April 26, 2020
N= New Musicals
David Connolly (D) in conversation with Michael Rubinoff (M) for Matinee to Z,
a series of Instagram Live Master Classes developed in response to Covid-19.
D: Hello Everybody! Welcome! This is Michael Rubinoff, he’s a theatre history-maker, he made history, and he continued to make history. And we're going to take your questions for the next little while, so start those questions whenever you want.
I’m going to start. So you’ve produced 26 new musicals, which means people are coming at you with ideas for new musicals all the time. I'm sure there isn't a single social occasion where someone is in pitching you an idea of our musical. So, this is a two-part question. The first part is in regards to the time we're living in and how soon do you think people will be reaching out to you with ideas from this time? When do you think the right time will be to enter that subject matter?
M: It’s a good question, I’ve always believed that music theatre is another historical record, so we have to capture these moments. I think the challenge is that good musical theatre comes when there is a good reason to musicalize a story. So I'd be disingenuous if I didn’t say yes, I've been thinking a lot about how we could tell stories and why we should tell stories about this period of time. That said, I still believe you have to write something that is honest and has integrity… and not for any other purpose. If there's a good story that you have a personal connection to that you wanna tell it, write it. Have a go at it, but to say, “We're just gonna write about Corona Virus or the effect of Corona Virus,” I don't know if you're gonna find success that way.
The other great thing you discover about musicals, especially at times like right now is a good musical changes with the time, it’s a reflection of where we are. We did a musical six or seven years ago called, The Theory of Relativity by Neil Bartrum and Brian Hill, all about connections, all about young people leaving school and going out into the world. And at the beginning of this pandemic, I listened to that recording, and I was so moved by it, because it had even more meaning.
I hear all the time that the first musical people will wanna go see after all this is Come From Away… a musical about a community coming together, obviously nearly 20 years ago, but thematically and what it says about who we are, and that connection makes it stand the test of time. So I'm always a little wary of saying, ‘We're gonna create this musical about this specific thing at this specific time,’ because Lord knows it takes a long time to get a musical to a stage, if you want staying power and seen by a lot of people. So I put up a little bit of caution, that if you can find the right story in there and to me those are stories, most musicals are about the same thing…about wanting to be loved and wanting to find your way in the world. And boy, we all want that more now than ever. So you look at those global themes, the backdrop of those themes, may be us in isolation or may be Coronavirus but I don't think I'd be really interested in somebody doing a musical that's just so on the nose, about what's happening right now.
D: Speaking of that lens, and history, have you listened to your cast recording since we quarantined?
M: Come From Away?
Yeah, oh yeah, yeah. We’re all thinking about our parallel lives like the other lives we'd be living. I would be in China right now. The Australian company of Come From Away was to open in Beijing a couple nights ago and then head on to a couple of cities before doing three weeks in Shanghai. So I listened to it and I... Yeah, it takes on a whole different meaning now. And that's the sign of a great musical. And we can do that with so many.
When I hear people, they're doing all this content online and singing now, and you hear Sondheim’s No One Is Alone and it's like, Okay, this is too much… in the best possible way. Do the test right now, you wanna see what's great musical theatre, see what affects you right now. What currently exists in the canon and use that as your inspiration, to create something going forward.
D: I love that advice. I love that and agree with you about the score of Come From Away. I listened to it, in preparation to this and I was a mess.
Welcome everyone who's just joined us, please type in your questions 'cause that is how we roll here. But Michael take us back a decade, take us back to April, 2010.
M: Yeah, with Come From Away, I thought the stories that happened in Gander, nearly 20 years or 19 years ago were so compelling. I was so proud to be a Canadian seeing what our fellow Canadians did in Newfoundland. And again, I go back to these principles which I’ll reiterate in this type of conversation… you're looking for good stories and a good reason to musicalize it. And here was this story that I just couldn't... Every time I read about this, as it began to come out in the news, and there was a book about it a few years after the events, I just kept crying and couldn’t believe just how moved I was.
