Workplace glee clubs set to shine on TV

Canada Sings! will showcase employees’ hidden talents
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/11/2011

For 30 years, hundreds of employees from The Keg Steakhouse & Bar have travelled two hours north of Toronto for an annual visit to Blue Mountain Ski Resort. While the ski hills are impressive, one of the highlights of the getaway is a lip-syncing competition where groups of employees perform on stage for the chance to win prizes, such as a trip.

That act is about to get a lot more polished, and gain a much larger audience, now that The Keg has been selected to participate in the Global TV series Canada Sings! this spring. The reality-style production will see workplace glee clubs compete for the charity of their choice.

Other employers selected include Air Canada, Good Life Fitness, Hamilton Police, Just Energy, Scarborough General Hospital and the Toronto Fire Department.

“We, obviously, were all aware of this incredible success with Glee and it just seemed like it was the next step in music shows in many ways,” said John Brunton, executive producer and president of Insight Productions in Toronto, which is producing Canada Sings! “Part of the concept was to see people and how they interact in the workplace and then see how they interact as a glee club together.

“A show like this crosses all lines and, in the process of rehearsing and getting these numbers together, people learn a lot about each other that they never could have imagined,” he said.

Often co-workers walk by each other in a hallway for years, never saying hello or knowing anything about the other person. Now, a glee club person becomes really cool, he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for people in the workplace to get to know themselves in a different context.”

A glee club from The Keg Mansion in Toronto was chosen to participate and employees look forward to donating the prize money to a charity of their choice, said Ben Rutherford, sales and promotion manager for North America at The Keg. And the show, however it turns out, could be a recruitment tool to show at job fairs, he said.

“The staff thought it would be a neat thing to do,” he said. “It’s these kinds of things that are engaging our staff.”

The 10 employees have been filmed rehearsing and hanging out at their workplace. And hearing their comments about their employer was heartening, said Rutherford.

“It was really neat to see how they were talking about The Keg — it gives you a feeling of pride.”

A lot of people are really proud of their workplace, said Brunton. And the show is an opportunity for people at all levels to have a shared experience.

“Quite often it crosses the silos of the business, from the bosses all the way down to the lowest people on the totem pole.”

That can also create some drama, he said.

“The hierarchy is often turned upside down, which causes all sorts of interesting things to happen, including a different kind of respect for the people you work with.”

The newly formed glee clubs are being assisted by world-class choreographers, who have worked with the likes of Madonna and Michael Bublé, as well as professional vocal coaches. The clubs will eventually perform before a large studio audience.

“We take these kinds of rough gems and put them through a boot camp that’s incredibly arduous,” said Brunton. “So you’ve also, at the same time, got the balance of still holding your end up at work and spending all night rehearsing. It’s also very competitive.”

The rehearsals are taking place at work or in a studio, he said. Air Canada, for example, sent in an audition tape that showed the glee club performing in front of a Boeing 737 in a hangar. Of course, there can be challenges in filming at some workplaces, such as a fire station when the alarm starts ringing, he said.

“We’re trying, where we can, to do some of the rehearsals in the workplace.”

The Keg’s glee club has been working hard at perfecting its act, said Rutherford.

“It was an amazing building experience to these staff,” he said. “They felt they worked very well together because our business can be very high pressure.”

While there was some trepidation about appearing on a reality TV show, The Keg was assured it would be the same quality programming seen with Canadian Idol, Battle of the Blades or Project Runway Canada, which have all been handled by Insight Productions.

“It’s all very positive energy TV,” said Rutherford.

There is no intention to put someone in a compromising position or cause someone to be fired, said Brunton.

“That’s not the kind of programming that we were interested in doing, we wanted people to be inspired by it, to have fun — there’s inherent drama.”

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