Meanwhile...Our Online Magazine
In the last issue we asked you to complete a survey letting us know what you think about Meanwhile, now officially in its second year. Many of you did and we thank you for it*. Overall, you like Meanwhile, giving it a rating of four out of five stars. You told us it was about the right length, and that there is nothing you don’t like about it. That made us blush.
Most of you (61%) said you only read the articles that interested you — that makes sense; time is precious. But 18% read every single article and watched all the videos. The majority want more theatre memories and behind-the-scenes stories, followed by original stories (such as Ghosts of the Royal Alex), contests and quizzes, and highlight videos of past productions. We hear you and will do our best to abide by your wishes.
Appropriately, in this issue we go back and look at one of the most popular homegrown hits — Two Pianos, Four Hands. We share the memories you emailed us of Ed’s Warehouse restaurants, we announce the winners of our Keep Calm Slogan Contest, we share the great news about theatres reopening in London, and we have an article about how art is psychologically essential to the well-being and evolution of our species.
(*BTW: From all the entries in the survey contest, the randomly chosen winner of the $100 Mirvish gift card is Sashika Stephens. Congrats, Sashika.)
While We Wait …
A new column by Desiree Proveau, our resident arts and crafts connoisseur, with future contributions from other Mirvish staffers, about what we’re doing offstage while we wait for the theatres to reopen.
I don’t tolerate uncertainty very well. Some people make plans for the weekend; I make plans for the next 20 years. Needless to say, for me, this pandemic has been like an endless cognitive therapy exercise in exposure: no certainty, no plans, just the moment we’re living in for better or worse.
My coping strategy early on wasn’t original: comfort television, comfort food, and copious amounts of wine. This suppressed my anxiety in the short term but I needed a longer term, less destructive plan as it became apparent that this pandemic was not going to be short-lived. I found refuge in my love of crafts. A mindful practice to keep my hands busy and my brain active, set to music and the flicker of candlelight I could almost ignore the incessant requests for snacks from the children at my feet. Listening to Girl From The North County on Mirvish’s Spotify playlist added to the healing vibe and brought me back to some good ol’ “precedented times” that I had seriously been missing.
Mending, altering and upcycling are where my love of craft, fashion, and environmental conservation meet. It’s so satisfying to make something out of an otherwise forgotten item. I like that it’s very low stakes so, if it doesn’t turn out, the worst-case scenario is that the garbage will remain garbage (which was the case when I tried to make a dress out of an old bed sheet last July). Best case is that I’ve saved something from going to a landfill. I found a link online on how to adjust the waist height of pants so I started with that and then I borrowed an e-book from the library called Visible Mending by Arounna Khounnoraj which inspired me to patch my jeans and repair my enormous collection of handmade wool socks from my Dad.
My Dad makes socks on this big old sock machine as if channelling a scene straight out of Rumpelstiltskin. We’ve been separated for many months so it felt therapeutic to make these repairs. They’re not just socks to me, they’re sort of like family heirlooms that have now been worked by two generations of hands and will tell a story from two very different times.
The waist alterations were a bit tricky and only worked on stretchy or wide leg pants because adjusting the waist height reduced the thigh width pretty significantly. I was getting very discouraged when I thought I had destroyed some vintage denims… but I salvaged them by turning them into a skirt!
Next, I moved onto my daughter’s pants since I don’t think she has a single pair that doesn’t have a hole in the knee. I turned it into a home school activity and she was able to do most of the work herself. We found some pants that could not be salvaged and used them to make patches. I threaded her needle and let her choose the music. She went with Annie, the musical. She was so proud of her work and during one of her virtual classes she raised her little Zoom hand and offered up clothing repair as a way to save the planet. She rolled her eyes when she noticed I was crying with pride on the couch beside her.
I’m not a master sewer by any stretch of the imagination but it has been a real gift to have the time to brush up on these neglected skills with my children in tow. I still miss making plans that involve me leaving my house but for now planning DIY projects using materials laying around my house is really taking the edge off, and making a positive impact. Yesterday I successfully made a skirt from a table cloth and didn’t check the news once. I’d say that’s a win.
I’m not the only one waiting for a return to the stage, and knowing how creative and resilient my colleagues here at Mirvish are, I wanted to check in with some of them to find out how they have been using this time.
