This Is All Very New

I must be completely honest with all of you, I have never blogged before…please bare with me. Nothing I have ever written has been professionally published, so it always makes me nervous when I put my writing out there to the public eye. The only proof of my writing being close to successful is found in IANA Theatre Company’s 2011-2012 season.

I am an actor, singer and writer happily living in the busy GTA of Toronto. I can safely say I am currently working as an actor more than anything else, which makes my parents happy and relieved. A huge reason for my resume’s growth the past few years is because of IANA’s Artistic Director, Tim Porter. Or as I humourously call him…Timberly! He hates it when I call him that, so of course I continue to do so. Tim and I went to theatre school together. This is where I first got the chance to work with Tim and notice his strong understanding, and passion for Canadian theatre. Little did I know that we would continue working together as much as we have after college. I am so proud of Tim’s success with becoming the founder of IANA. IANA is a non-for-profit theatre company that proudly showcases new strong Canadian talent with brilliant new Canadian work. Tim has also given me many opportunities to work in the theatre, and in many different ways. Lets just say, me giving Tim an IOU note won’t cut it in my opinion.

I’ll never forget the Jack Astor’s lunch me and Tim had when he popped the question, if I would help write Aleck Bell. Of course I said ‘YES’ with excitement. However, in my head I felt worried. I didn’t feel worried about the idea. Even though his idea was pretty out there with turning the life story of Alexander Graham Bell into a staged Pop/Rock Musical. Believe me when I say I really thought Tim’s concept was interesting and a hit. I mostly was worried about myself writing the book for this epic musical. This was the challenge put upon me that day. Before then, I had written more than six plays. One of which was part of IANA’s 2008 season as a staged reading. As theatre playwrights know – the writing structure of a musical is much different from a standard 1-2 act play. I took on the challenge with an open mind and an open heart. Having gone through meeting after meeting with Tim, and several months of writer’s block, the show came to me as a clear vision. For four months straight, my laptop never left my lap. No one heard from me (sometimes for weeks). I knew this was going to be a big deal for IANA. I also knew this may be a big deal for my career.

Skip to May 26, 2011! Opening Night was quite insane – for me and everone else I believe. Besides my nerves, the night could not have gone better. The community loved the show, and so did the local press. This was a load of my back. But, [drum role] now comes the most exciting part of this whole process. Because of the huge success of IANA and the show in general, we are able to take this Canadian gem on a province wide tour. I get goosebumps just thinking about the Aleck Bell tour and what it will look like. What I’ve been told so far by Tim is that the show will be unbelievable. ‘Bigger and better’ is what is to be expected this August. I also think of how many people we will be reaching with this show. Not only is this show entertaining but it’s for all ages. I can’t wait for when my nephews get to observe from the audience, so they can tell me how much they learned. Oh, who am I kidding…they’re 7 and 10. Mostly they’ll just enjoy rocking out to a character from the 1800s singing a Hedley Medley!

I don’t really know how this has all happened. Since the opening I have had many people write me or openly tell me that the writing was wonderfully done and that Aleck Bell: A Canadian Pop Rock Musical has “comfortably found it’s room” in the Canadian Musical Theatre house. I feel very proud of myself, but more importantly the Bell team. I don’t think this show could have grown to what it is, without of course the IANA team, and the cast. The cast is what will make you stand up at the end of the show every night. What this cast can do in two acts is nothing short of brilliant. Tim has done it again and I for one feel blessed just to be a part of it all. My hope is that this show continues to grow, entertain, and teach. What the future has in store for me…who knows!? One thing is for sure, I can look back and say I did something great that will hopefully live on forever. I know that last sentence sounds like something Aleck Bell would say…. but it’s true.

~ Joel MacMeekin


2012: A Season Odyssey

To produce a show, or not to produce a show?  That is the question… Well, not really, I always want to produce a show.  But what show?  And when?  Isn’t it so fascinating and telling what theatre companies pick what shows, and why?  I think so.  In our case, it’s pretty simple actually.  First and foremost, we love creating new shows, so we produce them quite frequently.  And that doesn’t involve choosing a show at all.  But this year, for the first time, we found ourselves in the situation of wanting to do someone else’s show, and also, wanting for an additional show.

We decided fairly early on when choosing what we were going to do in 2012 that we would like to do a ‘season’ at the Marble Church Arts Centre in Tweed.  The venue and the town have definitely situated themselves in our hearts as our home venue.  And we couldn’t be happier.  We also decided early on, or knew from the get-go, that we wanted to do more with our production of ALECK BELL.  This problem solved itself relatively easily, when the Stirling Festival approached us to do a co-production, and the rest of the venues kind of fell into place after that.  The Brockville Arts Centre is really like my second home as a performer (after the Stirling Festival) having spent a large chunk of three years in that building while I was attending St. Lawrence College.  We are incredibly grateful to Peter Dunn for all of his help and encouragement in booking our show there.  And then, the next obvious choice seemed to be to bring the show to the Bell’s Canadian home, Brantford, Ontario.  It is in Western Canada, which is a new and exciting frontier for us as a company, but a place I have enjoyed tremendously in the past as a performer.  I was back in Brantford performing with a company earlier this year, and visited the Bell’s homestead site.  I knew instantly that I wanted to bring the show there.  And then of course, we will bring the show to Toronto!  The hub of the Canadian Musical Theatre community, many of our friends and closest connections are in the city, and it is really a proving ground for us, and hopefully a launching pad for future endeavors.  We love the enthusiastic response we get when we tour there, and will go back as often as we can.  And this year in an exciting new venue…

