BWW Exclusive: Powerful New Musical EVERY SILVER LINING Coming to Stratford City Hall for One Night Only
Fresh off an acclaimed run at the Toronto Fringe Festival, new musical EVERY SILVER LINING is coming to Stratford City Hall for what is sure to be a moving and memorable performance on Sunday August 25th. BWW had the opportunity to chat with Producer, Playwright, and star, Laura Piccinin about how this musical came to be, the deep and moving themes it explores, and the journey it has taken to get to this point.
After a successful premiere at Toronto Fringe, Piccinin shares that it was Director Jennifer Stewart's mother who suggested that the show be brought to Stratford for a performance: "Jennifer's mom lives in Stratford and she had come to see our show to support Jen. After the show, she was like 'I can't get this out of my head, you should just come one day to Stratford...I'll tell all the people.'...She's so involved in the community and she just got really excited about it, and Jen pitched the idea to me and we thought yes we should definitely do that, and that's how this whole thing got started. We're really looking forward to it." Stewart, who is originally from Stratford, will be familiar to local audiences for past roles at the Stratford Festival. This season, she is Assistant Director of OTHELLO at the Festival Theatre.
As the official synopsis describes, EVERY SILVER LINING is a story about teenagers coping with the fact that a friend their age is dying. Piccinin explains that the show explores grief and loss and how a young person processes these complicated emotions. The fact that the character of Andrew (played by Daniel Karp) does eventually die in the show is not meant to be a secret. "We have to be open about the fact that he dies" states Piccinin. "It's not a spoiler, we're not shocking people with the fact that he dies. The crux of the show is in how people deal with the fact that he is dying and he will die and when he does die, what happens after that."
It is not surprising that this is important to Piccinin and Composer/Lyricist Allison Wither. The genesis of this musical comes from emotional times in both of their lives when they each separately had to cope with the loss of a good friend. Wither's friend Andrew died of brain cancer when she was around 13 and Piccinin lost her friend Jessica in a car accident at age 15. Wither had written a collection of songs inspired by the loss of her friend and approached Piccinin about writing a musical. They had their first meeting at the cast party for a production they had both been a part of. At the time, they did not know each other very well, but these shared experiences bonded them: "We were essentially strangers coming to have this meeting...and so we didn't really know each other and these stories were literally the first thing that connected us together as human beings. As we developed the show together, we delved back into our own childhoods to talk about these stories with one another and talk about what was the same and what was different." They discovered that although the way they lost their friends was drastically different-Andrew had a long drawn out illness, and Jessica died suddenly-with the exception of the shock that comes with an unexpected death, the reactions that they and the people around them had were very much the same. "The way everyone reacted was kind of predictable and very similar and so that's what drew us together with this story that we wanted to tell."
They specifically wanted to tell the story from the perspective of young people: "It just doesn't make any sense to a teenager. You don't really know what death is. You know that people die...but you don't think that you or your friends qualify in that category of people who die and it's such a life changing moment when you realize you could die. You're in that category and your life is precious and its vulnerable and this is what happens when somebody dies. It's a big smack in the face."
Piccinin's educational background has likely helped her to write a realistic exploration of teenage grief. She has her BA in Psychology and a Bachelor's in Education. This, combined with Wither's education through the Sheridan College Musical Theatre program & CMTWC Advanced Writer's Workshop allows for a well-rounded partnership on this project.
Although Piccinin had experience writing plays and one-woman shows, this was her first foray into writing for musical theatre. She explains that Wither approached her specifically looking for a book writer, and their partnership was born. "The brilliance of our partnership is I cannot write music and she cannot write dialogue. We have very distinct roles and they're great because we get to own our roles and bring to each other what we're good at...We can help each other, we often sit and brainstorm what words we want to use and how we want each scene to go, so we're not working completely independently, but it's nice that our skills don't overlap at all-so we're not in each other's way." She adds that early on, the two agreed that when it comes to editing, Wither has the final veto on music and Piccinin has the veto on text. "The other person can advise, but it's nice to know your own work is protected because the other person respects that." Given that the two did not know each other well before they began this process, communication was always key: "It was important to us because it was a big endeavour and (this material) was so close to us that we really had to be careful to work together on this and be respectful of each other's work and because we weren't necessarily friends to start with, we didn't really have a precedent of how our relationship was going to go, so we had to be very communicative."