And I'd never been to Newfoundland. Anyone who’s been there, knows this great music and I would think about this show, listen to Great Big Sea, and think, this is a story we need to tell. We don't tell our Canadian stories very often, we don't look at Canadian history as sexy and I would say there's a lot of sexy stories in Canadian history we should be running musicals about. But this was an idea, and I was cognizant that most of the American Musical Theatre was concentrated in New York. This was gonna be a very difficult thing for them to capture because it’s unimaginable to think what the community went through on that day and how pretty much everybody was affected by it.
But I did believe that musical theatre needed to play a role in preserving the historical aspect of that so that we would never forget, but I also remember a time when everyone thought that was a terrible idea, that it was tasteless. How could you think a 911 musical was something to explore? And I didn't have the words to explain in my heart, I guess, why I thought this was important, or could resonate.
I asked several people to write a show about this, and they said no. And I'm glad they turned me down, because I eventually went to see David and Irene’s, My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding, which I didn't see the Fringe, it was months into the run. I had a show going into that theatre, after and went to see it and was floored. Just, the authenticity, this beautiful true story. David played himself and narrated the show and I send him a Facebook message and said, and David had made a plea after the show about the importance of Canadian musicals and you didn't really hear that on a stage and it just resonated with me. So I wrote, I wrote a Facebook message to David and said this musical was incredible and we need to know each other and I'm so interested to hear what you're doing next.
And a couple months later, I think the three of us went out for dinner and hit it off, and at the end of a three-hour dinner I said, "You know, I've been trying to find people to write this musical about the events in Gander on 911, and, you know, David loved Newfoundland music and said that sounds really interesting. And we developed a friendship, and then I was transitioning from practicing law. Well, producing and practicing law, and coming to Sheridan to transition the three-year advance diploma to the four-year degree. There was an academic need to develop new musicals as part of that new program and so I started the Canadian Musical Theatre Project and committed to David and Irene on the first musical we would do would be… well, at that time it wasn't called Come From Away, I think we had called it Gander or Five Days in Gander. Quite astutely, David and Irene of course went out to Gander on the 10th anniversary and learned quickly that there were five other towns that were involved, and if we called it Gander, we would exclude those other communities that were equally as important, and of course, the term Come From Away kept coming up, so that's sort of the genesis. They came back with stacks and hours of recordings of papers and I was just like, “Let's try and do 45 minutes. just 45 minutes. Let's see what this is.” As you know, David, we do a studio show and we do a main stage show. So we were just gonna try this new thing with books and stands - 45 minutes in the studio. Main stage shows was Sweeney Todd.
The students were like, what is this Come From Away/ bad Newfoundland accent thing? I wanna do Sweeney Todd. And I have to get a shout out to Amir Haider 'cause I know he's on here and I always tell this story. It was Amir’s class, Amir was playing Sweeney, he came to watch Come From Away, wept for 45 minutes. Told David and Irene that wanted to play a tree when the show goes and of course, and of course, we didn't have any idea what was gonna happen. And now he’s in the Toronto company of Come From Away. I love that story.
D: Such a good story. So you didn't set the bar very high when you started your Canadian Musical Theatre Project.
M: Well, it’s not easy going from a Tony Aword. Olivia Award-winning show, five companies around the world, but you know what? Boy did it blaze a trail? The beautiful thing about what David and Irene did, and the whole team that came on… it showed people that Canada had stories that were worth telling, and that Canada had the talent. I always knew we had great writers, we just weren't nurturing them, we weren't allowing them to fail to learn to succeed.
There were few opportunities, and one of the things of course that, parallel to the work I was doing, was Mitchell Marcus with Acting Up Stage, which became The Musical Stage Company and there was becoming an ecology where we could support writers on a path. It wasn't just, write your musical in a week, throw it up at the Fringe or somewhere. And they're not really acquiring skills and something I thought a lot about in the last couple of years, we've championed a number of writers over the last seven, eight years, and I'm just in awe of their skill and what they're creating, and the success they're having. So, where Canada... it wasn't like New York or other places were like, "A Canadian musical? What?” But you put a Canadian musical of somebody now, they're pretty excited. And if it's good, as we see with Britta Johnson, Life After, Ride the Cyclone, Neil and Brian’s work… you see this is happening all over, and we're at a moment right now. It's unfortunate that things had to stop. But there were so many new musicals and a very proud the number he came out of the CMTP were having their world premieres this year. We were just on the cusp of going into rehearsal for Grow at The Grand Theater, Kelly versus Kelly at CanStage. The Louder We Get, a wonderful production directed by Lonny Price did get in. So as all of this incredible stuff was happening. But it will be back, I'm the total optimist, and we will need to bring people together for sure.
