On a frigid Sunday night in February, David Sheps is at Starbucks studying for a major exam. After Starbucks closes he moves to Tim Hortons, explaining that he can concentrate better with the background noise.
The first-year medical student says he’s still adjusting to the heavy academic workload and he doesn’t expect to get much sleep before the next day’s exam.
Despite the demands of medical school at the University of Toronto, Sheps is still finding time to act and sing in Daffydil, the musical production put on annually by students at U of T’s faculty of medicine. “I jumped at the chance to do it.”
The show, an original theatrical production written, performed, directed and produced by faculty of medicine students, has been a U of T tradition for more than 100 years. In recent years, the show has been a fundraiser for cancer, and to date it has raised more than $600,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society.
Many Jewish students are involved in the show, from performing on stage to producing and fundraising. Daffydil 2013 runs from Feb. 20 to 23 at Hart House Theatre.
Sheps, who grew up in Thornhill, Ont., has been acting and singing for years. He attended summer theatre camps, he studied acoustic guitar and in Grade 12, he was in his high school’s musical production.
As an undergraduate at York University, he participated in Vanier College Productions, acting in stage plays, doing improv theatre and singing in coffee houses.
Sheps says when he applied to medical school, he knew he wanted to be in Daffydil. “I even mentioned that in my interview.”
He says he knew about the show from his uncle, Dr. Franklin Sheps, who had also been a participant.
Elan Panov, a second-year U of T medical student, had also heard about Daffydil when he was growing up. His mother, Dr. Rochelle Schwartz, had been one of the performers. “She always talked about Daffydil and she raved about the performers.
“When I was accepted to medical school, I knew I wanted to be a part of the show in one way or another. The problem is, I have zero talent. I can’t act. I can’t sing and I can’t dance. The logical choice was to get involved in fundraising.”
Panov says there were two reasons to do fundraising. Through his charitable work, he has acquired significant experience in promoting ticket sales and finding corporate sponsorships.
His second reason is personal. Since the production raises money for cancer, it was important for him to get involved to show support for a close family member who has cancer. “This is a way of helping my family member.”
Second-year student David Ben-Israel, the co-producer of the show, says his “vision for the show” was to draw more awareness to cancer. “I wanted to make the event more cancer-focused.”
To that end, he had planned to have a field trip to a cancer research centre for the band and cast, but he says it ended up being too difficult to organize a visit for so many people.
However, he did find a cancer survivor who will speak about his experience before the shows. “It’s an opportunity for advocacy and for people to think about their support for the cause,” Ben-Israel says.
He also made an effort to encourage students in the other schools in the faculty of medicine, such as occupational and physiotherapy and speech pathology, to participate in Daffydil.
When he saw the shows last year, he says he was inspired to get involved. As he has no previous experience acting, he ended up becoming a co-producer.
Ben-Israel has multiple responsibilities in this position. “If there’s an artistic dispute, myself or the other co-producer mediate situation. We try to remain impartial.”
However, sometimes he’s just the chief schlepper, running errands such as printing sheet music and finding props.
As much as he’d love to be performing, Ben-Israel says co-producing has been a “wonderful learning experience in being a leader.”
He says the production includes a main cast of 10, a 15- to 20-person chorus, and about six to eight dancers with a similar number of band members.
As a co-producer, he says he sat in on auditions and he attends all rehearsals.
Ben-Israel says the talent of the people involved in the show is very impressive.
One of the people he cites as being a big asset to the production is Michael Fridman, a second-year medical student with a solid theatrical background. “I’ve been involved in theatre since Grade 1,” Fridman says.
He had tremendous stage fright when he was in kindergarten, but was encouraged to participate in a drama program at school as a way of overcoming this fear. “It transformed me to the person I am today.
“The more I performed, the more I saw the enjoyment in being onstage. It became addictive. It’s an experience unlike any other.”
He performed in several productions a year from grades 6 through 12, and as an undergraduate at Queens University, he participated in several theatrical shows.
Fridman, who was also in last year’s Daffydil show, describes himself as “an actor who is able to carry a tune.”
Participation in Daffydil is “a privilege,” but it’s also “an enormous commitment,” he says. “You have to be a steward with your time. We have an exam the week following Daffydil. We also have to cover the same material as the other students with much more limited time.”
Inna Genkin, a second-year medical student, is one of the show’s dancers. She says juggling her time between performing and studying is a challenge, but she’s having a lot of fun.
“When I saw the show last year, I thought it would be really cool to be part of it. But I can’t sing for my life and I can’t act. I’m not artistically inclined.”
However, she’s been dancing since she was a young child and so she auditioned. “I’m very excited to be part of Daffydil.”
Sheps echoes her sentiments. “It’s been a blast. It’s so impressive watching people with so many diverse talents come together.”
For tickets, visit www.daffydil2013.com.