My first callout was to Franca Longobardi, a woman who I can confidently say is the most positive person I know, so I was eager to find out what she was up to. She didn’t disappoint and revealed a collection of the most incredible paint-by-numbers!
Here’s what she had to say about how the pandemic has given her the time and space to revisit her love of painting.
“My love for painting started years ago when I took an art class in my early thirties. Before that, I could only draw stick figures. My art teacher, at the time, suggested I take up paint-by-numbers to help with my drawing and painting. The next day I walked into an art supply store and found a whole section of paint-by-numbers kits for beginners as well as more advanced artists. My first painting was an 8 x 10 bowl of fruit, the difficulty was 0-5. The kit came with all the paints, brushes and the canvas. It took me a couple of weeks to finish it and I was hooked!
“Through the years life got busier and slowly I put away my brushes and kept my unfinished painting on my easel hoping to get back to it one day.
“When Covid hit I suddenly had all this time on my hands and needed to keep busy. Paint-by-numbers filled my days and kept my mind occupied for hours and hours.
“These days I order my paintings from Amazon and order three at a time so I don’t run out of paintings during Covid!”
Thank you for sharing this with us Franca! Your paintings are beautiful! I’m so glad you’ve been able to get those brushes back in action.
Stay tuned for next time when I’ll share more crafty inspirations and more glimpses into what the Mirvish team are up to While We Wait.
Have you turned to arts and crafts during this pandemic? We’d love to hear from you. We’d especially like to see photos of your creations. Don’t be shy. It’s time you blew your own horn and shared your work with others. If we feature your work in future issues of Meanwhile, we’ll reward you a $100 Mirvish gift card. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check In From Away
This week, SnL’s guests are Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, the creators and stars of Two Pianos, Four Hands, and Bea Campbell, the stage manager of the show since its thunderous premiere 25 years ago.
Reelin’ In the Years: The Audience
As you know, on Friday, April 9th the sad news arrived of HRH Prince Philip’s passing. He lived a very long and fascinating life, and he was fortunate enough to spend it with a woman who is equally fascinating and with whom he shared an enduring love. But his passing is still a shock, as the passing of anyone we have known for so long is always unexpected and painful.
And that’s the truth about people like Prince Philip whose lives are lived publicly and in service to an entire nation — a commonwealth of nations, to be precise, when it comes to the British royal family. We feel we know these public figures because we see them and hear about them our entire lives.
Leaders and royalty have played a major role in storytelling, and in particular theatre, since the beginning of civilization. Think about the earliest dramatic texts of Western theatre: they were the stories of the kings and queens of ancient Greece. Through these stories, some of them mythical, Aeschelus, Sophocles and Euripides were able to explore both the joys and tragedies, the triumphs and foibles, the pride and hubris of all human lives, not just those of royalty. Similarly, Shakespeare mined the history of British royalty to shed light on relationships between men and women, parents and children, leaders and followers.
In our time, the Windsors have provided us with enough drama to fill all our days — at least during this pandemic, when the many seasons of The Crown have made for compelling viewing, keeping us safe at home in front of our screens.
The creator of The Crown, Peter Morgan, has made a career of dramatizing the drama of the Windsors. Before The Crown, there was the 2006 film The Queen. That spawned The Audience, a play about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and her relationships with her Prime Ministers. It premiered in London in 2013 and had its Canadian premiere at the Royal Alex in 2017 in a production starring Fiona Reid.
It’s fair to say that Peter Morgan has single-handedly made the Windsors more human and more famous that they ever were. He has elevated them to the realm of the mythical, and at the same time made them as ordinary as the denizens of Coronation Street, which has reigned as the most popular soap opera almost as long as Queen Elizabeth II has been on the throne.
Keep Calm Slogan Winners
It wasn’t an easy decision, but the jurors of the Keep Calm Slogan Contest have chosen these four winners:
Carolyn Keefer for "Let the Curtain Rise, Get Immunized"
Terry Mayer for "Keep Calm, This Intermission Will Be Over Shortly"
Roseanne Vanhoof for "Mask on! Patience not Patients"
Claudia Veira for "Keep Calm and Mask On"
Each of these slogans will be go up in lights on the digital billboards on the marquees of The Princess of Wales and The Ed Mirvish Theatres. As well, each author wins a $100 Mirvish gift card.