D: I’ve never been prouder to be a Canadian than during this time. So everything that you're saying about you changing the course of history in relation to musical theatre and this country, 'cause you did that. I don't know if that's something you think about a lot, but that was you
M: My parents are watching. I'm sure there's really, really happy.
You know what? I love our community. People ask, “Why didn't you move to New York?” And I sort of said, "I love our community here. I love our stories, I feel nurtured and fulfilled getting to work with the people I get to work with. And that includes the incredible students, which you know well and you've worked with them as students, you’ve worked with them was alumni.
I think we do really great stuff and I'm happy I stayed here, because I feel we are showing the world what we're capable of, and the world needs more Canada. And wants more Canada. When I set up the Canadian Musical Theatre Project, the thing we were missing was the institutionalization of the development of new musicals. How could we create something that would stay, 'cause there's been so many great initiatives over 30-40 years. But how could we find something that would have stable funding and could continue? And this was this beautiful marriage between the academic need and the cultural needs and the students, of course, aren't always age-appropriate for the roles, but it doesn't matter, it's extraordinary what they do and I always have the argument of saying, "Well if you look at Come From Away, there's no 19 or 20-year-olds per se.” But what I love is, they have the spirit and the talent and the commitment, and now of course it's a highlight of their academic journey to contribute. We see this all the time, all over the world, professional actors get a new script, and they're like, "Is this funny? Is this any good?” And then they do a presentation and if there's a couple of laughs or people react… I see students jump right in, just eager to go on the journey and give the weaker material 110% and the great material 110%. And it helps writers, you know, if it can't work in this environment, if you can't make it work with books and stands… You know when we did that was 45 minutes of Come From Away, I did the presentation in the Panasonic Theater, 'cause I was terrified. This is so ironic, I was terrified that nobody would come to Sheridan for 12 presentations. I said, “Let's do it down at the Panasonic. Make a big splash of this new thing and maybe a couple of people will show up for 12 presentations.”
At Sheridan, I even didn't even do it in the Studio Theater. We did it in one of the dance studios and we put out 35 chairs the first night and then 65, and then at 70, we couldn't get any more people in. And you did know David and Irene tapped into something… heart and soul, the guts, it was there in terms of what was the map going to look like for this show? The irony is, and I like to tell this too.. we couldn't get a theatre interested, we did those 45 minutes and I thought, well maybe I don't know if somebody would be interested in doing it, and there wasn't interested. So I said, "Okay you know what, keep going. We'll do a studio production the following year, and we'll see.”
But I always say no one, no one imagined and it’s so interesting living in this world and again, I’m grateful to everybody and our lead producers. Junkyard Dog who believed in it early on, nobody was like, this is instantly going to Broadway. I'm still haven’t processed the success of the show. In its description, and this is why I say to people write what you're passionate about. Because again, a musical in Newfoundland, Gander and surrounding towns, backdrop of 911… what commercial producer in their right mind would put 12 million dollars US behind that concept?
So it wasn't like any of us set out to make or produce or create the Broadway musical. And it is a dream. I feel very privileged and fortunate to have gone to the openings of all our productions around the world. And I have to tell you I sit there in complete this belief. It makes sense to me Come From Away in Toronto, but it's funny, when I'm in New York and I walk by the tbeatre and you see kids waiting for the rush tickets. I think it's like a theme for my bar mitzvah, it doesn't seem real. I'm just so glad about the joy it's brought in his success it’s brought for everybody involved and it's just, again, the trail is there, the door is blown wide open and there's no end in sight, to the success that our stories and writers can have.
D: Do you think part of the reason it was so successful is because it didn't start out to become a Broadway, Tony Award, Olivier Award-winning hit?
