What: Snow (Whistler: The Musical) staged reading
When: Saturday, Dec. 19, 7 p.m.
Where: MY Millennium Place
Snow: it's the unifying element in all mountain towns, something we rely on like the ebb and flow of the ocean.
It's also the name of a new musical about the ski bum lifestyle, a collaborative effort between four creative minds: Leslie Anthony, Grant Stoddard, G.D. Maxwell and Lisa Richardson.
Most have lived in Whistler for years, while one (namely Stoddard) is a relative newcomer to the community. But all could offer valuable insight into the unique culture of ski towns.
"In the way it got to 'Snow' as a title was the whole redemptive power of snow, the magical, transformative power of snow," Maxwell explained. "It's what draws people here, it's not the idea of hooking up and sleeping with everybody else in town, it's not the idea of going to bars and drinking until you puke your brains out. All of those things are integral to the story, but none of those things are the story. The story of 'Snow,' the story of Whistler, it's the story of life."
The seeds of the project were planted back in 2006, when Whistler was in the process of applying for the designation of Cultural Capital of Canada.
"One of the things they put in their application was an original theatre project," Maxwell said.
But by the time the community won the designation, the Whistler Theatre Project had become defunct and organizers were left to find a project that would fill that void and foster live theatre in Whistler.
Maxwell was contacted in January to help out with a theatre project, something with universal themes that would speak to not only Whistler residents, but visitors and people from outside of the community, as well. Admittedly "outside of my comfort zone," Maxwell assembled a team to create a full-length original production.
"I'm a writer, I work alone. If I worked well with other children, I wouldn't be a writer, I'd be something else," he stated. "But let's try the collaborative approach; who do I know who is a really good writer who doesn't have an ego that will suck the air out of a room?"
He reached out to writer and friend, Lisa Richardson, who was already working on a similar project with Leslie Anthony.
Anthony had been toying with the idea of a musical inspired by Whistler for a few years and finally began working on the project in November 2008, after discussing the concept with Richardson. After a few brainstorming sessions, they managed to hammer out a treatment, plot and a cast of characters. Then, he met Stoddard, who turned out to be the future musical director of the project, while riding the Peak 2 Peak gondola on opening day.
"I hadn't told anyone at that point, and I said, 'well, I'm kind of working on a musical.' And he was like, 'Really?!'" Anthony recalls, mocking Stoddard's British accent; "'you've got to let me write a song for it!'"
Stoddard produced two songs immediately, Yuki's Song and Rob Boyd is God, which they entered in the 2008 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown. Anthony churned out another song within the week. Then the musical masterminds began working collaboratively on songs, fueled purely by caffeine.
"It turned out we were made for each other, so to speak," Anthony said, laughing. "...We wrote a lot of the songs in serious sessions. Like, one day in my living room we actually wrote three of the main songs within two hours."
"After we got act one sort of hammered out a bit, we all took scenes away and wrote them and then got together again and were quite surprised that it seemed as coherent as it was, given that four different people wrote it," Maxwell said.
With almost $90,000 in grant money in hand, the band of writers set out to create a production that truly captured the essence of life in a mountain town. The two-act musical traces the arc of a season in Whistler, following the protagonist, Yuki, a Japanese pro snowboarder who comes to Whistler to train for the Core Games. In the process, she becomes intertwined in illicit love affairs, experiences serious sibling rivalry with her older and more traditional brother, Hiro, and has to survive a season of snow drought in staff housing.
Of course, Yuki is just one of many characters included in Snow. She's joined by the token Prairie boy, an Australian and a Quebecois for a season that none of them will ever forget.
"I loved the story that (Anthony) outlined for me, which was very much boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl kind of thing, with a whole lot of human pathos thrown in for good measure," Maxwell said.
Rather than produce a dry historical account of Whistler's heritage, specifically, they opted to create a production that's about Whistler to an extent, but something that would also showcase the universality of mountain town life.
"There's some things in there that you could point at and say they're cliché, like someone dies in an avalanche during a big snow cycle, and they are to us. But if you put this on a stage in a city and people who aren't familiar with the ski bum existence, with the fine line between life and death being underfoot every day, and its not going to be cliché," Anthony said.
Corporate takeover has also snuck into the storyline, with the town rallying to find a way around "the nameless, faceless decisions of absentee owners" that just don't understand the culture of the town.
"We like to think of it as a realistic response to an irrational edict to somebody who doesn't really know anything about this place," Maxwell said.
The finished product is a series of polished rock and roll-inspired tracks that capture the essence of the story and the fictional town. Many are posted on the Cultural Capitals website at www.whistlerculturalcapitals.ca under the "Explore: Upcoming Events" tab. But if you want to check out the production in person, this coming Saturday night, organizers are holding their first public stage reading with nine to 10 cast members performing the numbers that have been lovingly written and rewritten by the team of four.
Now, they have a finished script and a composed score for the vocals and instrumentals, and will continue to work on the project after the workshop with the hopes of seeing it staged in the future.
"We're all keen for this to see the light of a real stage at some point, because unless we're completely self-delusional, we think the story's very good and we think the music's very good," Maxwell said.