But, back to Tweed.  Last year really solidified the fact that we are part of the community, and we are looking forward to a long and happy life there.  So, we knew we wanted to do a season at the Marble Church.  Now, we have also known that although our mandate is the creation and production of original Canadian Musical Theatre, for our experiences, our audiences, and our creative juices we want to produce some big Broadway shows!  We have been talking about it more and more over the past few months, and I finally decided it was high time we do a Broadway show.  So, one that I have always wanted to play with, is Stephen Schwartz’s GODSPELL.  Long before he penned wicked, Mr. Schwartz wrote this beautiful, hysterical musical, that has had a long history in our country, and a fantastic following to boot.  This show fell into place.

But then, our planning hit a bit of a snag.  We were not planning to write a show this season.  Instead, we were going to do the fantastic Canadian Musical ‘Billy Bishop Goes To War’, and well I’m sure we will produce this show someday in future, it was not to be this season.  So at this point, this is where we were at.  We knew that ALECK BELL would be touring, great.  We knew we were doing GODSPELL in Tweed, great.  We wanted a season in Tweed, hmmm.  At this point you could find me locked in the reference library for hours, reading Canadian plays, and actively discussing with all of my comrades in the industry what they would like to see on our stage.

Then, I went on a little trip out to New Brunswick.  I spent the past month in the really amazing, and ridiculously fun FLINT improv house in Sackville, NB.  My good friend Justin Collette, who many of you will recognize from our production of ALECK BELL as Mark Twain, etc, had invited me to come out and take part in this project he was doing.  We were doing TWEED the musical at the time, and I had mentioned to Justin that I planned to take November off to work on the company, plan the season, etc, and Justin invited me out to the house.  I gladly agreed, and when November rolled around I hopped on a flight to the coast.  Little did I know what an amazing and necessary experience this trip would be. 

It was only a few minutes after I had stepped off the plane when I mentioned my conundrum to Justin and asked if he had any suggestions for what other show we should do in Tweed this season.  Almost immediately Justin said, ‘Well, let’s write one’.  Knowing the man’s talent, and the talent that I was about to spend the month with, I of course replied with a triumphant YES!  We went straight to a restaurant in Moncton, sat down, had a bite, and started to come up with ideas.  It was here that Justin had the stroke of Genius.  About mid way through our meal, after boycotting a couple of earlier suggestions, and having been silent for several minutes, Justin pitched ‘STALKYARD HURTS’.  I loved the idea immediately, and the more he explained, the more excited I got.  The show leapt from Justin’s mouth, and by the time we finally got to the house that night, a good portion of it had already written itself.

The next day we told the idea to our good friend Danielle Leger, who eagerly agreed to help us write the show, and gave us many great ideas of her own.  Over the next few weeks, we locked ourselves in ‘the writing room’ on several occasions, and wrote and wrote, played and played, and STALKYARD HURTS was slowly born.

I could not be more excited about this show, and should also mention some of the other amazing cast members who joined us in Sackville, miss Tricia Black and miss Karine Berube.  Tricia trained with Justin at second city Chicago, and after seeing her on stage with FLINT several times, I am so excited to have her as a part of this show.  The girl is FUUUNNY.  Just wait… And of course, the beautiful and talented Karine Berube who played Mrs. Mabel Bell in ALECK BELL last season, and will be reprising her role this year.  Karine is an exceptionally talented performer, and we count ourselves lucky to have her as part of our team.

FLINT was an amazing experience all around.  Basically, Justin and his friends Luke and Scott, two other hysterically funny people, have collected the best improv performers and stand up comedians from across the country, put them all in a huge house together, and all day every day they create great comedy, and perform two to three shows a week at the local theatre.  It is an amazing place, and if you get a chance to check out one of their shows…DO IT!  I am so happy to have met and worked and played with all of those people, and I hope very much to do it again soon.

But wait!  I will!  When we mount a fully realised production of ‘STALKYARD HURTS: The 2012 End of the World Reunion Tour’ this May.

So that, my friends, is how IANA Theatre Company plans their seasons.  At least it’s how we planned this one, but I can assure you, next year will be totally different.  Oh, and by the way, an odyssey is defined as a long series of wanderings or adventures, especially when filled with notable experiences, hardships, etc.  I think the perfect way to define the planning of our 2012 season.  But boy, I couldn’t be happier.  See you at the show!