'Emile's Dream' comes to life

Heidi Wicks
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Theatre

Playwright Robert Chafe maintains firmly that Artistic Fraud's story of Newfoundland fiddler Emile Benoit "Emile's Dream", is a result of the stories the musician's nearest and dearest shared with him.

"The credit for launching this idea belongs with the Stephenville festival and with past artistic director Jerry Doyle," Chafe explains.

Renowned fiddler Emile Benoit provides the inspiration for Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland's latest production "Emile's Dream," which began a provincial tour Wednesday. - Submitted photo

Playwright Robert Chafe maintains firmly that Artistic Fraud's story of Newfoundland fiddler Emile Benoit "Emile's Dream", is a result of the stories the musician's nearest and dearest shared with him.

"The credit for launching this idea belongs with the Stephenville festival and with past artistic director Jerry Doyle," Chafe explains.

"Jerry approached me in 2002 with the idea of bringing the multifaceted life and personality to Emile to stage for the festival. I was a fan of Emile's music and knew a little about his legacy as a storyteller, having been in a show or two based on his tales. I had never met him personally, though his reputation as a fun-loving showman, deeply loved by his friends and colleagues, preceeded him."

The show is described as "a kinetic verbal and musical juggling act," which Chafe explains is an attempt to replicate how music embodied Emile's life and soul.

"We were constantly stuck with the same question and that was, 'Who do you get to play Emile? Who could possibly embody him? How can we incorporate music with the storytelling, have it as a constant presence in the show as it was in Emile's life?' The answer was to have more than one Emile, in this case three. Three people so that at any time one or two could speak while having another available to play music as underscore. We quickly decided that we didn't want to make the three Emiles represent any specific age or time period of his life. Rather, they all loosely embody different facets of Emile."

Kelly Russell plays the musical Emile, Daniel Payne plays the family man and Phil Churchill plays the storyteller, or clown.

Chafe says, in reality, all three cast members really play themselves, or musicians greatly influenced by Benoit - a physical manifestation of his legacy on stage.

"That is what the show is really about; loving what you do, letting it create your legacy," says Chafe. "With the three Emiles in place, we broke up the first person narrative into three parts, the sentences chopped up and flying quickly at times out of the mouth of the three actors as they tell the one story. They are all Emile. And of course under it they trade off music as well as words, in a rapid fire of text and music exchange that makes the show much more dynamic than a single actor could. As a result that is much closer to Emile himself."

Artistic Fraud's musical choices for its shows always stem from the story itself, rather than the company holding a specific musical style. However, what is distinct is the way in which these musical styles work in conjunction with the story.

"The music has to be right for the story," says Chafe. "Benoit's music is a hybrid blend of Irish, Scottish and French traditions. It's lively, danceable but for me has an unmatched emotional quality. In the show we highlight the song he wrote for his brother Benjamin, who was on his deathbed. Beautiful and soaring, the song is also riddled with grief. It's gorgeous, and this for me was Emile's distinct gift, and why I've become a huge fan."

Russell is a former protege. He describes Benoit as both a mentor and a friend. Russell travelled to festivals and spent time at home with the musician.

"I feel as though a torch has been passed on to me, the responsibility to carry on this unique music," Russell says. "To be able to bring a little bit of Emile alive in this show for others to see and hear is, indeed, a great honour."

In a time where Newfoundland and Labrador seems on the cusp of a new kind of richness, there are some who fret that we may lose the rural traditions that have helped shape much of our current identity.

"The music of Emile Benoit, indeed the music, songs and stories of many of the former generation of Newfoundlanders, provide us with a window through which we may glimpse our past, where we came from, who our great-grandparents were and how they lived," Russell adds. "In fact it is this body of work, our traditional arts, that keeps our heritage alive."

Director Jillian Keiley adds that all cultures around the world are constantly shifting.

"The culture that we had 400 years ago is very different from the one we had 100 years ago," she says. "We can't isolate ourselves and stop growing. We can't isolate ourselves and stop growing. Some people worry about losing our old culture with the new influences, but what we know about our 'new' culture, is that it is the child of our 'old' culture.

"Ron Hynes' St. John's Waltz isn't a tune that was sung 100 years ago, but it has become an insoluble part of our culture."

Emile's Dream opened at the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre Wednesday and tours the province until May 1.

Check www.artsandculturecentre.com for dates and ticket availability.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Stephenville, St. John's

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments