fan of shows like My So-Called Life and Friday Night Lights, and I told them, ‘I’m interested in doing a Fame that’s grounded and, as a parent, I’d love to watch too.’ I went off and wrote a pretty big bible. I wrote fast. I’m a pretty big fan of ensemble series, so I was excited. We sent in the script on the Friday and it was greenlit on the Monday and I was due three weeks after that.
I’ve been in development before, and it usually lasts at least a year if you’re lucky. So, when I took this on I figured I had time to get notes, do re-writes and see what happens.
Not only did they greenlight it, but they greenlit it for 30 half-our episodes.
I’ve seen the first two, and you pack so much into those two episodes that it seems daunting to write 30. Was it daunting? How did you do it?
At the time, I didn’t know what I was in for and it was happening so fast. By the end of itâ€”and we have three stories per episodeâ€”we wrote about 97 stories. That’s credit to my writing team Kate Hewlett, Lauren Gosnell, Matt Schiller, Scott Oleszhowicz and Jennifer Pertsch. I had my baby in my arms when we started the room and were breaking an episode a day, sometimes an episode and a half a day. We wouldn’t leave the room until it was done. The baby was in the writers’ room in a sling and we were breaking from 10 a.m. until, sometimes, midnight.
The reason for the rush, too, was that we wanted to get that Friday Night Lights look, which meant filming on location, which meant a real school … which meant we would only have the school from when it let out in the spring until it went back in for the fall. We shot using two crews at the exact same time in the same location shooting four episodes as a time. We filmed 30 episodes in 30 days. I have to give credit to the cast and crew; these kids had four scripts in their heads and once and the crew were passing the scripts between them.
At the end of the day,Â BackstageÂ is a coming-of-age story for all of these kids. They are figuring out who they are until graduation and even then some of them might not know who they are.
Do the 30 episodes represent one year of studies at Keaton School of the Arts? Yes.
Let’s talk about working with the kids in your cast. I’m assuming not very many had acting experience?
We cast real dancers and real singers, so I think because they all had a discipline they had worked at, they brought a drive and professionalism with them. I was nervous because we were casting non-actors and had a crazy schedule. They were up for the challenge. We had two acting coaches on hand and had done an acting workshop beforehand and I was available anytime they needed.
I like the usage of the characters speaking to the camera, like a confessional.
That came from necessity and from creative. For me, it was backstage not only in these kids’ lives but also backstage in their heads. It’s what they’re really thinking and feeling. It allowed us to be very subtle when we’re in the moment in the show and that subtext is said in the confessionals. We shot all of the confessionals at the end of production.
We meet Vanessa and Carly right away and see the first day of school through their eyes. But they have a major fallout and are at odds. Will they become friends again?
It’s a journey. I have three daughters and I really tried to write a friendship in terms of how I’d love to react with my girlfriends or daughters. There are going to be arguments and I just hope we made a show where both girls are right and wrong. There will be lots of ups and downs.
Jax is an interesting character. You want to like him, but right now he’s an arrogant jerk.
Jax is someone who has had some success and then goes to a school where everyone is good and he’s not better. There is quite a journey that he goes through over the 30 episodes and he learns a lot about himself.
At the end of the day, Backstage is a coming-of-age story for all of these kids. They are figuring out who they are until graduation and even then some of them might not know who they are.
Backstage airs Fridays at 7 p.m. ET/PT on Family Channel.
Family Channel opens the doors to Keaton School of the Arts on Friday, March 18 at 7 p.m. ET/PT with the series premiere of its new drama Backstage from Fresh TV. Musical mashups and dramatic dance-offs are among the creative collaborations that fill the hallways of this prestigious arts school, and Backstage showcases an entirely Canadian cast of talented newcomers. The series features an original musical score and episodes are directed by notable music video directors including Director X (Drake, Iggy Azalea) and RT! (Snoop Dogg, Sean Paul) among others. The show marks the debut of Familyâ€™s fourth original series rolling out new episodes on the channel in 2016 and highlights the networkâ€™s vibrant original production slate filled with compelling series with exceptionally talented casts.
Backstage follows a group of outstandingly talented teenagers as they live through the highs and lows that come with attending the elite Keaton School of the Arts. New friendships, unparalleled competition and defining moments await them as being a Keaton student is meant to set them on the path to stardom. The dramatic heartbreak and blazing triumphs these artists experience send ripples through the school, capturing the intensity of every audition, rehearsal and performance that could make or break their careers. Following the series premiere, new episodes of Backstage will air regularly Fridays at 7 p.m. ET/PT ahead of The Next Step. Episodes will also be offered on Family OnDemand as they become available weekly beginning March 19.
The stage is set for March 18 as Backstage is followed by a new episode of Familyâ€™s #1 drama, The Next Step, at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT. West receives a mysterious package from London, England and Noah collaborates on a song with Amanda.
Fans can go behind the scenes at Family.ca and learn more about Backstageâ€™s characters through exclusive photo galleries and videos. Launching the week of March 14 is TooMuchKeaton.com, socialite Sashaâ€™s epic blog where weekly posts, video tutorials and character confessions keep everyone in the know of whatâ€™s happening in the halls at Keaton.
Backstage stars the immensely talented: Josh Bogert as Miles; Aviva Mongillo as Alya; Mckenzie Small as Scarlett; Devyn Nekoda (Degrassi) as Vanessa; Alyssa Trask as Carly; Julia Tomasone as Bianca; Matthew Isen as Jax; Colin Petierre as Sasha; Romy Weltman as Kit; Kyal Legend as Julie; Adrianna Di Liello as Jenna; and Isiah Hall as Denzel.
Commissioned by DHX Television, and with international distribution handled by DHX Media, Backstage was created and developed by Fresh TV. Executive Producers are Brian Irving, who also serves as producer; Jennifer Pertsch, also the co-creator and a writer; Lara Azzopardi, the seriesâ€™ co-creator, show runner, writer and director; Tom McGillis and George Elliott. Directors for the series include top music video directors RT! (Snoop Dogg, Sean Paul, Shane Harte), Director X (Iggy Azalea, T.I., Drake), Wendy Morgan (Dragonette, Janelle MonÃ¡e) and Warren Sonoda (Johnny Reid, George Canyon), as well as Mario Azzopardi (Stargate SG-1, The Outer Limits, Degrassi) and Lara Azzopardi (I Am an Apartment Building, Rewind).