Your Memories Of Ed’s Warehouse Restaurants
As the sixth of seven children, you wouldn't think that fine dining and theatre would be part of my childhood. But when my five older siblings had left the nest, my parents, both theatre enthusiasts (my mother was also a very fine singer), bought a Mirvish subscription so that they could regularly take the two of us still at home to the theatre.
A theatre visit always included a pre-show meal at one of Ed’s Warehouse restaurants, whose countless decorative treasures were a delight to my young eyes. I thought of those outings as "the night of nights". We would dress up and as we made our way downtown I would dream of the buns and spumoni ice cream awaiting me at the restaurant.
The theatregoing tradition that my parents instilled in me, I have in turn continued with my own children. I've been taking them to Mirvish shows since they were old enough to sit still. The musical Chess was a particularly memorable show for my young ones, with the cast members playing chess pieces on stage also functioning as the orchestra, each playing a different musical instrument.
We regularly talk of our theatre adventures. As mementos we always take photos outside the theatre, in front of one of the show posters or an object that reflects the show playing inside. A good example is the giant red sequinned boots that were outside the Royal Alex during the run of Kinky Boots. Those photos bring back the memories, and memories are what bind us together.
Unfortunately, with Ed’s Warehouse restaurants no longer around, it has become too stressful to go to a restaurant before the show and not worry about being late for the curtain. We missed the first 20 minutes of Les Miz when the bill just wouldn't come in time. Our new tradition is to dine at home before the theatre; we make evenings out for a meal (when that ever happens again) a separate affair.
But I still miss every bite of the mashed potatoes, peas and roast beef, not to mention the endless buns. All to be topped off with spumoni ice cream.
Thanks for taking me down memory lane.
AdrienneContinue reading more memories of Ed's Warehouse
Toronto over the years has exploded with restaurants but none comes close to any of Ed’s Warehouse restaurants.
My father and I ate lunch on an average of twice a week at Old Ed’s for years. In those days there was a parking lot next to Old Ed’s (now the Princess of Wales) and you could park and have lunch in under an hour.
When I was in my teens the Follies upstairs was the best kept secret to take your date, with a pianist and
and a great atmosphere, with semi-private booths, and it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Plus it really impressed your date.
My kids all talk about going to Ed’s and being spoiled. It’s a shame it closed. I would love to take my grandkids and watch the waiters spoil them.
Thanks for the memories!
Going to the theatre was such a treat, but what was just as exciting as the productions was the dinner before the show. For us, that was always at one of Ed’s restaurants.
For Christmas in 1995 I gave my immediate family tickets to Crazy for You. The date was Saturday, December 30, 1995. It was the first time either of my parents would attend a theatre production, and their first dinner at one of Ed’s restaurants.
We chose Old Ed’s, which was a great choice because my dad actually met Ed Mirvish there that evening.
My dad unfortunately passed away a few months later. However, I was happy that we were all able to enjoy a meal at Old Ed’s and a show at the Royal Alex as a family. That will always be one of my favourite memories. 😊
Leonardo de Melo
Thank you so very much for suggesting that we think about happier times!
We were very young — 18 and 16 — when we got married and just 20 and 19 before our family had grown to five (!), with the births of a son and two daughters. Life was very busy. There was no such thing as a date night back then, but we did manage an anniversary out each year. That was for dinner at Ed's Warehouse and a show at the Royal Alex. We loved Ed’s because the food was NOT trendy, but basic comfort food and reasonably priced.
There was only one problem: “Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket,” as the sign at the front of the restaurant stipulated. In those days, my husband did not own a suit, let alone a jacket. Thankfully Ed Mirvish, as always, had thought of everything and the staff at Ed's was prepared for any occasion. In the cloakroom was a supply of jackets of all sizes to accommodate any guest who might be in need. I can remember the fun we had one year laughing at what was the only jacket that fit my husband. It was this huge green jacket — long before the Masters made green jackets something to wear with pride. Our anniversary was in April but we wondered if we were in a time warp and it was actually St. Patrick's Day and he was perfectly attired. Such good memories.
As our children grew and life became less hectic, we actually went out for dinner at Ed's and a show when it was not our anniversary. In 1972 we became subscribers; so we have been going to the theatre, as part of the subscription series, for nearly 50 years.