Many discoveries and changes have occurred throughout the process of creating this musical, but one thing Piccinin and Wither knew from the start was that they were going to be in it: "We wrote it knowing we would be in it, but not who we would be." She explains. "We had the idea from the beginning that as emerging young Canadian artists, we're dying for the opportunity to get up on stage and do what we're good at and what we want to show the audience." The writers always knew that they two of them would play the two best friend female protagonists Clara and Emily. "We waited until we were nearly done writing before we chose who we were going to be because we didn't want to write the characters for ourselves specifically. We wanted to know that the show had longevity and a life after us." In the end, it was very evident who was best suited to play who. "The decision sort of made itself. It made more sense with our own natural energies and abilities and skills where we would be in the show. It was kind of nice not to have to duke it out or audition ourselves or anything like that. And then we got to play to our strengths because Ali and I as human beings are very Glinda/Elphaba. We have a kind of opposite to us that is complimentary but it allows us to shine in our own direction without overshadowing one another. It's nice that we wrote the characters that way too, so that's what you can see on stage."Piccinin is also very excited for audiences to meet the rest of the company and the musicians that will be gracing the stage on August 25th. "We have a 3 person band...that plays live on stage. Music director Aaron Eyre (who plays piano in the show) is amazing. He did all the arrangements for the show so he put all these beautiful harmonies in, added the cello (performed by Zou Zou Robidoux for the Stratford performance) and the percussion (Yang Chen). He did this beautiful work adding all this texture to what Ali wrote. When we first heard his arrangements we all cried."
With regards to the cast, Piccinin is quick to praise actor Daniel Karp: "Daniel Karp who plays Andrew has a challenging role because our little funny tagline is 'Andrew Alexander Stevens has cancer, but this isn't about him.' And it's hard for him as an actor to play a role that should be the main character but isn't. And he dies and he has to die realistically and people have to care about that, and yet he's kind of this secondary character this whole time and Daniel as an actor has to say to himself 'ok I'm not the main character but I still have to act like that, I'm still being watched.' He does such a great job at being charming enough that people love him even in the minimal amount of scenes that he's in and then when he dies he pulls the scene entirely in. This is when everyone is always crying. Yes the cello got us but Andrew made us cry all the time."
The other cast members play other teens and Andrew's parents. With regards to the parents, "We knew going into this that we could not tell a story of grief from the mother and father's perspective because it's too much. It would be bordering offensive to try and re-create what that really feels like. Either we were going to go completely realistic and just have a half an hour of Judy and Kevin on their knees crying or we had to get the parents into a scene, bring them to the part where Andrew dies and then shift the focus to the secondary and tertiary characters and tell this (story of) grief through the friends and the kids."
Tom Davis and Kristi Woods--the actors portraying the parents in Stratford are actually different from the actors who played the roles at Fringe so Piccinin is excited to see how this changes the show. "We're actually really looking forward to that. Because this is a play in development, we're kind of excited about the change to see how it affects everything." She adds: "I'm really excited to see what direction they take it in because we're giving them the free reign. This is all part of the development process to watch different people put their little talents and special quirks on top of our work and see what happens. "
Another difference that Stratford audiences will get to experience vs what Fringe audiences saw, is a scene involving a phone chain where the kids tell one another that Andrew has died. It is being reinserted into the show after being cut for time at Fringe. This will allow some of the other characters played by ensemble members like Joel Cumber, Ben Skipper, and Jada Rifkin-who Piccinin describes as "such little sparks" to be more fleshed out.
Asked if there is anything Piccinin wants audiences to know as they consider taking in her show, she says that she doesn't want people to be deterred by the deep themes the show portrays. "It does stay light for a lot of it. Also, a lot of the feedback we've been getting is that it's a cathartic experience...At this point in their life, almost everyone has experienced death and it's very cathartic to sit in a public room with dimmed lighting and beautiful music, and just relive and experience some of those emotions in a safe place and then have them uplifted and somewhat resolved as you leave." There is also something special about having this experience with a community of people, which is something Piccinin says the show is trying to promote: "When the lights come on and everyone sees each other with the tears in their eyes they realize that none of them were alone even though they felt lonely in their grief at some point. Because we all do, it's so natural to turn in on yourself when you grieve and then to see everyone else sharing that experience with you, there's something special about that. That's what we were hoping to promote is this community based approach to grief and loss. It just makes us feel good."
EVERY SILVER LINING will play at Stratford City Hall on Sunday August 25th at 7:30pm. Tickets are available at the following website and will also be available for $25 cash at the door https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4296163
The venue is wheelchair accessible
The show is approx. 90 minutes long with no intermission but patrons are welcome to come and go as needed
Photo Credit: Taha Arshad
Playwright: Laura Piccinin
Composer/lyricist: Allison Wither
Director: Jennifer Stewart
Music Director: Aaron Eyre
Musicians: Aaron Eyre (piano), Yang Chen (percussion), Zou Zou Robidoux (cello)
SM: Adriane VanSeggelen
Cast: Allison Wither (Clara), Laura Piccinin (Emily) Joel Cumber (Jeremy), Daniel Karp (Andrew), Taha Arshad (Ben), Ben Skipper (Sam), Jennifer Stewart (Miss Vella), Jada Rifkin (Bev), Kristi Woods (Judy), Tom Davis (Kevin).