After reviewing this year’s Gold Fever Follies performance in the July 6 issue of the Rossland News and receiving a response from Gold Fever Follies’ artistic director Lisa Henderson in the Aug. 24 issue, we talked with the creator of the music and lyrics, the actor who plays Red Mountain and the script writer to find out more about how The Red Mountain came together and get their responses to the review.
Q&A with Drew Chale, music and lyrics
Rossland News: What’s the process for putting the music together for Gold Fever Follies once you’ve got the script?
Drew Chale: Right on. It’s a lot of work, all at once, with a pretty heavy deadline to get everything finished in time for rehearsals. Lots of people always ask me, “What comes first, do you write the music or lyrics or at the same time?” Well, the script comes first and that kind of gives me a layout of the land. It’s kind of piecing a puzzle together from there.
I’ll get, usually, the third draft of a script or the fourth draft at the beginning — so it’s not completely finished — and then I get the go-ahead from the artistic director that “Yes, OK, this has been approved. You can go ahead. This is what we’re going to develop.” And then I can read “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, Joe Moris’ song.” And usually the script writer would write like a title, a funny title that he came up with. And then after that it’s “dialogue, dialogue, dialogue,” so from there I can take everything that’s been leading up to this point in the story, where this character Joe Moris is breaking into song, and then I can read where it leaves off and continues on from here. So right there: Joe Moris, obviously a main character, usually I know who’s cast in that role by then, so I know to write for a baritone voice or in this case a tenor voice. From there I can choose a key. This will be in a tenor voice, a higher male register but not as high as a female register, and maybe it’s a song of “Good Morning World” or whatever it is — that would be a happy song so I know it’s going to be in a major key. It’s not going to be in a minor key because that would make it sound sad.
So all of this that I get from the script gives me the layout and then it’s up to me fill in the blanks. I take inspiration from dialogue and can take kind of lines and piece lines together from there. I know what needs to happen in the song, and I know it would either reveal something about the character or push the plot forward and then I see where the song finishes to continue the story after the [song]. So it’s very filling in the blanks a lot when you’re writing musical theatre it seems.
RN: And what’s your turn around time from when you get the go ahead to when you need to have the songs finished by?
DC: I got the go ahead May 1 and I had to have them finished, delivered, ready with recordings and the score, so the sheet music, by June 1. Really writing, recording and scoring a song every single day. It’s a full-time job — it’s more than a full-time job, it’s like three full-time jobs.
RN: From what I understood from Lisa [Henderson, Gold Fever Follies artistic director], Rebecca [Peterson, music director,] had actually written a couple of the songs afterwards, when they kind of needed to fill in some spots. How many of the songs did you actually write?
DC: I wrote 16 for this show. One of them was cut and then two were altered. Just when they were kind of in the rehearsal period, figuring out what worked, what didn’t, where they changed this so now this lyric doesn’t make sense, so we have to tweak that lyric. And then one of the songs, they completely rewrote because they made this change to the character and the direction they took. That song just didn’t make sense any more.
They took my music and they took my melodic structure and lyrical percussion that I created and basically rewrote the lines. So it wasn’t the battle of the Red Mountain anymore. It turned into finding a mutual way to grow together, which was kind of like a big climatic finishing moment in the song right before, if you remember, the “Stake, Stake, Stake” body percussion kind of comedic little song there — which was one of the songs that was altered. I wrote music for “Stake, Stake, Stake” and they turned it into a body percussion. So it removed the music, kept the words and lyrics and everything, kept that going.
That happens a lot in the rehearsal process, depending on the direction that the director takes the show in, then figuring out, “Oh, it’s a brand new script. This doesn’t make sense. They have to do this.” And then when they make that change, “Oh, these lyrics don’t make sense anymore, we have to change it to this.”
RN: Of the songs you wrote, which one is your favourite for this show?
DC: For this show? Brian [Turner, script writer,] always asks me this, whenever we do a show together. This in particular show is such an ensemble that I thought all the songs throughout everything were so good together. Like if they make a cast recording this year, which I’m not sure if they’re gonna do it or not, like that would be a whole album you’d want to listen to from start to finish, just the songs and all of the songs are really good.
RN: Did you have a chance to read the review of the show that we published?
DC: No, actually. I wasn’t only in town for like a day. I got in that afternoon and then I watched the show that evening and stayed over night with Lisa Henderson and packed up and left the next day. So I didn’t really get a chance to do much.
RN: In that case, I guess I’ll just ask you, what did you think seeing the show on stage as it was performed in its final version?