Ed Mirvish's restaurants and shows featured prominently throughout my life. When young, our father, Dr. Crawford Anglin, would take us to Ed's Warehouse or Ed's Seafood for special family dinners and celebrations. We loved the décor and the delicious meals. We always knew what to expect and that it would be wonderful — that was an important part of the charm and success of Ed’s.
We were always well taken care of, especially as my father was the paediatrician to the children of so many of the wonderful, hard-working waiters, many who we followed to other dining venues in the city when Ed's restaurants started closing.
Thanks for the memories of good times in the restaurants and at the theatres, and blessings on David and his enterprise as he keeps his father's legacy alive. The show must go on!
Mrs. Victoria Parrish
I just read the article on Ed’s restaurants and wanted to thank you for bringing me back to a much simpler time. It was here that I began my lifelong love of peas. I vividly remember being so excited to go to Ed’s with my dad’s side of the family and hoping I could get extra peas. They were always so fresh, and the meat would melt in your mouth. I was sad that I couldn’t bring my own children to the restaurant and carry on the traditions but they weren’t born until the late 90s.
Old Ed's was the place where our large family (seven kids) always celebrated special occasions in the 70s and early 80s. My grandmother and great aunt, who had operated an antiques shop in the Gerrard St. Village in the early 60s, would often come along as well.
It was a great place with lots to see and great value: mashed potatoes, peas and a protein, with salad to start and ice cream to finish. We loved the spumoni ice cream for dessert.
One time when half of us had grown up and left home, we were meeting the whole family at Old Ed's for a birthday celebration. The three of us who were out of the house met at the bar for drinks while we waited for the rest of the family. One of us looked out the window and said, "Oh no!" Our family had arrived and they were all wearing funny hats as a joke.
Old Ed's was the kind of place where you could do that and not seem out of place. We loved it.
Being in my mid-80s, of course I remember Ed’s Warehouse. Your story brought it all back to me.
Just wanted to thank you for taking me down memory lane, as I spent many times at the restaurant, eating that delicious roast beef. With family, with friends, with my sisters at special occasions. Just like your story said.
I'm looking forward to riding the King streetcar and getting off at the theatre. I miss it so much.
I really enjoyed the story about Ed's Warehouse! It was a favourite "special event" treat for family celebrations. I still fondly quote your slogan, “If you like home cooking, eat at home". It has been a suitable response to many situations and a great reality check to humble expectations. It usually brings a head nod.
When the Royal Alex was restored and reopened I couldn’t wait to get my ticket. How beautiful it all was — a theatre that took you back in time with always great performances on stage. Then the restaurants opened and it was another thrill. I loved the food and I loved walking around to see if anything had been added to the amazing collection of antiques.
One Sunday my brother and I took Mom for brunch. We were the first ones in the dining room. After giving our orders we realised Ed was standing on the steps of the staircase looking over the room.
Mom, a very shy but friendly woman who had shopped at Honest Ed's on Bloor St. since it opened, asked us if we thought she could go and say a few words to him. My brother said to go.
She went and they had a short conversation. Ed was just beaming when she left. We asked what she had said. She said that among other things she thanked him for all the wonderful things he had done for the people of Toronto and for being such a lovely person.
She said it all.
December 22, 1975, my future wife's birthday. So where else did one go but to Ed's Warehouse to celebrate. Just the two of us, how romantic. But what she didn't know was that I had a special surprise for her.
After the rolls, roast beef, mashed potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, peas and dessert, as we were having coffee, I pulled out a small box that contained her unexpected engagement ring. She couldn't believe her eyes.
I myself was so very nervous that as I took it out of the gift box to hand to her, the ring fell from my hand directly into her coffee!
Fortunately she was able to drain the coffee pretty quickly and retrieve her prize.
It all seemed to work out well, we have remained happily married for the last 45 years! A memory that we will never forget.
Dr. Ray Shugar
My wife and I were Royal Alexandra subscribers in the 1980s and frequently ate at one of the restaurants prior to a show. Our favourites were Old Ed’s and Ed’s Seafood (for lobster).
In 1987 I was moderator (chairperson) of East Toronto Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. We were meeting in St. Andrew’s church across the street from the restaurants and adjourned for dinner. Most members including myself chose to go to Old Ed’s. I entered with Dr. John Moir, a professor at the University of Toronto and the author of the official centennial history of the Presbyterian Church. As other members of the presbytery were welcomed and taken to tables, Dr. Moir and I were politely informed we didn’t meet the dress code. The sign at the entrance was clear: Gentlemen Must Be Wearing a Jacket and Tie.
