After premiering at the Hamilton Festival, and following an Ontario tour that sent the show to Guelp, North Bay and Timmins (where demand required additional shows be added), Will Gillespie and Susan Robinson of Chasing Shadows Productions are bring their original musical back home- this time, with some additions inspired by their journey north.
“What was really neat was how the meaning behind some of the jokes in the show changes as we went further North.” recalls producer Susan Robinson. “The laughs were in the same spots, but the context was different. In Southern Ontario, it was ‘wow. That’s wild. . .I almost can’t believe it really happened.’ More a laugh of surprise, whereas in Timmins, we were playing to people who already got most of the references and some people in the audience were actual descendants of some of the people from the songs and stories.”
During its summer run, the one-hour show was billed as a “trip back in time to explore the early stories of prospectors, pioneers, bootleggers, high-graders and dog-sledders.” It was inspired by Gillespie’s family history growing up in Northern Ontario, where prospectors flocked to the area beginning with a 1909 gold rush.
“There was so much research that went into the original sixty-minute, twelve-song solo Fringe version of the play,” Robinson notes. “The songs and stories were pretty solid, but the presentation was. . .more of a ‘Rock and Roll lecture’ than a play perse.”
In the latest version, a ninety-minute production over two acts running at the Westdale Theatre on May 6 and 7, Chasing Shadows has created a clearer story arc, where favourite characters appear more than once, says Robinson. Unlike the original Fringe production, there is no podium; just a campfire set to evoke summer nights in the wilderness like those in the gold rush might have faced. Just like the atmosphere around a campfire, the audience is invited to sing and clap along and engage with Gillespie onstage.
The music has also expanded from the original production, with local Hamiltonian musicians Tyrone Ramsey and Chris Cracknell joining Gillespie around the onstage campfire. Original artwork of Northern landscapes, painted by Robinson, complete the experience.
The three additional songs for MINE!’s latest iteration were inspired during Chasing Shadows’ original run, where new material and stories just happened to find them. Robinson recalls Hamilton audience members approaching her with their own personal and family connections to the Porcupine gold rush, including one woman who shared photos of her father in the 1930s as a gold miner. In addition to featuring a photo in the show, Chasing Shadows also ensured a copy of the photo was sent to the Timmins Museum National Exhibition Centre.
“While we were there, Will did a radio interview for CBC’s Up North.” Robinson recalls. “A real professional musher (dog sledder) in Timmins heard the interview and reached out and sent us a link to an old silent film with footage of dogsled races that were held up in Timmins and Porcupine around the time our play is set, with a few of the characters from the play in it.”
Robinson notes that this type of interaction wasn’t unique while the duo was on tour. While performing in North Bay, an audience member donated a box of books about Northern Ontario history and mining. These resources would prove invaluable when writing new songs and stories.
It’s that interaction and exchange that makes the performances exciting. Following the performances in Hamilton, MINE! will return to the North, with performances later this month in both Cobalt and Timmins.
Who: Chasing Shadows Productions
What: MINE! True Stories and Legends of the Porcupine Gold Rush
Length: 90 minutes including intermission
Where: Westdale Cinema (1014 King Street West)
When: Saturday, May 6 at 7:30pm; Sunday, May 7 at 2:00pm
Tickets: $18 – $23 through The Westdale