Eastern front Theatre kicks-off its 2011-2012 season in grand style this week with The Passion of Adele Hugo, a new musical based on the outrageous but true story of Victor Hugo’s daughter’s doomed romance with a rakish British soldier. AE spoke with EFT’s Scott Burke about the production.
AE: What did you choose The Passion of Adele Hugo to kick-off the new season?
SB: Eastern Front Commissioned this new musical in early 2008 and the script and music have been in development ever since. We've made a considerable investment in the show over the years, with two workshops, the first of which was held in conjunction with the Charlottetown Festival. The work has grown and improved during it's development, becoming richer, deeper, and more theatrical in the telling of a great story about romantic obsession. As I am wrapping up my tenure with Eastern Front, and been so involved in this play, its fitting that we produce it now. It will be a nice way to round out my time with Eastern Front. The play itself is a perfect Eastern Front show. It has all the ingredients that appeal to to a broad Halifax based audience: It's set mostly in Halifax in the 1860s, it's a period piece, it's based on a true story, it's a musical, it's a gripping story. We have hopes of the show having a life after the Eastern Front premiere.
AE: Share a bit about your longstanding interest in "the mysterious Adele H."
SB: When I was a student actor at Dalhousie I also took playwrighting courses. One of them was taught by David Overton and we had to write one-act plays to be performed by other students. I had read a short article in the Chronicle Herald about "the mysterious Adele H" walking the streets of Halifax dressed as a man in order to pursue the British soldier she was in love with. I did a bit of research and wrote a one-act play. David and I had many conversations about her and he introduced me to the Francois Truffaut film The Story of Adele H, which is quite brilliant. When I began at Eastern Front I wanted to commission some new works and it occured to me that Adele's story, as a musical, had so much potential. As David is a playwright and a lyricist, he was a natural choice to write the book. Zachary was also a student at Dalhousie, though many years later than me, and had worked with David. So we have three generations of Dal alumni working on this show.
AE: What is it like to work with David Overton and Zachary Florence?
SB: David possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of musical theatre. He's a major fan of the genre and has an incredible collection of original cast recordings. He's strong writer and lyrics come easy to him. And David is very comfortable with the development process; always happy to take suggestions from the actors in workshops, and to work collaboratively with Zachary and me. 've been serving as the dramaturge. David has written six drafts based on our work together and he's a dedicated and delightful to work with. Zachary is an amazing composer, in addition to being a director. He too has a great knowledge and love of musical theatre, especially contemporary musicals. He works incredibly fast and incredibly well with David. Musicals require an incredible amount of collaboration between the book, lyrics, and the music. The music is extremely complicated, will be a challenge for the performers, and will be very memorable.
AE: Are there any unique challenges in putting this particular piece together?
SB: The fact that it is a period piece means that costumes will require more resources than a contemporary show. It should look gorgeous. The play takes place in three locations as well; Guernsey, Halifax, and the Barbodos, so moving between those locations is a nice theatrical challenge. We have great designers, Andrew Murrey on set and Adam MacKinnon on costumes and Leigh Ann Vardy on lights. I'm taking on the projection design with assistance from our assistant Director Christopher Fowler. Part of the challenge, and the fun, is putting together such a fabulous team of artists and performers.
AE: What can audiences expect to experience during the run?
SB: It's a sweeping story of romantic obsession. So, expect an operatic level of emotional involvement. It will be a challenge whether to side with Adele or Pinson (her beloved). Some will want to side with the pursuer, and some will want to side with the pursued. So there is a lot of conflict, and a real psychological investigation of love/romance/obsession.
AE: What other highlights can audiences expect for the 2011-2012 season?
SB: We're in the beginning process of programming the SuperNova Theatre Festival and turning the reigns over to the new Artistic Producer Charlie Rhindress. The company is in excellent financial shape and Charlie is an excellent choice to lead the company in coming years. All of our activity this year is happening at the Neptune Studio Theatre which we plan to establish as our new home. It's exciting times for Eastern Front.
AE: What are your thoughts on the current state of theatre in Halifax?
SB: There's such wonderful diversity of theatre happening in Halifax and it's such a great supportive community of artists. The work is always interesting and varied. Individual artists and established companies all need more resources. The work would benefit markedly from better funding. And, there is a dearth of performance venues. Halifax really needs, and deserves, a proper performing arts facility.
AE:What are your thoughts on the current state of theatre in Nova Scotia?
SB: Nova Scotia benefits from some great theatre companies all over the province. Ship's Company, Mulgrave, Festival Antigonish and Two Planks all produce professional, quality theatre that has supportive audiences. These companies slong with Eastern Front are the backbone of the provincial theatre community and have already created a legacy of important original work, often by and about Nova Scotians. The tough economic times in rural Nova Scotia, and lower tourism numbers affects these companies greatly, so again, more funding to keep us all financially stable and able to produce such high quality work would be a boon.
Neptune Studio Theatre, Halifax