Saturday, February 9, 2013

Theatre For Thought, February 9, 2012

joel fishbane

I’ll admit to a hobby that’s part vanity and part voyeurism: I read the Missed Connections page on Craigslist. For the uninitiated,  Craigslist is the ubiquitous online classifieds while Missed Connections is a forum where people place ads usually directed at people who they don’t really know – that person who smiled at you on the subway, the stranger who helped you and then disappeared into the night. There are also anonymous rants, notices of longing and confessions of rage. Of course I want to see if someone has placed an ad looking for me; but I’m also drawn to this glimpse into our quiet yearnings and not-so-quiet romantic hopes.

I’m not the only one. “Craigslist is this whole community I find fascinating,” said songwriter / musical theatre composer Veda Hille. The musical mind behind Do You Want What I Have Got?: A Craigslist Cantata, she is a recent inductee into the world of Craigslist thanks to her co-writer Bill Richardson. “We have been trying to write a musical for a while,” she said while on break from rehearsals. “His first idea had to do with the history of short pants. His second idea was this.”
It seems that Richardson and Hille made the right choice: A Craigslist Cantata sold out its run at Vancouver’s PuSh Festival in Jan 2012 and won the Jesse Award for Outstanding Original Script. The show is now in Toronto as part of Factory Theatre’s new season, in a co-production with the Dora-award winning Acting Up Stage Company. 
Described by Hille as a “plotless musical”, A Craigslist Cantata uses actual ads as source material for a song cycle that explores the needs of the modern world. “Bill went through the initial spelunking,” said Hille. “He went through thousands of ads and sent me the ones that he liked.” One ad had to do with a woman selling decapitated dolls; another was from a man trying to sell 3124 Pope Hats.
The decapitated dolls made the show but the Pope Hats did not. Obviously Hille couldn’t write songs about every ad that came her way and much of their work came from picking the ads that spoke to something deeper then just our quirky nature. The writers also created poignant reflections on the classifieds and commentary itself  on Craigslist as a modern phenomenon. Much of the show remains the same as it was in Vancouver, but Torontonians will see two new songs which Hille wrote based on ads that have appeared in recent months.
Overseen by director Amiel Gladstone, Hille and Richardson have worked to create a show that uses Craigslist to shine a spotlight on one of humanity’s last undiscovered countries. “I really had to rely on Amiel for some of the bigger character arcs,” said Hille, who also performs in the show. Initially a loose assortment of songs, Hille credits Gladstone with helping find the thread that connected them together.
Hille is one of Canada’s most prolific songwriters, with a career that includes 14 albums dating all the way back to 1992. She has spent 10 years writing music for theatre and is excited by the success of A Craigslist Cantata, which she hopes will continue to drive her career into a theatrical direction. 

A Craigslist Cantata is a co-production with Acting Up Stage Company, who have quickly become one of my favourite companies. In 2012, their production of Caroline, or Change took home four Doras (and took six more nominations); meanwhile, their history of productions is a collection of some of the most exciting – and challenging - musicals to appear in recent years, including Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty’s A Man of No Importance and Jason Robert Brown’s Parade. Next up for them is William Finn and James Lapine’s Falsettos, a homosexual love story set against the backdrop of the early 1980s and the emergence of AIDS. They don’t just love musicals – they love smart musicals.

It’s good to see the company teaming up with Factory Theatre. Too much has already been said about the recent behind the scenes nonsense at Factory; the important thing is that the theatre’s doors are open and that a different crop of Canadian artists are finding a way to be seen. Veda Hille, for one, is thrilled for the opportunity, although it has opened her eyes to at least one reality about those who have chosen a life upon the wicked stage: “It’s crazy,” she laughed. “You guys are all crazy.”

Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata by Veda Hille and Bill Richardson runs at Factory Theatre in Toronto until March 3, 2013. For tickets visit

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