M: It's like winning the lottery. There are 41 Broadway Theatres, a number of those theatres have long-running musicals. The odds of your musical getting a Broadway theatre, never mind getting capitalized but getting in line to get a Broadway theatre is such a challenge, but I don't know what a Broadway musical is. I still say that I don't know. Oh, I know what I like, I know what my tastes are, I know what resonates with me and gets my heart going and gets into my soul. I know what that is, and I do have a sense of what I think a wider audience might like, but there are still so many variables.
D: What is that universal core, the thing that is a magnet to you?
M: I think everybody wants to be loved and everyone wants to find their place in the world, and I think there's something, if you look at the great musicals, they’re kind of about that. If you look at those individual characters who are lost and going on a journey to somehow be, and I'm gonna say it, found.
But I really do believe that. And you know, you know, and when you sit there and you feel that sense of connection, that sense of emotion washes of you. The whole reason I'm in this business, I saw Les Miserables when I was 13, shout out to mom who took me 'cause I... wait, she’s commenting, she likes the picture behind me, she bought at an auction for Daffodil Place at the... Come From Kindness, Comes From Away Benefit last year and they're gonna be online, I’ll give them a plug, next week or the week after, with another benefit for Daffodil place, which is a great place where families can come from across the province to have a home, while they receive treatment for cancer.
But anyway, going to see Les Mis at 13, the moment that changed my life and I’m a Jew, by no means a religious person, I'm not a Christian. But when the Bishop gives, the candlesticks to Valjean… and there is that moment of redemption, there's that moment of second chances, there's that moment of beginning to find yourself in the world. That was cataclysmic for me, there was something in the music, in the drama of it, I just, I don't know, the clarity of the world opened up to me in that moment. That resonated. So I think about that, you know, I think about that a lot, that moment, and I think that if you can feel that in the subject matter. I tell people I'm looking for good ideas and good people.
When people send me a script and say, “Here’s my script, and it's ready to go to Broadway. Nobody has written a musical in which the first draft has hit the stage, nobody. Nobody who's achieved success in the musical theatre has written something that has hit the stage on the first draft. So I'm a lot less interested in a fully written script landing on my desk versus what are the ideas and who are the people? Let me hear a few songs, let me hear a couple of pages or let me read a couple of pages. But that's what I'm most interested in. We just did Kevin Wong and Nick Green’s “In Real Life.” Talk about what musicals resonate right now.
They pitched me three years ago, three-and-a-half years ago, on this musical about a dystopian world and young people are in these cubes with overbearing technology and it's running their lives and the pitch is a little different from what it has become but… And I'm sitting there and I'm thinking, I don't know if I’m into a dystopian world. I really like these guys and I do think intellectually there's something interesting there and I do think we're so connected. What happens when we disconnect? And then three and a half years later, you know, we put out this video last week, this eight and a half minute video of the opening number online. So now we’re on Zoom in the boxes, because we're in this pandemic and we now have to be isolated. So they were prescient, it's just there was something there that got me. Same with Matt Murray and Colleen Dauncey and Akiva Romer-Segala brought me to the basement of the Second City Training Centre. We're gonna pitch you this musical about Amish twin sisters going on rumspringa to the big city and falling in with a marijuana grow-op. I'm thinking like, this is nuts but you know what, it kind of scares me. It's so nuts. Let's do this. All these sittings happened, that was years ago, Jenny Weisz was part of that pitch and we cast her in the Grand production. We’re gonna have that production, it’s gonna happen and Jenny's gonna get to complete that journey. But I like things that scare me, I like things that resonate with me, but I also like when people are enthusiastic. I always say you never lose, because even if it's not successful, they've learned from it, they're gonna be better, there's just no question, they're gonna be better. All the failure to me is great and wonderful. And that's what we didn't have before, we didn't give our writers an environment to fail, like every other job in the life. You fail, that’s how you learn. You’ve gotta have that in order to learn and get better. And now I feel with Musical Stage, with us, with a number of theatres now… like I am overjoyed, by the number of theatres doing new musicals. Everybody seems to be in on it, and audience’s are excited. At Sheridan, our new musicals sell out eight months in advance. As soon as they go on sale, they sell out. People wanna see the new musical. So I think that's just thrilling.
D: Amazing. OK, here’s a question: What's the balance of ideas that you commission and ideas that come to you?