DC: Lisa and Brian and I … all kind of felt the exact same, where the show we saw live was actually very different than what we imagined in our heads. Just because this was a brand new director we had this year and they did it in a very safe, realistic type of direction in the show. Where we’ve had other directors where the crazy, over the top, really, really big type of characters and big type of direction for shows, which we’re really use to. And Brian and I had written for other directors that really kind of brought our vision to life. So seeing the direction that was taken, very different from what we thought in our heads was kind of a little bit of a shock.
And then — I haven’t seen the show in a while because it’s a quarter way across the world for me to come out to see them — so I was surprised to see how young of a cast they had, too. And just seeing the choices the actors made as young actors compared to the seasoned actors, I felt I could really see the difference between like the people who were just out of high school and the people who were just out of university. It was night and day, the experience and the choices they made, and the big risks they took and succeeded at, and the risks that the young ones didn’t take and it didn’t translate. Their characters were even given very safe direction, so they were very realistic and it was just kind of good, it was there, but it wasn’t like “Oh my God, that was amazing. He was so funny.”
But it wasn’t over the top musical theatre like sticks in your memories over and over. It was kind of like a fun show and that was a good piece of history.
Q&A with Elizabeth Chamberlain, Red Mountain
Rossland News: I understand you’re a student at Grant MacEwan?
Elizabeth Chamberlain: Yes, Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton. I’m taking the theatre arts program there.
RN: And this is your first year with the Follies?
RN: What’s it been like to be [one of the Follies] so far this year?
EC: It’s been really, really good. It’s been a really, really nice summer job to be able to do what I love and also have a lot of time and freedom to relax and stuff like that as well — compared to Grant MacEwan, not compared to any other job or anything. But yeah, it’s a very, very nice job. I really love being on stage and I really love the cast and crew this year is so nice. We all get along, everybody.
RN: What’s your previous theatre experience, in terms of actually being on stage?
EC: I did lots of high school shows. I also did all of the things that were available in my city at the time. Prince Albert is quite small, it’s 35,000 people and so there wasn’t a whole lot of theatre, especially for my age. There was a children’s theatre group, which I joined, and that’s called Broadway North, and I was the oldest one in Broadway North. And then I also joined Odyssey, which was the adult theatre group at that time and I was the youngest one in Odyssey. So there wasn’t really anything available for my age group in Prince Albert, but I did everything that I could, and then I also did my high school plays with Upstage Productions. And that was a lot of fun. I did lots of musicals with them and lots of plays with them.
Then I auditioned for Grant MacEwan last summer and then I ended up getting in and ended up doing a full year of that. So we’ve done lots of training and stuff like that, as well as a few plays and one musical.
RN: What was your response to the review?
EC: It’s very difficult to be a part of something that gets bad reviews because it makes you feel like you’re not… It’s hard to be part of something that is deemed not successful by anybody. But it’s also something that is a good thing, because if there weren’t bad reviews then you wouldn’t have anywhere to grow ever. And everybody is going to see a musical differently. That’s the thing about art is everybody is going to interpret it differently, but I’m not going to lie I was definitely sad by the review because I just want everything that I do to be successful, of course, as anybody does, and I know that we all put a lot of hard work into it and stuff like that. So, it’s quite damaging for the self-esteem and stuff like that and for the future too, when people look us up and look up our previous performances and stuff, they are going to see that something was amiss.
But it definitely was something that, like I had said, I think should have been brought up. It’s just difficult when it’s brought up in such a public way. Especially to something that’s so lighthearted and something that’s so crucial to Rossland. Because a lot of people in Rossland, they come here to enjoy and have entertainment and laugh and stuff like that, and when such a serious topic is brought up it’s very difficult for everybody.
RN: Lisa Henderson had mentioned to me that, that scene between you and Joe Moris, the kind of final confrontation if you will, that had originally been written to play out very differently.
EC: Oh yeah. It was much different.
Yes, the scene between Joe Moris and I was originally very — I don’t want to use the incorrect words here — but very… had rape undertones? Because it may have not intended to be that way, but the way that the story is, is when a girl is saying no and a man says yes and then the man goes ahead anyway, it’s just, regardless of what kind of script it is, it’s going to have that kind of thing going on in everybody’s mind. So we wanted to get that out of the way, because it was very, very suggestive and it was very in everybody’s mind. And it was kind of also triggering for some of the cast members because like that’s something that’s not really OK ever.
