Last year in June of 2019, fans from around the world descended in a buzz of excitement and nostalgia on the Westin Toronto Airport hotel for an intimate weekend with the cast and creators of the iconic Canadian series Degrassi Junior High, and Degrassi High. Passionate fans came from as far away as Russia and Hawaii to share their love for a series that spoke to them, related to them, and helped them through their own angst-filled teen and high school years.
Series regular Pat Mastroianni has long been the public keeper of the flame for the show, created by the beloved Kit Hood, and has organised countless fan events across Canada to share that love, and to give back to the fans in what always becomes a shared emotional experience.
Pat, who will always be associated with his onscreen alter ego of the be-hatted and vested Joey Jeremiah, reached out to those involved in the show, and over the course of work-filled months, convinced, cajoled and persuaded them to join him for one weekend to meet and interact with those whose lives they had changed, affected, and influenced.
Many of the returning cast members had no idea how big their fanbase still was, had no idea how they had reached so many people. In a time before social media, the realm of working television could only be reached through fan letters, there was no instantaneous recognition of shared moments, and endearing characters, traumatic events, and first love.
In short, many of them went about their lives, moving on from Degrassi, and letting it be an exceptional part of their every day high school life. Pat knew this going into the weekend, and knew that it would be an emotional reveal for his friends, and co-workers (some he hadn’t seen for over a decade).
And he documented the whole thing! Presenting it to the world in a Narbo’s Guide to Being a Broomhead. I can’t critique or review this film without personal bias, because I was there. Pat, who I have now known for almost a decade – how does that happen? – my teen self would never believe that, reached out to my creative partner, Sue Maynard and myself to ask us, as fans of the show to host the weekend.
We didn’t come in without some credentials, we’ve hosted, and interviewed actors, directors, writers and a variety of artists over the years, but this one resonated with us. We were eager to show Pat that he’d made the right choice, that we wouldn’t let him, Stacie Mistysyn (one of our first ever interviews who took my admittance of a crush in easy stride and has become a dear friend), Stefan Brogen (one of the funniest people I ever met), Amanda Stepto (an enduring punk personality who personifies courage to me), Kirsten Bourne (a gentle compassionate soul) or Dan Woods (who emanates Raditch whether he wants to or not, and consequently commands paternal respect), the cast members we’d met up to that point, down.
In the weeks leading up to the event I rewatched all of Degrassi Junior and High, culminating with the TV movie finale, School’s Out. Sue and I made notes, conferred, developed questions for the panels, and coached and supported one another as we negotiated who got to chair what panel.
Occasionally, Pat would stick his head into the conversation via text or phone call to keep us up to date on what to expect, and what he expected from us. It was a fun, hectic, enjoyably nerve-wracking time – we wanted to be the best we could be, not only for the cast, who we treasured as both their characters and themselves, but for the fans who would be coming to the event.
As hosts we had to be on the ball, funny, charming and accessible, but also serve as guide for the events we were involved in. We were confident, but if you could have tapped into the nervous energy populating the uber car we travelled to the hotel in, it could have run a small country, or gotten us to Mars at warp speed.
Worried. A little terrified. We fed off one another’s energy, and Pat’s calm centre of the storm persona. He trusted us. We had this. We were gonna be everything anyone needed…
And then we stepped on stage to welcome a full room at the Westin…
It was a lovefest.
Some of that translates easily to the screen, and this documentary, but it’s an echo. If you were there you know. What Pat’s film ably does is capture as much of that echo as he can, and ties it in, beautifully, with footage shot on the set so many years ago.
The film cuts back and forth between panels, discussions, presentations, photo ops and fans to give a slice of life of one of the most enjoyable fan conventions I’ve ever been to, and in this case, been involved in.
From a stirring, heartbreaking moment when Pat speaks about Neil Hope, to Amanda’s proliferation of f-bombs, we get glimpses of all the undeniably magical moments that happened over that weekend.
Everyone walked away from that weekend changed. New friends were created atop the relationships we had with fictional characters that so resembled ourselves. Cast members were moved to tears hearing stories from those whose lives they had unknowingly touched. Friendships that span the globe, uniting us in shared purpose and affection blossomed and even now endure.
There are quiet, private, and unspoken moments that I will treasure for the rest of my life and the beauty of Pat’s documentary is that those memories were refreshed, and stirred in me anew; a conversation with Michelle Goodeve about the romanticism of flight, admitting to Maureen McKay an enduring crush, sharing a laugh with the twins Maureen and Angela Deiseach on the stairs, laughing with Arlene Lott and Jacy Hunter, talking wine with David Armin-Parcells, and getting the chance to thank creator Kit Hood and writers Yan Moore and Linda Schuyler in person for helping me through my own troubled youth with their stories.
For those of us who were there, Broomhead is a (too short?) love letter to that weekend, giving us glimpses of the uniting experience that was attending Degrassi, whether as character, actor or viewer.
For the fans who weren’t able to make it, this film shows the true heart of the show, it lets them see old friends who they have never met, catch up with them, and vicariously be able to thank them, for everything they have given us.
Pat’s film guides us through questions, discussions and memories culled from hours of footage to bring us some of the bigger moments from the event, working to find a balance between the love, humour and honest discussion that filled the weekend.
Watching it filled me with joy, and so much nostalgia for old friends met, new friends forged, and the power of a television series that spoke to a generation, as they saw themselves reflected in the flickering light of the television screen.
Thank you Pat for letting us into your family, for letting us be there for you. It is a small instalment on the debt I owe you and yours for what Degrassi did for me and for others, and I want every Degrassi fan new, old, yet to be discovered, to share in this celebration, captured forever in this film. It is a joyous offering of love, high school, and the incredible amount of hard work that you, Pat, put into the event itself.
School may be out, but that weekend, captured in a Narbo’s Guide to Being a Broomhead, will be with us for ever, and will demand another reunion…
Check out a Narbo’s Guide to Being a Broomhead here.