Meanwhile in 2020

  January 7, 2020  

By Erin Frey | 2 MIN READ

Erin Frey writer balances a tescup on her head   Erin’s time at Mirvish Productions has been eclectic. From interviewing Elton John, Associate Editing Programme, designing countless brochures and posters to standing in for a Dorothy photoshoot, she has loved every second of it. Now she is putting her experience, theatre degree and journalism diploma to work as the voice of Meanwhile. When not at the theatre she can be found with her (very dramatic) children.

So, globally, 2020 is off to a rough start. There’s already been so much fear and heartbreak for a year that is less than a week old. I’m going to leave all that at the door and focus on the positive, because theatrically 2020 is shaping up to be pretty incredible. 

Lucky for me, over the past ten years David Hein and Irene Sankoff have been an antidote to the negativity of the news cycle. The stories they choose to tell are rooted in the power of people coming together; messages that seem to become more necessary every day. And they’ll be here to deliver their particular brand of hope in person later this month. 

If you are looking for a soothing balm for your soul, join us on January 21 as we revisit David and Irene’s first hit musical My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding. 

It has been ten years since MMLJWW took to the stage and to commemorate the anniversary the band is getting back together! Most of the original cast will be back for a one-night-only benefit at the Royal Alexandra Theatre on the set of Hein and Sankoff’s current hit show Come From Away. Net proceeds from the evening will be going to Planned Parenthood. 

“We can use Come From Away and all the amazing support we’ve had from Toronto audiences, from Mirvish, and from this theatre community,” David says. “And we can celebrate ten years ago, and we can celebrate the Toronto Fringe, we can raise money for Planned Parenthood by bringing everyone back together and supporting families that come in all shapes and sizes.” 

If you ever have the pleasure of sitting down with David and Irene, there is only one word to describe the experience: Love. It radiates between them and spills over into everything they do. Even the most cynical can’t help but be moved by the abundance of joy that flows through their productions. 

It all started from a place of love. David wrote the titular song as a wedding gift for his “moms” – his birth mother and the woman she fell in love when David was almost in his teens; to him they were both his mothers. 

Years later, David and Irene were looking for a way that they could spend more time with each other. Naturally, the husband and wife team decided that developing the song into a Fringe show was the best opportunity for togetherness. 

The show struck a chord with Toronto audiences and an expanded version was picked up for a run at the Panasonic Theatre (now the CAA Theatre). It was an instant hit. 

After multiple extensions the show went on to the New York Musical Theatre Festival where it won Best Musical. From there it went on to be produced in venues all across North America, spreading joy and winning more awards. 

“The mantle’s crowded, let’s just say that!” Irene jokes. 

For those who missed it ten years ago, the show follows David’s mother Claire (Lisa Horner) on a journey of self-discovery as she goes through a divorce, moves across the country – temporarily leaving her young son – discovers her religion, and finds love with a Wiccan woman. The story is told through the eyes of her son and the result is a celebration of love in many different forms. 

“It’s a show about parents. It’s a show about families coming together and about people loving each other no matter who they become – who you grow into being,” David says. “It’s about me seeing my mom figure out who she is, figuring out who I am at the same time. It’s a sort of dual coming of age story.” 

With each production the show evolves but the heart of the story always remains. “We don’t know how to stop developing this show,” Irene says. 

As proof, moments later David sings the title song as it is at the present time, with riffs about Obama and Trump, Trudeau and the current Ontario sex-ed curriculum as Irene laughs along. (It remains to be seen if these changes will make it into the show. If you attend on January 21, you’ll find out.) 

The real beauty of David and Irene’s work is that they are so good at celebrating what is wonderful about humanity, while reminding us that we still have a way to go. Their method is never preachy or condescending, instead they seem to inspire us to be better and do better simply because we are all in this together. For me and many like me, it’s a chance to step away from the divisive politics and inhabit the world of their productions because it reminds is of what is possible.   

“I think we need to keep telling positive coming out stories,” Irene says. 

“Our greatest wish,” says David, “was that this show would not be relevant. But it feels like it is more relevant than ever.” 

Tickets are on sale now, but they won’t last. This benefit is theatrical self-care at its best, with the bonus that you are supporting a good cause. Happy New Year!