BWW Interviews: WAR HORSE's Melanie Doane

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The all Canadian production of War Horse has taken Toronto by storm, and BWW is thrilled to be profiling some of the very talented homegrown cast in a series of fun interviews.

War Horse is a Tony and Olivier Award winning play and Toronto marks its third worldwide production.  Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse tells the story of a young boy named Albert who’s horse Joey is sold to the British cavalry during WWI.  Boasting visually stunning puppetry that brings the horses to virtual life on stage and a gut-wrenching tale of love and loss, the show is sure to tug at your heartstrings.

Canadian folk songstress Melanie Doane makes her return to the stage after many years pursuing a successful solo career as Song Woman in War Horse.  Much loved among Canadians for her unique vocals and folksy style, Melanie was eager to return to the place where she got her start.  She spoke with BWW about returning to theatre, how music ties into the production and why young people will enjoy the show:

You began your career on the stage and then left to pursue a very successful music career.  How does it feel to return to the stage? And what about War Horse made you want to return to the stage?
  

It feels great to return to the stage, although that sounds kind of funny for me to say. I have done a lot of theatre and worked across Canada in many shows over the years, but I really put that aside to focus on my music career and songwriting about 13 years ago. I have used my theatre training in the work that I do everyday as a musician so it all feels very familiar. I love the discipline of doing 8 shows a week. War Horse just happens to have a part in it for a female folk singer who plays the violin. Being from Nova Scotia, this of course caught my attention as I’ve been well immersed in traditional music and have played the fiddle since I was a child. Once I met John Tams, who wrote and arranged all of the songs in War Horse, I was hooked. The songs are wonderful: some traditional, some arrangements of traditional tunes, and some written by John. 


What would you say is the biggest difference between performing in a show like this and when you perform your own music?

 

When I perform my own music, it's my songs, my arrangements, my band, and I'm the boss. Being in War Horse is like being part of a company. You’re always working to serve the play. I love it and it's very similar to serving a song, just a longer thought process. This is a huge production and a huge hit show. It is very exciting to be a part of something that has its own life and momentum and that's bigger than the individuals involved. 


Did you have a lot of “muscle memory” from your previous years on the stage or did this feel very much like a brand new experience?
 

The longest run I ever did in theatre was show called Buddy in Toronto, San Francisco, and then on Broadway. I did that for about 6 months and it was a lot of fun. Beyond that I have done quite a few productions across Canada over the years at Manitoba Theatre Centre, Theatre Calgary, St. Lawrence Centre, Theatre Passe Murraille, Young People's Theatre, The Royal Alex, Neptune Theatre etc. So yeah, it all feels very familiar and it's nice to take my Equity card out of retirement.


Do you think that War Horse could appeal to non theatre fans who might come out to see the show because they are fans of your work? Why? 

War Horse is a spectacular show/story and THAT is the reason to come see it - not to see me specifically. I think the show appeals to anyone who enjoys a beautiful story. That's why it's a hit. 

We are hearing a lot about the puppetry in War Horse but obviously there is also music involved – how would you describe the style of music that you perform and how active of a role does it play in the show?

The music is a huge part of every major scene in the play so I am very lucky to get to be part of those moments on stage. It's strictly folk music of the era (1914-1918) and it's sparsely arranged. I sing alone a lot and with my fiddle, or with fiddle and accordion. It's very exposed and pure. All of the songs are written and/or arranged by John Tams who was part of the production from its earliest days at The National Theatre in London. The music is actually what moves the plot along in every pivotal scene, so the Song Woman (my character in the show) is a kind of like a magical person who makes sure the story is told. It's a very interesting use of music in theatre.

This show has made great use of social media to promote itself, and even has a special ‘Tweet and Greet’ performance coming up.  Have you found Twitter a useful tool for promoting the arts? Or do you see it more as a necessary evil? 

Twitter is certainly useful for promoting the arts and it’s a great way for me to connect directly with my audience and War Horse fans. I'm certainly not an expert on that subject though. I work with a great social media manager, Mitchell Hunter, who keeps me on track. I find it is lots of fun for me to interact with music lovers and other artists on Twitter.

Finally, what about this production do you think would appeal most to a younger audience?

War Horse, the book by Michael Morpurgo, was written for children ages 10 and up, so it is a great show for older kids and young people who don't know a lot about WW1. The puppetry and the theatrical purity of the production make it a spectacle, but the story keeps it all real so it's great for all ages. I also need to mention Alex Furber, who stars as Albert. He is a super brilliant young Canadian Star!

When and Where?

War Horse

The Princess of Wales Theatre

Seats on Sale until September 30th 2012

Performance Schedule

Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30PM

Wednesday and Sunday at 1:30PM

Tickets range from $45 to $175 and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at www.mirvish.com



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About Author

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Kelly Cameron Kelly Cameron's love affair with the theatre began when she was just five years old, on an outing to see the Original Canadian Cast of Les Miserables at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. She instantly fell in love, and is honoured to be representing the Toronto contingent of BroadwayWorld as Senior Editor overseeing the GTA region.

Her writing career started almost by accident, though it has always been in her blood as her Mom was an English teacher who firmly believed in the importance of being able to turn a phrase. She also loved sharing her love of theatre with her students (and her children), and was a staunch supporter of the arts in Toronto.

When not at the theatre, you can usually find Kelly with a Starbucks in one hand and her BlackBerry in the other, tweeting, reading or doing something quirky and clumsy for the sake of getting that next big story.

She's incredibly grateful to the amazing Toronto theatre community who have embraced her with open arms, giving her the greatest gift a little redheaded theatre geek could ever ask for - getting to be a part of this vibrant arts and culture scene. She may have never had the skills to be on the stage, but is thankful every day she gets to write about the inspiring people who do.

Headshot photo by Racheal McCaig www.rachealmccaigphotography.com


 
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