M: That’s a good question. So really, it really depends on the project. There are ideas I have and I'll seek out specific writers, that I think might be a good fit with those ideas, and then there are people that come to me with the ideas and we work together. When you do a musical at CMTP, you really become part of our family and we wanna be part of the journey, as long as it makes sense. Now some of those projects I will get involved in a more significant way, so Grow, I’m a lead producer on, so I’ll continue with that one. I can't continue with all of them. There's a balance between these duties and my agreement with my incredible employer at Sheridan. So I think there's a balance, but at this stage, I wanna do things that I'm really passionate about and love, but I am always contributing artistically in terms of guidance. Not only guidance as a producer, what sort of theatre should we seek out, who do we have relationships with, which artistic director might get really excited about this, who might champion a workshop, what funding is out there to do this, that or the other. So I stay connected and I wanna be the most objective of the least objective people in the group. I don't sit in rehearsals very often, but what happens is at the end of a week, a team will call me in and say, “Here's the first 15 minutes or here's the first act or here's the second act,” and then we'll go away to a note session.
Then the next day, things will be sometimes shifted around and not everybody listens. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, but it's my legal training. I cross-exam and the writers. I ask questions of writers, what did you mean here, what are you trying to say? What do you wanna convey in that lyric? And 90% of the time with great writers, they start to articulate to you what they're trying to say and the easy response is, I love what you've just said. I'm not sure that's what you've written, have another look at that, because what you've just spoken is so thrilling, and so exciting. I'm very conscious of how I don't have the discipline to write. People close to me say, "Well why don't you just write?” I don't have that discipline, I don't think I have the armour to withstand the scrutiny. I have tremendous respect for writers who not only to choose to do it but are forced by me when they join us in the CMTP to share it with an audience for the first time.
So, I'm very respectful when I'm giving notes to how far you can push, where you are in the relationship, what people wanna receive and I'll tell you, people that aren't interested in the feedback, I’m not interested in working with them because it's a relationship. And it's not me giving notes for notes sake, I'm giving notes because I want you to succeed. Your success is our success.
So, you wanna have those discussions. That's what I feed and drive off of. And by staying out of the room, I can try and give a sense of, I know who you are, I know what you're trying to create because we've been on the journey from the beginning and here I'm gonna try and ask you a number of questions to lead you down that path. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, in the sense that you try something else... You go in a different direction and... And I also try and build a trust with writers because everybody has an opinion. Listen, I have to listen to everybody’s opinion as a producer, you have to listen to everybody, and I wanna be a source of good guidance in hopes that that you can move the the piece forward.
It’s good to say that out loud because I am so conscious, of that moment after writers will show their 15 minutes, or a first act. And then having that discussion. And same with directors, as you know, you wanna work with great directors 'cause I feel the directors are the front line doing that work. And then you have a creative producer, who’s coming in to give more, and I'm very conscious that when I can be annoying and I try to say that up front, this is gonna be really annoying.
D: Segue, someone asked about what you look for in collaborators? You've mentioned enthusiasm open-mindedness, obviously, anything else that sparks you?
M: I wanna know that they've done something in what we do, so either they're a song writer, an actor, a director, there's a lot of people of the honest... I say this all the time. There's a lot of people that roll out of bed and have written a musical and I'm just not interested in the people that have rolled out of bed and written a musical.
I think it is a craft. I think it is a skill, I think you get better at it as you're given the opportunities. That doesn't mean you have to be a musical theatre composer. We've certainly worked with a number of people that had never written a musical before. Whether it be someone like Johnny Reid. We did My Bonnie Lass, who worked with Matt Murray on just a beautiful piece, which of course, the music is unbelievable. The energy of that show, that he's brought to it. Or bringing my favourite arranged marriage with Danny Abrahamson and Ashley Botting where Dan pitched me all these ideas and he pitched this show called the Start of Mars that we first did the 45 minutes, we just did in full production.