John and I were wearing jackets with dress turtlenecks. Mine was white and I could have suggested it was a form of a clerical collar. (Clerical collars were accepted as appropriate.)
We were amused. While most of the presbytery enjoyed their meals in the exotic ambience of Old Ed’s, the presbytery moderator and university professor ate Reuben sandwiches at a deli down the street.
Thanks to a dress code, that shared rejection experience cemented a lasting friendship.
(Rev.) Keith Boyer, Barrie, Ontario
Art Will Be Essential After the Pandemic
This article was published in the online magazine of France Musique, the French national public radio channel devoted to the broadcasting of music. It makes a compelling scientific argument for the importance of the arts and how they should be thought of as essential to society as education, the economy, health care and all other necessities of life. We share it here in translation.
Why is art essential for our brain?
By Suzana Kubik • March 22, 2021
The arts will be a major tool to help rebuild our mental health after the pandemic, says the World Health Organization.
On November 11, 2019 the World Health Organization released a report that for the first time confirmed the beneficial impact of the arts on our physical and mental health. Based on over 900 scientific articles, the report found that artistic activities were decisive for our development since humans evolved millions of years ago. Therefore it was recommended that, alongside other more traditional therapeutic protocols in hospitals, in education and in everyday life, the arts were essential to improving our well-being.
Barely a year and a half after the WHO’s report, Covid-19 struck the world, throwing us into a crisis which continues to cause unprecedented health, economic and social damage and which may permanently affect our mental and psychological health, even after the pandemic has ended. We are experiencing a psycho-social emergency, especially among younger people, who have not lived long enough to develop the tools to deal with such an emergency.
Faced with this reality, the WHO is launching a support program for the arts, which they say will be an important tool in assisting in the transition from the crisis to a more normalized world.
For the past year, almost all of the arts have been at a standstill. The Internet has become the main vehicle for museums, galleries, theatres, cinemas and concert halls, and for the teaching of artistic disciplines. But the Internet cannot replace our deep need for direct access to the arts, say neuroscientists.
Contact with art, far from being a “non-essential” activity, as has been thought for a long time by politicians and leaders, is on the contrary essential for our well-being, especially in times of crisis.
“By limiting access to art, we kill what makes us enjoy life. The authorities have done the best to protect our health by limiting people to congregate and experience the arts. The danger is it will cause a wave of psychiatric disorders once the health crisis is over, ” explains neurologist Pierre Lemarquis, author, with Boris Cyrulnik, of L'art qui healit (Art That Heals), published in November 2020.
Drawing on numerous examples from the history of art, philosophy and medical research, the author explains the amazing powers of art on our well-being, on our intellectual development and even on certain pathologies. According to his art "caresses and sculpts" the brain.
“There are two parts to our brains,” explains the neurologist. "One captures the information around us and compares it to what we have in our memory. This helps us determine how to react to outside stimuli, based on the information we have just received. Simply put, we act to survive, something which a computer might as well do.
"Fortunately, we also have an archaic or instinctive part. It deals in pleasure and reward, and it stimulates our will to live.
"Art acts on both parts of the brain. It serves to broaden our state of mind, to teach us new things. It acts on cerebral plasticity and therefore sculpts our brain, but also acts on our emotions. It caresses our brain and stimulates hormones responsible for pleasure and relationships with others: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endogenous morphine. This is what makes us want to live. This is what makes us human.”
The beneficial effects of art have been believed since antiquity, he explains, citing Aristotle’s Poetics and the theatre’s power to create communal catharsis. Today, neuroscience can scientifically collaborate this idea by explaining the neural circuits used when we are experiencing a work of art.
“When we are in contact with a work of art, we identify with the artist who created the work. This is called the theory of mind. Thanks to our mirror neurons, our brain tries to guess the intention of the artist. We put ourselves in his shoes, even if he has been dead for many years or centuries. For instance, by standing in front of da Vinci’s famous painting, we in essence become Mona Lisa. The work of art becomes a living being with which we interact and which modifies us, transforms us. Physical interaction is essential for this to happen.”