And yet it is kind of how history went. It’s just difficult to portray a mountain with emotion and stuff like that and how she would feel about it. Like in real life, Joe Moris didn’t go, “Hey, I want to stake a claim on you,” and the mountain didn’t reply no. … The mountain had no opinion on it and so it’s very difficult to put an emotion on a mountain, but what we chose to do was instead of having the mountain say no, and then have the rape undertones, we chose to have the mountain make an agreement with Joe Moris in hopes to teach the audience a lesson that they should give back as much as they can in return to the mountain.
Which I think is a really good thing. I think theatre should teach lessons. I think that’s the point of it. It’s really, really a powerful medium for those kinds of things. And it’s kind of what happened in history in other senses, like in the case of the First Nations people. When colonialism happened and stuff like that, First Nations people were saying no, but the colonialists were going to do it anyway. You know, the white people were going to do it anyway. So instead of being like “no, no, no, no” and stuff like that they ended up making an “agreement.” It wasn’t really respected and it wasn’t really a good agreement, but it was an agreement nonetheless because they knew that they were basically screwed, which is what Red Mountain does too.
When I do that scene sometimes I just about start crying when Joe Moris says, “The revolution is going to happen, so you might as well kind of suck it up,” is what he says. And it’s very difficult for me to be like, “OK well, I’m either going to get staked and I’m going to have no say in it, or I’m going to try to make this the best possible thing I can make it.” And I think that’s way better than it was before.
And the song is kick-ass now. The song was kick-ass before, but it’s so cool now. It’s so much fun to sing every time and it gets so heated. It’s really good.
Response from Brian Turner, script writer
Brian Turner was sent five carefully-written and numbered questions by email, asking him about his inspiration for The Red Mountain, what his reaction was to the review that ran in the July 6 issues, whether or not his previous Gold Fever Follies scripts had included Indigenous and/or Chinese characters and plot lines that engaged with their heritage and culture, whether or not he’d consider including Sinixt, Ktunaxa, Syilx Okanagan Nation or other Indigenous characters in future scripts, and whether or not his previous research for the Gold Fever Follies had included speaking with indigenous people for insight or historical perspective.
In response he wrote back the following:
“When the Rossland Gold Fever Follies Society asked me to write the 2017 play, they asked me to find a story which coincides with the celebration of three anniversaries: The Follies 30th season, Rossland’s 120th birthday, and Canada 150. I pitched the idea of Joe Moris, which they liked, and I got under way.
In the Special Archives of the Vancouver Public Library, there’s an old Rossland newspaper where Moris recounts his part in Rossland’s history. It was this article that inspired me to write The Red Mountain. Though Moris has been in previous shows, the story of him coming back to Red Mountain has never been shown on the Miners’ Hall stage.
I was also excited to write another character. All stories have conflict which fall under three categories. The first is Man versus Man. The second is Man versus himself. The third is Man versus Nature. I’ve written the first two many times, but obviously not the third. For production reasons alone, it’s hard to show in a play. But because Moris did battle the weather, I jumped onto the idea to personify Mother Nature. After that discovery, Red Mountain came, followed by Cupid.
The rest of your questions involve Indigenous stories and characters. Instead of answering them all separately, I feel it’s important to say this:
As an artist, there are times when you want to be controversial with your work, but there’s also a time and place for that. Follies is not that place. In B.C., there are a lot of people who believe that Indigenous stories should be told by Indigenous writers. I am not Indigenous. If I were asked to write an Indigenous story, some may feel that would fall under the hot button topic of cultural appropriation. Therefore, I would pass on the project but recommend a few of my writing peers who are Indigenous who would be excited to take it on.
My style for writing the Follies is making it a historical pantomime: Light-hearted music, slapstick comedy, colourful characters, but a story grounded in Rossland’s history. When writing about other cultures, I want to be respectful and sensitive. My fear when mixing the two, especially when you add comedy, is that it would come off as insensitive. And, once again, it could fall under cultural appropriation. That’s why I would recommend my friends who are Indigenous, who would be a better voice to write that particular story.
Now, if I had already written a story, let’s say, about Lou Gagnon and the Flying Steamshovel, and one of the supporting actors hired was Indigenous, I would collaborate and co-write with the actor to create a character: A) they wanted to play for the summer, and B) one which falls into stories of that time. This would most likely take me to the archives for more research and I would speak with Indigenous people for historical perspective, all with the goal of creating a proper subplot to help enhance the Flying Steamshovel storyline while being sensitive to the Indigenous material. But again, as far as writing an entire script specifically about Indigenous people, I don’t feel I’m qualified.”