And when he pitched me I said I'll do it, if you can get Ashley Botting to write the book. Ashley and I had never met personally, we connected online. Her Instagram is the funniest thing I've ever seen, but I just felt from afar that Ashley writing a musical, felt right to me. She is our Tina Fey. Ashley as a Second City veteran, as an actress, as somebody that's been part of that world that lends itself so well to musical theatre plus she's a huge musical theatre fan as well. That makes sense to me and I look forward to working on more with her.
And so that's when I'm looking for...just people that are trying to do it. That doesn't mean you had to have had a Fringe show but I also have to remind people, I'm bringing you in to work with students as part of their academic journey. So not everybody is right for our environment. I have to say that too when I'm doing things at Sheridan. Number one priority is these are good people that can be mentors and teachers in a sense, to our students and there might be some great people that are really great at writing musicals, they may not be the right people to bring into our academic environment, so I have to balance that as well.
D: A couple of questions came in that I’ll lump into a topic of diversity and your role, a new musical theatre to not only have representation on stage, but to attract a wider audience.
M: Okay, great question. So I'm very aware, and I'm so grateful to my students who have educated me because they make me a better producer. I'm a white guy of privilege. So I just said to you, here's what I like: the people I like, these are the stories I like, this is what resonates with me, this is my experience only. So how do we... The cannon is a male-dominated cannon, white male-dominated cannon. That has to change.
One of the things I’m proud of about David and Irene is that half that team is female. And the diversity and casting of the show is wonderful but how do we tell different stories? And we've created something I haven't talked about it too much publicly, but we've created something called CMTP 2.0 which has come about because Sharon has received a windfall from Come From Away, which is great. And philosophically, I believe, and I'm glad my colleagues agree, but that money, the bulk of that money should go to fund the development of new musicals by indigenous and under-represented communities in the cannon.
What is really hard about this and we're gonna do it. I was just on the cusp of a really exciting project with an Inuit team working with some people in Nunavut, doing a really, really exciting project that we're gonna get to... we're gonna get to it, but our plan is in the spring, summer period is to do bring in people, give them the resources, given the space, give them the time, cast people that are appropriate for their projects, where students may be appropriate, or some of our alumni, there might be a deference… but we're only gonna change the cannon if we actually add to it. And we actually give the space for people to fail and create. So I'm really a CMTP 2.0, a terrible name, I’ve gotta figure out what we're gonna call it, but it is something I've really turned my attention to over the last two years because I'd like to have a more diverse student body. We've been working at it. It is more diverse. We need to do better on all level, including differing physical abilities, as you and I have talked about, and you brought me into that conversation.
So we can't always do... we are restricted by what we can do. And things have changed four years ago, we did Star Light Tours, and even though it was Indigenous story, I thought we could use our students to become allies. Of course, this Cathy Eliot's beautiful piece along with Leslie Arden and bless Kathy. But it was really exciting because our students got to learn, but... And before we did our presentations I said we would never cast this show with people that weren't from these communities. Four years later, I don't feel comfortable doing that anymore.
Now things have changed, we've learned... We have to look at taking up space and giving opportunities and finding the funding to do it so that's how we're gonna change the cannon, stay tuned. And I wanna make one other point. I'm very conscious of finding the right way, and I'll be open to suggestions about how that work is selected because it's not for me to select that work. So I am looking to have discussions with our diverse group of students and people in the community to say, what is the work, who are the artists you want to see championed and what are the stories we should tell? So stay tuned for more on that.
D: Wow, that is so exciting. All of these hearts just exploded everyone is excited about that possibility. And I imagine it would include not only cultural diversity, but it would include physical diversities and neuro-diversity… It's just a pocket for all kinds of new expression and new representation.
M: Totally and unfortunately, it's expensive to do what we do, so now that we have a revenue stream that is helping us from spring to summer, our academic programming is on hiatus so we have those resources, we wanna use them and now find a way to support. And I was so, I was so excited about this project. We're gonna get back to it. But I think that project with the people involved is really exciting and hopeful and will set, I think the standard and the example of what we wanna do it.
D: Whole bunch of people asking where to reach you.
M: michael.Rubinoff@sheridancollege.ca. Now’s a good time. I've spent more time in my house in the last six weeks I have the last 12 years.
D: We unbelievably are coming to the end of this. It flew by. Do you want to talk briefly about China and your fascination and relationship to that boundary, because I think it's another ground-breaking thing you're doing.
M: I wanna say I am devastated by the racism that's been going on with Coronavirus and it's heartbreaking. I wanna say publicly two weeks ago, a producing company that I haven't worked with, but had many meetings with reached out to me and said, "Look we're getting back on our feet, we know it's tough over there. Can we send you masks? What can we do?” There is a challenging, obviously difficult political situation, but the theatre practitioners that I have met, the musical theatre students I have met. Their passion is equal to ours, their hopes and their dreams are equal to ours.
So I've been, for about six years, working in Arts Education and working on developing new musicals and it is, when you leave your own country and you go somewhere where it's a foreign language, where you are the minority in terms of me, and you watch theatre, you learn a lot. You learn a lot about a design, story telling, that I have found so inspirational and I've seen a lot of musicals in Mandarin, and it is thrilling. Everything from Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, to The Last Five Years, I've seen so much. And we have been working towards these partnerships of how do we co-develop musicals? And by that I mean, musicals, that may be in English and Mandarin. Musicals that may be in Mandarin, and eventually translated into English and the thing is, we’ve been working on a musical about Norman Buthune. Again, a complicated Canadian figure. Dr. Norman Bethune, in the '30s he went to China and practiced medicine on the front line for Mao’s Army, he's renowned for bringing modern medicine to China. I have traveled with Neil Bartrum and Brian Hall who are writing this musical. I’ve gone to places in China that I don't think many Westerners have gone to retrace his steps. He set up hospitals, there's museums to this Canadian, he really is the most famous Canadian on the planet that nobody knows about because he's taught in the Chinese curriculum.
But this is a project I'm very excited about because I think it bridges Canada and China in a really unique way on a very personal level. And one of the things I believe when you're dealing with musicals that may use different languages, and this is broadening our scope. What's the unifying factor? Well, it's music.
And when you're talking about Canada and China... How do you want to infuse that music so that even if we're watching a scene, in a different language, the music may carry our emotion and take the storytelling, so that we still understand and we're still connected regardless of what we hear word-wise. So I wish, we had lots of plans for China. We working with a school out there, but I have to tell you, I was an out in Beijing, in December, and we did a press conference for Come From Away, coming to China and there's the Beijing Dance Academy. A very prestigious school. They have a musical theatre program and their students opened the press conference singing the opening number in Mandarin, trying to wear the same costumes. It was just the most beautiful thing. Just to know that that musical resonates with young people in China. There’s so many Chinese fans that get so excited and I say, "Well what resonates with you, what's the connection?” Community. When there's earthquakes there, the community coming together, helping each other, cross-generational. So that's just the universality of it. I can't wait to get back there and continue the work that we've been doing with some great partners.
D: It sounds like all of your future plans, involved crashing barriers. That your interest isn't necessarily to repeat the success that you've seen, but to shatter these ceilings and change the course of our craft.
M: It keeps it interesting. Like, listen, it was my dream to be part of a show or initiate show that went to Broadway, that really was the dream. I will say. I'd love to be part of sending more shows to Broadway. Everybody knows the shows I do are not exclusively about Canada, but where you can find something that's about a Canadian story and wherever I travel, I always look for the Canadian connection.
I went in Taiwan in November and there was a minister or a doctor who had gone out there and done all this great work. Never heard of this guy. And there was a museum, his house was dedicated, it was fascinating seeing pictures from Southern Ontario, where he was from. I think we've got great stories to tell. Musicals are wonderfully successful ways for people to receive those stories and where there's that marriage, that’s when it makes sense. Let's keep doing that. And Canada, look what we're doing on the world stage… whether it Schitt’s Creek or Kim’s Convenience or Come From Away, never mind our musicians and singer-songwriters who’ve always been really successful. But when you look at what Canada is doing out there in the world, it's an exciting time.
D: I know that I speak on behalf of everyone who's watching, and we'll be watching to thank you for your time and thank you for this hope. It's so hopeful, your view, so thank you for sharing that and being so proudly Canadian and changing the future of musical theatre as you do.
M: Well, well, thank you and thank you for doing this. You know, we're so proud of you, and we love you, and everything that you're doing, so thank you.