Lemarquis believes when the artistic experience is virtual, the power of sharing in an artistic work as a community is gone. “Watching a show on a screen at home does not stimulate our imagination and creativity, which are fundamental in creating a sense of well being and a joy in living,” he says.
In physical and chemical terms, if the work pleases the viewer or listener, the body decreases the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. This causes the heart to beat less frantically, the muscles and organs to relax, and positive emotions to flow through our body. It’s a biochemical cocktail, explains Lemarquis, composed of dopamine, the hormone for the feeling of joy in living; endorphins, which provide a feeling of well-being; and oxytocin, a hormone that triggers the bond between people and also plays a role in recognition, sexual arousal an, d trust. Rediscovering the zest for life, Lemarquis says, this is what the arts can accomplish.
A recent study at McGill University found that music played a pivot role in easing stress during the first lockdown last spring. At that time, many people spontaneously formed musical bonds and performed live music. This happened with family members confined on the same premises, between neighbours and especially professional musicians who used Zoom and other digital technologies to continue to perform together yet separately.
“Not only was music more frequently cited as a refuge activity during lockdown,“ explains Emmanuel Bigand, a neuropsychologist at the University of Burgundy, who, with fellow neuropsychologist Barbara Tillman, published La symphonie neuronale (The Neuronal Symphony: Why Music is Essential to the Brain) in September 2020, "but the more the pandemic had an impact, because of the loss of a loved one, financial problems or isolation, the more people turned to music and the less depressed they were.”
“Music is the ‘skin to skin’ of sound, a caress,” he says. "It can regulate our mood, modify the biochemistry of our brain, and in particular regulate the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol. You can really regain your courage and feel revitalized. Music is a super non-invasive medicine.
Music is, like language, something that differentiates us from other species, Bigand believes. "It is the seal of our identity as human beings, a biological necessity for humans because it has helped transform our brains to solve adaptive problems that are decisive for the survival of our species.”
To support this hypothesis, he cites how singers interacted with very premature babies at the Dijon University Hospital: “We observed biological changes, sometimes spectacularly so — the slowing down of heart and respiratory rates and the triggering of the sucking reflex. These are essential for the survival of very premature babies. This is not a question of leisure or language or art or culture or any other human concept. The song these singers whispered to these premature babies are markers that we believe gave the babies medical advantages.”
And if music has met with such support during the Covid-19 crisis, it is because it meets our basic needs for connection with others.
"Making music with others allows our brains to come together, synchronize. This synchronization changes the social relationship, the empathy that we have with the other. The person seems much more sympathetic to us and we enter into a collaborative relationship. This relationship of attachment to the other is a constant need in human life, but is accentuated in times of crisis. Synchronizing with others breaks our isolation and gives us confidence,” concludes Bigand.
The next time someone dismisses the arts as nothing but a frill, remind them that without the arts and the symbiosis they promote in our species our survival would be a lot more tenuous.
News From London
Hooray! Theatres across the UK will be reopening on May 17th with social distancing protocols which means they will only be allowed 50-75% capacity. But on June 21st, theatres will be allowed 100% capacity. This will mean the UK’s theatre industry will be back in full force.
Those shows that were playing when the pandemic struck in March 2020 will reopen, and new productions will fill those playhouses that did not have shows at that time.
Among the shows that will reopen is the London production of Come From Away. The show has been a massive hit in London, as it has been all over the world. (The Australian production of Come From Away reopened in January 2021 in Melbourne and is now playing Brisbane. It will next travel to Sydney.) The London production won four Olivier Awards, including Best New Musical.
In announcing the production’s reopening, the British producers John Brant and Joseph Smith said: “It’s been too long since we were able to welcome people to ‘The Rock’ and we’ve really missed our audiences. The resilience and kindness of Newfoundlanders is known the world over and constantly provides inspiration to us all in these challenging times. Theatre is integral to the vibrancy of the UK’s creative sector; it is one of the key drivers of the night-time economy of many cities across the UK so now more than ever we want to tell our story and give audiences the chance to see us live again.”
Come From Away will resume performances at the Phoenix Theatre on July 22nd. More information: comefromawaylondon.co.uk
Happy 25th Anniversary 2P4H
What is the mostly successful Canadian play of all time?
It depends how you measure success. Is it based on critical acclaim? Number of awards? Audience popularity? Ticket sales?
