By Thalia Stopa
VANCOUVER — It turns out that writer and director Amiel Gladstone is also quite the time traveller. The man, determinedly pushing his agenda to create experimental theatre that is relevant for today’s audiences, also has one foot nostalgically planted in the heyday of musical theatre. He aims to relive the gone days when musical theatre songs were also popular radio hits, achieving this by having his characters sing what they would actually listen to. Gladstone’s latest production, Are We Cool Now? is a modern-day rock musical inspired and soundtracked by popular Vancouver folk musician Dan Mangan.
Mangan’s lyrics, which are largely written about life on the road and his thoughts while on tour, provided the thematic elements that Gladstone was looking for to propel his story about a couple contemplating their lives while taking their first road trip together. Gladstone loves a good road trip himself — he finds them freeing and inspiring, though he also describes a road trip as a “weird activity.”
The cast is small and multi-talented, and Gladstone admits it was an interesting challenge to find actors who were also musicians. He lucked out with Ben Elliot, who acts and plays the guitar (and also happens to be the Music Director) and actress Penelope Corrin, who plays keyboard. The onstage cast is rounded out by drummer Spencer Schoening of indie rock band Said the Whale.
The musical, which was co-commissioned by the Western Canada Theatre (Kamloops) and The Cultch (Vancouver), had an old-fashioned Broadway-style “out of town try-out” in Kamloops last spring. An unexpected but convenient lack of local newspaper afforded the very tight-knit cast and production team a review-less, and therefore pressure-less, trial run. Their Vancouver premiere in September will elicit the first on-the-record response.
Gladstone has a busy year ahead of himself, including directing an opera for the Vancouver Opera about the wives of an American Polygamist family. Following that, he’s got another musical in the works for early 2016, based on Russian writer Alexander Pushkin’s novel, Eugene Onegin. In the meantime, he’ll be preparing by channeling his “inner Russian” with lots of “nihilistic day drinking” — an activity that never seems to be out of date.
Are We Cool Now? plays at The Cultch from September 29-October 10.Are We Cool Now?, BC, British Columbia, Dan Mangan, live theatre, The Cultch