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Inside The Glace Bay Miners Museum

Set against the darkness and disasters of the coal mines of 1940’s Cape Breton, The Glace Bay Miners Museum – which runs from Feb 26 to Mar 17 at the Neptune Theatre in Halifax -  is the joyful, heart-scalding story of Margaret MacNeil and her rebellious love for Neil Currie, a miner and bagpiper. Recently, Arts East spoke with Francine Deschepper, who plays the lead role of Margaret, about the upcoming production.

When and why did you get involved with theatre?
I guess from a very early age, I was one of those kids that was always performing. My friends and I would create little variety shows with songs and skits for the captive audience of our families. But I got into theatre seriously when I took the acting program at Acadia University.

Are they the same reasons that you do it today?
I have always had a rich imagination. I love pretending to be someone else and I love that has stayed true. Another reason I love my job is the fantastically talented, warm, smart, and happy people I get to collaborate with.

What have been some career highlights?
I recently did a show called When It Rains (2b Theatre) at La Mama in New York City and last fall we ran Glace Bay Miners' Museum at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Both of these were highlights in my career because it was a chance to showcase Halifax on national and international stages.

How did you get involved with this production?
When Neptune announced their 50th Anniversary season last year and I saw that GBMM was one of the shows, I immediately contacted director Mary Vingoe to beg for an audition. I was lucky to be around at Ship's Company Theatre when the original production of Wendy Lill's beautiful play was created. I was fresh out of theatre school and in total awe of the team putting together this show...especially Mary-Colin Chisholm in the role of Margaret. I decided then and there that I wanted to follow in her footsteps, and now I sort of am.

What are the challenges of the role?
Margaret grows throughout the play not just in age but in emotional maturity. Before meeting Neil, she is a young, awkward, somewhat damaged and defensive girl but eventually, with his love, she blossoms into a confident, wise, and content woman. The challenge of playing a character like this is finding a true connection to all that big emotion and being sincere with it.

What do you like about it?
The play is based on a short story (of the same name) by Cape Breton writer Sheldon Currie and it is a gem...funny, heartbreaking, and a little shocking. I grew up in Cape Breton, and I feel I know all these characters. Although the play is set in the 1940s, many of the issues they face are still very relevant. And, of course, the music and the stories are such an intricate part of CB culture. Our creative team has really brought the play to life with a rugged set, vintage costumes, haunting score, and beautiful lighting. And my co-actors knock it out of the park (or as we say in the play, "hit it over the outhouse"). What a dream team!

What can audiences expect during the run?
I'm excited to do this show for a Nova Scotia audience. I think, like me, they will connect with this eccentric, dysfunctional family and the way they face hardship with a good dose of humour. Audiences can expect some lively (and live) Cape Breton music, many home-grown laughs, a dash of romance, a sprinkling of tears, and a pinch of the macabre.

What's next on your creative agenda?
I will be touring When It Rains in London, Ontario and parts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the spring and then likely heading out of town for summer theatre...hopefully near a beach.

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