The answer is probably all of the above. In which case, the clear winner is a little show playfully called Two Pianos, Four Hands, or 2P4H as it is commonly known.
I’m pretty sure you know it or have at least heard of it. It has had more than 4,000 performances at 200 different theatres throughout Canada, the US, the UK, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, South Africa, Austria, Finland and beyond. Nearly two million people have seen it. It’s played three Mirvish runs, each time selling out, and David Mirvish has produced it off-Broadway in New York, where it played for six months, and in London’s West End.
On April 10th 2P4H celebrated the 25th anniversary of its world premiere, but its humble beginnings started a few years earlier.
2P4H evolved from conversations about early musical experiences by two formidable talents in Canadian theatre: Ted Dykstra, a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, whose professional career had begun even before his graduation and who had starred in both classics and new works, small-scale plays and large-scale musicals; and Richard Greenblatt, who studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London and returned home to join the Canadian theatre scene, performing major roles from coast to coast.
The stories they shared with each other were very similar: the love-hate relationship with piano studies and practices; the teachers and parents who encouraged, cajoled and badgered them about pursuing their studies; the various student music festivals, which were nerve-racking because of their competitive nature but also nurturing because of the other young musicians they met and learned from; their ambitions, successes and failures.
While appearing in Chamber Concerts Canada's So You Think You're Mozart in 1993, the two were encouraged by the associate artistic director of Tarragon Theatre, Andy McKim, to write down their stories. In 1994 Ted and Richard formed Talking Fingers to write and workshop a new creation that would incorporate their stories. They named it after the term “piano four hands,” a type of duet involving two players playing the same piano simultaneously. But in their version, traditionally called a piano duo, the players each play their own piano, so Two Pianos, Four Hands. The two performed a short piece from their play at Tarragon’s Spring Fair. The enthusiastic response to that and the workshop presentation led to the Tarragon programming the play in its MainStage season.
From its very first performance the show was a hit. Audiences and critics loved it. A national tour was planned. David Mirvish, who fell in love with the show when he saw it at the Tarragon, negotiated with them to produce the show commercially, first in New York, then at his Royal Alexandra Theatre and then in London.
That summer, 2P4H won the first of its many awards: the 1996 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Production, and the prestigious Chalmers Award.
In the show’s early years, Ted and Richard performed it almost exclusively (except for understudies who would step in occasionally), eventually logging nearly 1,000 performances. But the show’s popularity and demand for productions were too onerous for them to do on their own. Their production team auditioned others for the parts; not easy to do because the performers need to be able to play piano at a conservatory level and act with impeccable timing and skill.
Luckily, there were performers who could play the parts. Soon, Ted and Richard were each independently directing productions of 2P4H around the world, sometimes translated into other languages. The show became an integral part of their lives, like a family member who comes and goes but is always there.
Reflecting on the past 25-plus years, Ted says: "The process is the reward. It has worked well for me over a long and continuing career. Thus I never expect or want anything more than to just create theatre, anything else that comes of it is icing on the cake. 2P4H remains the greatest icing I've ever enjoyed and I'm very grateful for that.”
Richard adds: “One can never predict what will speak strongly to an audience or any individual in it. We created this story — based on our own experiences — with as much specificity and authenticity as we could muster. The fact that it has been and remains so successful and relevant is a testament to the serendipitously fickle nature of art in general, and theatre in particular. It is humbling and deeply gratifying.”
And Beatrice Campbell, the show’s stage manager from the very first performance, says: “2P4H is one of the greatest gifts in my career as a stage manager. It was a pleasure, and honour, to take care of Richard and Ted, and their wonderful show. They are absolutely two of the best in my books. Of the thousand-plus times I watched the show, never once did I not laugh or feel moved by it. I miss it.”
In November 2013 at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, Ted and Richard gave their final performances in the roles of Ted and Richard. That performance was filmed and the resulting full-length live-capture has just been released on Broadway HD. If you’ve never seen this landmark play or you want to revisit it, this is your opportunity to do so.
In case you didn’t know, Broadway HD is the theatre’s Netflix. It has a catalogue of both historic and contemporary filmed performances, featuring some of the greatest actors of the last hundred years. The service operates on a subscription model, just like all the other streaming services. When you sign up you are given a seven-day free trial period. So take advantage of that to see 2P4H and some of the other gems in the treasure trove of filmed plays and musicals.